Enhanced driver's licence passed in Ontario

McGuinty should change provincial licence plate logo to "Ontario: You'll Be Discovered," say civil liberties and social justice groups.

November 18, 2008
Toronto -- The McGuinty Liberal government has ignored the concerns of civil liberties groups, social justice organizations and its own privacy commissioner by passing into law Bill 85 (the Photo Card Act), says a coalition of concerned groups and individuals.

"It is extremely unfortunate that Bill 85 was passed into law without significant revisions to its privacy threatening elements. The privacy and civil liberties of Ontarians are far too important to be sacrificed on the altar of governmental expediency," says Graeme Norton, Public Safety Project Director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Bill 85 will allow the province to develop so called enhanced driver's licences and enhanced photo ID cards for non-drivers, both for crossing the border into the United States, in order to meet unilateral U.S. border requirements under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Several groups, including the Ontario Privacy Commissioner's Office, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Council of Canadians, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and the Consumers Council of Canada, had urged the government to delay passing the Photo Card Act until a broader debate on its merits and dangers could be held. But the McGuinty Liberals ignored these and several other key recommendations to amend the Bill.

"Instead, what we got was a fast-track process for adoption and the lack of adequate consultation for such an important bill," says Roch Tasse of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, one of a dozen organizational signatories to a Statement of Opposition to Bill 85 that was posted to the ID Forum website (http://idforum.ca). "All of Canada's privacy commissioners are skeptical of these enhanced cards and have said they should not proceed without a full debate. The McGuinty government has obviously sought to skirt that debate in Ontario."

"While the Government is aware of the many serious concerns about the privacy threatening aspects of the enhanced photo card initiative, and has been offered specific proposals for improving Bill 85, it has failed to amend the Bill in a manner that will sufficiently safeguard the privacy and civil liberties of Ontarians," says the joint statement, which was signed by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), the Polaris Institute, the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association, the Confederation of Canadian Unions, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), the Council of Canadians, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Friends Service Committee, as well as many individuals.

Among the concerns raised by these groups and individuals were the insecurity of the RFID technology that is being insisted upon by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the inability of the province to guarantee that information tagged to your new licence number will not be stored on foreign databases, the possibility that the enhanced licences will create a de facto national ID card in Canada, the ease with which over-the-counter scanning devices can read EDL numbers, and the inclusion of faulty biometric facial recognition technology, despite the fact it can lead to false positives and was not required by the DHS to cross the border.

"McGuinty might as well change Ontario's licence plate logo to 'Ontario: You'll Be Discovered" considering how easy it will be for whoever to scan these RFID chips, and because of the potential to expand this program for other surveillance purposes," says Stuart Trew, Ontario--Quebec regional organizer for the Council of Canadians. "By passing Bill 85 into law with hardly any debate, and despite serious privacy concerns, his government has unilaterally launched Ontario down a very dangerous path of further security policy integration with the United States, with no proven security benefit to Canadians."

"The Liberal Government has blown off well-founded concerns and good advice. Why, instead, is it embarking blindly on an expensive system that might not work and that could be scrapped by the new U.S. President, especially when the province is entering have-not territory economically?" asks Andrew Clement. "There was not nearly enough debate on enhanced driver's licences in Ontario, or in the rest of Canada for that matter. We call on the Ontario government to immediately begin a process of public consultation on the Photo Card Act with the aim of amending the technology and figuring out whether we even need this potentially invasive system for crossing the border into the United States."

For further information: Andrew Clement, Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, (416) 922-0251; Stuart Trew, Ontario-Quebec Regional Organizer, The Council of Canadians, (647) 222-9782; Graeme Norton, Director of the Public Safety Project, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, (416) 363-0321; Roch Tassé, Co-ordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, (613) 241-5298.