RM Issue #031015
Fontana defends ID tour
PATRICK MALONEY, Free Press Reporter
Joe Fontana, the London MP who heads the federal immigration committee, yesterday defended the group's recent security-research trip through Europe, which one member called pointless. With Immigration Minister Denis Coderre pushing for a national identification card by 2005, the MPs visited six European countries over 17 days to study which nations have similar ID systems in place.
But Diane Ablonczy, a Canadian Alliance MP who joined the trip, said last week after group members packed their bags, they dropped the ball: She expected to see at least one country using cards with some form of biometrics, such as fingerprint or eye-scan technology, yet the places they visited used only ordinary cards -- free of any technology.
But Fontana, Liberal MP for London-North-Centre, defended the trip through Germany, Poland, Britain, Italy, Greece and Spain. He said the point was to see which countries had adopted a national ID card, not the high-tech potential.
"The biometrics issue is a secondary issue," he said. "We were looking at countries with (low-tech) national ID cards. I thought it was important to find out what the rest of the world was doing."
Though Canadians carry health cards, passports, driver's licences and other ID, Coderre has said an additional card would improve national security in the face of potential terrorism.
Fontana said the ID card issue is important, especially with the U.S. set to launch a border-control system based on biometric cards within two years.
"I'm not sure (Ablonczy) meant it in the sense it was a waste of time, that she didn't learn a whole lot, because I learned a heck of a lot," said Fontana.
Sun, May 11, 2003
MPs on ID quest -
World tour to study identity cards
By MARIA MCCLINTOCK -- Sun Media
OTTAWA -- A commons committee will visit several countries on a fact-finding mission to assess the feasibility of a national ID card -- although the concept is unpopular with many Canadians.
Immigration committee chairman Joe Fontana told Sun Media they could hit the road as early as the first week of June. The itinerary hasn't been finalized but it's expected they will visit Britain and South America among other destinations.
"It's important to be involved in some discussions before all these decisions are being made," Fontana said. "The United States is moving very, very quickly on certain things in terms of biometric identifiers and what they may require of different countries."
Britain, which is also studying the issue, has traditionally been against issuing a national ID card such as the one contemplated by Immigration Minister Denis Coderre.
Coderre floated the idea last fall as a way of dealing with apparent racial profiling at the border.
There are at least 100 countries that issue national ID cards, including many in Europe and Asia.
Fontana admitted the government is "months" away from making a decision on the issue and there's still a lot of "hesitation" about it.
A recent report said 78% of 245 people who have written to the immigration department about the issue have opposed it over concerns that it would be equipped with biometrics such as fingerprints or iris scans.
"This notion of having one card with all this information on it ... makes people real nervous," Fontana admitted.
Despite objections from citizens, he said many countries are moving toward requiring people to have ID equipped with a fingerprint, iris scan or face recognition technology.
"We better be at the head of the curve or at least be engaged as to what's happening around the world."
While Canadian Alliance MP Diane Ablonczy isn't in favour of the card, she said getting a first-hand look at how other countries' systems work will be valuable to the committee.