Reposted from thestar.com
There has been talk of criminal background checks becoming part of Canada’s passport application but nothing seemed to be actually happening. I’m still not sure if it is but this article explores a little bit of the issue.
There is also talk about pardons being mandatory for those applying for aÂ passport but I believe there are enormous hurdles to overcome before that will be possible. In the meantime have a quick read of the article below:
Canada’s passport agency phasing in criminal checks
THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA-Canada’s passport office is still finalizing a system to check the criminal background of applicants, almost four years after the federal spending watchdog first flagged the security gap.
The office has also dropped out of a national project to devise a quick electronic means of verifying the data on birth and citizenship certificates, used by applicants to obtain passports.
The lingering challenges come to light as Auditor General Sheila Fraser prepares to deliver an update next month on Passport Canada’s progress toward fixing various problems identified in April 2005.
At the time, Fraser revealed Passport Canada was hampered by inadequate watch lists, outdated technology and poor record-checking.
She found the agency lacked ready access to information about people wanted by police or on probation. The data are contained in the Canadian Police Information Centre database, known as CPIC, administered by the RCMP.
Passport Canada set up a link to CPIC in 2006 and subsequently conducted two data trials.
A “significant investment” would be needed to fully usher in CPIC checks as part of a new computerized case management system, says a recently published progress report from Passport Canada on meeting the auditor general’s recommendations.
“The magnitude of the process is under review before implementation can occur.”
Passport Canada spokesperson Sebastien Bois said the agency is taking a “phased-in approach” to screening applicants against CPIC.
“We’re linked with the system. We’re using it. But our approach right now is based on risk-management models.”
The agency is checking applicants only when red flags trigger suspicions, particularly given the huge volume of people seeking passports.
“With 4.8 million applications a year, it’s a lot of applications,” Bois said, adding there is no target date for deciding if and when all people seeking travel documents will face a criminality check.
“We’re looking at all the options.”
In recent years, Passport Canada has faced a crush of applicants concerned about meeting stringent new U.S. border requirements. As of June 1, Canadians will need a passport or other approved, secure document to enter the United States by air, land or sea.
As of last May, just over half of Canadians held a valid passport, up from 41 per cent in 2005.
Three years ago, it emerged that an alleged Russian spy used a fake Ontario birth certificate to obtain passports in 1995, 2000 and 2002. He was later deported to Moscow.
In her 2005 audit, Fraser warned that Passport Canada had no easy way of verifying proof of citizenship.
The passport agency stressed its involvement in the planned National Routing System project, intended to establish links to provincial and territorial bureaus of vital statistics and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This would allow agency staff to prevent fraud by quickly scrutinizing birth and citizenship data on applications, as well as checking the person’s name against death records.
The initiative, now under the wing of Statistics Canada, has moved beyond the pilot stage but Passport Canada is no longer among the participants, said project manager John Menic.
“They had to pull out. They had some operational priorities with the backlogs they had a couple of years ago and they decided to step back,” he said.
“I haven’t heard from them for a couple of months now.”
In its June 2008 progress report, Passport Canada says that while it continues to support work on the routing system, it “is now concentrating its resources over the next 18 months on its core mandate” of issuing passports.
Last month Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said Canadians applying for passports face serious security risks – including identity theft – because of flaws in every step of the process. She found problems in how personal information is collected, stored used and ultimately discarded by passport officials.
Passport Canada insists security has improved, noting in its latest annual report that an electronic link with the federal Correctional Service helped it deny passports to 44 people forbidden from leaving Canada.
It intends to proceed this year with a long-planned program to use facial-recognition technology to prevent the same person from holding more than one passport under different names.
It also aims to introduce a passport containing data on an electronic chip by 2011.