The federal government is bringing in major changes to the way Canadian passports are issued, changes that could speed up the renewal process but which may also invite forgery, fraud and identity theft.
According to an internal notice from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the changes coming this fall would allow online applications and no longer require the return of the old passport — even if it remains valid for six more months.
Applicants who are no longer required to return their passport will have to cut the corners of the passport according to the instructions provided by the passport when their application is submitted to indicate the passport is no longer valid for travel.
The change is to take effect on Nov. 1, 2015, for online applications and Dec. 14, 2015, for paper-based applications that are mailed or handed in to a passport office.
The move comes despite the department’s own internal analysis warning of significant security risks. Another internal document dated April 30, 2014, notes that “establishing or authenticating identity and preventing fraud are two of the reasons for returning previous valid Canadian travel documents.”
Under the heading “Identified risks of not returning previous travel documents,” the report warns that applicants could wind up with two valid travel documents if they renew before their old one expires, increasing the opportunities for forgery and fraudulent use of a travel document.
The change also goes against a recommendation from the International Civil Aviation Organization, which says “the return of the expiring passport with the new application should be required” to combat fraud
Canada is part of a five-nation anti-fraud working group that shares information on lost, stolen and revoked travel documents. Passports, especially unspoiled ones, are of high value on the black market, especially in the Middle East and parts of Africa.
The Conservative government has made national and global security a top priority while in office, and last month leader Stephen Harper said if re-elected he would introduce legislation making it a criminal offence for Canadians to travel to parts of the world under the control of extremist groups.
From the Citizenship and Immigration Canada documents
Option No. 1 — Status quo of requiring passport holders to return their travel documents
- Allows passport program to take previous travel documents out of circulation and invalidate them in the system.
- Prevents applicants from having two valid travel documents in their possession.
- The application process would not be entirely online, as applicants would have to return their previous passport to a designated location or by mail.
- May reduce the number of online applications.
- May increase application processing time and the number of incomplete applications if the previous passport cannot be located.
Option No. 2 — Policy change that does not require passport holders to return their travel documents to the passport program
- In line with New Zealand’s current practices.
- Adapted to online service and in line with client services, since clients do not have to return their passport to the passport program.
- The online declaration and the sharing of information about cancelled and expired travel documents would address the risks related to the fraudulent use of passports by a third party.
- Goes against the United Kingdom, United States and Australian current practices, as all three countries require that the most recent travel document, whether valid or expired, be returned. These countries do not offer an online renewal service.
- Could inconvenience travellers crossing a border with their previous passport that has been invalidated in the system.
- Risk of not “catching” applicants that damaged or lost their previous travel documents.