Ian Lee is an assistant professor of business strategy and public policy at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. He testified before the House of Commons and Senate committees studying the Fair Elections Act, C-32.
In a famous debate in the 18th century, Bishop Berkeley argued that the physical world was an illusion, to which Samuel Johnson kicked him in the shins and said, “I refute you thee thus.”
And thus I refute this claim:
“The bill would remove a number of provisions whereby people, particularly, who are not normally on the electors list and who have difficulty voting because they do not have the proper ID, would now find it very difficult, if not near possible, to vote.” – Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East, House of Commons, February 7.
Following Dr. Johnson, the following “kick in the shins” is delivered to Ms. Davies, along with other good professors and politicians who have claimed that some voters would be disenfranchised by ending vouching because they lack any valid ID whatsoever.
This debate, properly understood, is one concerning the identification policies of large public and private institutions in modern, complex society and the extensiveness and pervasiveness of these multiple overlapping personal identification systems.
Apparently, the evidence of vouching in the last election was taken by some, in part, as proof of absence of any identification for some Canadians.
Based on extensive empirical research into government identification systems, I have found that it is legally and factually impossible today to be digitally invisible with no identity of any kind recorded in any government database anywhere in Canada.
In Canada today, very large computers and modern bureaucracies – public and private – have created massive interconnected databases on citizens.
1. Each provincial Vital Statistics Act requires every birth, marriage and death be registered in provincial records database. Every Canadian must have a health care identity card to access any health care in Canada. Every provincial health ministry compels recording of immunization of children between 4 and 17. Every provincial education act compels school attendance and record keeping with ID cards issued in secondary schools.
2. The Income Tax Act, section 237, makes a Social Insurance Number mandatory to obtain employment; to hold accounts at banks and institutions where interest is earned; to obtain the Canada Education Savings Grant and Registered Education Savings Plans, Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, the Quebec Pension Plan, Old Age Security, Guaranteed Income Supplement, Child Tax Benefits, student loans, Harmonized Sales Tax claims, Social Assistance benefits, veterans’ benefits and programs, or Workers’ Compensation benefits.
3. Ontario Works (Ministry of Social Services) lists multiple ID required to apply for social assistance.
4. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada reports that 96 per cent of adult Canadians have a bank account. 5. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada reports that 94 per cent of all Canadians hold a debit card. 6. The Canadian Bankers Association reports that 71 million credit cards are held by Canadians.
7. Statistics Canada reports that 69 per cent of Canadians are homeowners, with their title deed to the property in writing, by law, with name and address.
8. Statistics Canada reports that 31per cent of Canadians rent, with written tenancy agreements stating name and address required under Landlord and Tenant laws.
9. Aboriginal Affairs Canada records 800,000 Aboriginal identity cards, which are necessary to obtain benefits such as HST rebates.
10. Statistics Canada records 29 million vehicles registered in Canada with name and address on each ownership certificate.
11. Transport Canada records 22.5 million licensed drivers above age of majority.
12. Passport Canada’s 2012 annual report shows that 70 per cent of Canadians have a passport – up from 45 per cent in 2008.
13. Statistics Canada reports that 2 million people are in colleges and universities, where each student is issued a photo ID card required to write exams/ 14. Government of Canada Public Works (and most provincial counterparts) requires photo ID to enter any government building. 15. Parliament requires mandatory photo ID to enter any Parliamentary building.
16. Statistics Canada records 2 million flights on Air Canada and WestJet in 2012, each requiring photo ID.
17. The Canadian Library Association records 360 million visits made to libraries.
18. Greyhound Canada requires photo ID to board a bus.
19. The Canadian Bankers Association reports that two pieces of ID are required to open a bank account.
This empirical research reveals that multiple federal and provincial government agencies are required by law to record and often monitor citizens in multiple overlapping digital identification databases – with identity cards numbering well in excess of 200 million for 18 million voters (excluding millions of monthly utility bills) – from health care cards to driver’s licenses to student ID cards to employee cards to birth certificates to passports to SIN cards to auto ownership cards to library cards to debit cards to credit cards to Aboriginal ID cards to title deeds to tenancy agreements.
Moreover, contrary to the critics, this research reveals that low income people need significantly more ID in order to access the array of social services available.
The unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation that significant numbers of Canadians possess no identity cards appears to be another urban legend.