Your future passport will have a tamper-proof electronic chip, a 13.56-megahertz radio-frequency antenna, a digital photo to assist matchups with facial-recognition technology, and iconic Canadian images from Samuel de Champlain to Terry Fox.
The Conservative government has combined two of its favourite obsessions, security and history, in the pages of the new Canadian passport to be issued as of 2013.
Stephen Harper’s government has a penchant for nostalgic remembrances, whether extensively commemorating the War of 1812 or naming ice-breakers after John Diefenbaker.
The Maple Leaf motif of passport pages will be replaced with images of Canadiana, starting with an inukshuk Inuit landmark and ending with the Bluenose sailing past Cape Spear, Newfoundland.
The government hopes its e-Passport features will cut fraud and speed border clearances. It will cost more, but if you are willing to invest, last longer.
You still can’t smile in your passport photo.
The new passports are adorned with images that seem drawn from sepia-tinged albums of the past.
There is military memorabilia of First World War ace Billy Bishop and HMCS Sackville in the Second World War. Three prime ministers are quoted in the passport’s pages, including two Tories, Sir John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker, consistently the Harper government’s favourite PMs for commemoration; the third is Liberal Wilfrid Laurier.
Most would fit in a Hall of Fame of Canadiana: the fathers of Confederation, the Last Spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Halifax’s Pier 21, and Mounties on horseback. Oil derricks, a grain elevator, and a train symbolize the Prairies.
Not all the images are history. Two pages mark Canadian sport, with kids playing football and hockey above references to the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup, casting the curious impression that Lord Stanley’s mug is won by 12-year-olds on a frozen pond.
The new passports will have a chip with a so-called digital signature unique to the government and tamper-proof technology that in theory makes it detectable if someone tries to change the information on the chip.
The personal information on the chip will be the same as that which is on current passport, the government says. The chip, embedded in the passport, has an antenna so it can be read by placing the passport within 10 centimetres of the scanner.
The information is encrypted with “public key” algorithms that will allow other countries who have been given the authenticating part of the code to determine if the chip was issued by the government of Canada, and whether the information on it has been changed.
The new passports will also include digitized photos on the chip, so that countries that use facial-recognition technology at their borders can better determine if the face of the person standing in front of them matches their picture.
While the new passports cost more, they will last longer, if you are over 16 and willing to pay a little extra when it is issued. A 10-year passport will now be available. Children will only be able to obtain a passport that’s valid for five years.
The advantage of a 10-year passport is convenience. It means Canadians won’t have to renew their passport as often, and that should cut down the workload for passport offices. Many other countries already have them.
Some critics argue it has a downside for security. Fraud might be detected more slowly. Ten-year-old digital photos might not match up so well with the features picked up by facial recognition scanners. And it also means that when the government wants to upgrade the passport with new features, it will take longer for all issued passports to be replaced.
With the new design, comes a new, higher cost.
A five year passport, which now costs $87, will cost $120. The 10-year-option is $160.
For children, a new passport, which now costs $37, will go up to $57.
The fees are similar to those charged in the United States, where a 10-year passport renewal costs $110, and in Great Britain, where a 10-year renewal costs about $117.