Skip to main content

Canadians have recently become accustomed to producing "government-issued photo ID" before boarding domestic flights. But, contrary to what most people think, this requirement is not mandated by any law or regulation. I know, because I refused to show any government ID and was able to board three Air Canada flights over a two-day period -- after short discussions with dumbfounded airline personnel.

I complained to Robert Milton, Air Canada's CEO, who replied: "The requirement for individuals to produce 'government-issued personal photo identification' for all flights departing from airports in Canada is set out in a Security Measures Order issued by the Minister of Transport. Disclosure of the order is prohibited by subsection 4.8(1) of the Aeronautics Act."

I filed an Access to Information request about the "secret order." A Transport Canada official wrote to me that "security measures require that domestic travellers present travel documents, i.e., a ticket and boarding pass upon check-in. These security measures do not require passengers to provide government-issued photo identification for domestic flights in Canada." I was unable to get a copy of the secret regulation.

Confronted with the evidence, Mr. Milton changed his story. "I can confirm," he wrote in a second e-mail, "that the now-since-amended security measures did indeed contain provisions which required airlines to request the production of government-issued identification for domestic flights. Air Canada has chosen to maintain that requirement in order to ensure the safety and security of our customers which Air Canada is entitled to do under its tariffs in order to establish 'positive identification.' . . . Adult customers refusing to provide such identification may be denied boarding."

Do we get this right? Air Canada never realized that government-issued ID was necessary for its passengers' safety until it got a secret order from Big Brother himself. Then, it saw the light. The light was so brilliant that, even after Big Brother secretly rescinded the secret ID requirement on domestic flights, they second-guessed him and continued the practice.

Most Canadian airlines do the same. The only exception is WestJet which accepts "personal identification in the form of photo or non-photo ID," including credit and ATM cards.

Since 9/11, official ID is required to board domestic flights in most countries. Among the major countries, we could only find the U.K. where this is not the case, although some British airports now insist on ID. It is only in the U.S. that an official legal requirement exists. Since the mid 1990s, U.S. regulations require passengers to show government-issued photo ID, but the requirement is not absolute: If a passenger fails to provide such ID, he will be interrogated by security personnel and may be allowed to board his flight.

To the extent that airlines are private companies, it's hard to argue against their right to ask whatever contractual terms they want, including official ID. But this justifies the traditional Canadian opposition: Once government has issued any photo ID, it is too tempting for private parties to take advantage of it, thereby making it more and more indispensable.

Indeed, Quebec law forbids requesting a driver's licence or medicare card, except for the purposes for which such documents were created. Private firms and government bureaucracies circumvent the well-intentioned law by saying that they don't "request" any specifically forbidden ID document, and that any government-issued photo ID will do. However, a spokesman for the Commission d'accès à l'information confirms that it may be illegal to put a person in a position where he must provide his driver's licence or medicare card.

Therefore, airlines operating in Quebec are probably violating Quebec law. The Canadian passport provides a third option -- but this means that the Canadian passport has become an interior passport.

There was a time when passports were not even required to travel internationally, at least in the so-called civilized world. For the benefit of a citizen travelling abroad, his own state issued a passport that warned foreign tyrants not to mess with him.

Now, we need an interior passport to travel in our own country. "I swear," said a friend, a former cop who works in the federal Parliament, "we're getting more like the Soviet Union every year."

Pierre Lemieux, visiting professor of administrative sciences at the Université du Québec à Hull, is co-chairman of the Groupe de Recherche Économie et Liberté.

Report on Business Company Snapshot is available for:

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct