Passport to danger

What do you call it when a team of experts weigh in on an issue and provide a recommendation on a proposed new practice and the management ignores the recommendation, intending to forge on ahead with the change?  Meh?  Managerial discretion?  Probably not too important?

When it comes to the proposed new system of passport application and destruction, there is only one word and that word is “irresponsible”.

Passport Canada announced last week that it would put in place new measures, namely on-line applications and doing away with the return of expired passports (see report here). Neither idea is a good one.

The paper-based application allows the passport (or Service Canada) officer to ensure that the person seeking a passport is actually the one on the application form.  On-line forms would make fraud very simple (how many 18-year hunks on dating sites are actually 54-year old balding men with love handles?).

More dangerous is the cancellation of a longstanding requirement that passport holders return their documents for cancellation, moving towards an “honour system”.

I can tell you that there is no honour among extremists any more than there is among thieves.  The proliferation of expiring Canadian passports on the international market will mean that our travel documents will probably be seen as less secure.  Ne’er-do-wells could use the passports to study security features, make alterations, or hand them to others whose physical appearance closely matches that of the real holder.

There have been cases of passport fraud even under the old system.  Convicted Toronto 18 member Mohamed Ali Dirie used another passport to leave Canada in 2012 to travel to Syria where he was killed.  Hasibullah Yusufzai left Canada on another person’s passport in 2014 and is believed to have gone to join a terrorist group in Syria.

How many more cases do we need?  Passport misuse and fraud is already an issue with the current set of regulations.  It will certainly get worse if these changes are implemented.  Why are they being proposed?  The new practices do not seem to be a money-saver.  Nor do they appear to save much time.  Passport Canada’s own internal analysis recommends against the changes.

So, what gives?  It is unclear at this point.  Is this another case of a government which distrusts expertise and analysis carried out by specialists? Let’s hope not.  Let’s hope that this is an idea gone bad and that in the end common sense and national security will trump convenience.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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