New passport processing system $75M over budget

Yet another failing project, once again pointing out political and public servant accountability and management issues:

Another government IT project is going off the rails, this one intended to issue Canadian passports faster and cheaper than the current system.

The so-called Passport Program Modernization Initiative, launched in 2014, is at least $75 million over budget and well behind schedule.

“From its outset, the complexity … was underestimated,” says an internal document, explaining a series of setbacks to the ambitious plan.

“The project management capacity and expertise was insufficient for the complexity and scale of the initiative.”

The January 2017 document, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, says that in initial tests the new system actually increased processing times, rather than decreased them as planned, and allowed breaches to Canadians’ confidential information.

The passport mess joins the botched Phoenix payroll system, the struggling email transformation initiative and the Canada.ca project as IT schemes inherited by the Liberal government that have bogged down in delays and cost over-runs.

That’s because passport fees are much higher than the actual cost of producing the document, and surpluses can be used for improvements in passport processing, including the modernization project and its budget overruns.

Online renewals

The passport project was first approved in December 2013 with a five-year, $101.2-million budget, and was intended among other things to let Canadians apply online for renewals. The project was to be complete by June next year.

But Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada — which has run the passport office since July 2013 — now says modernization will cost at least $176 million, a 75 per cent increase so far, and will not meet next year’s deadline because of delays.

“The project schedule is under review and planned activities are being resequenced to occur at a later date,” says a report on the project.

CBC News has previously reported on the first flubbed test of the new system, starting on May 9, 2015, in which at least 1,500 passports were produced that were vulnerable to fraud and tampering.

But unlike the other three, the fees Canadians pay directly for their passports are going to bail out the modernization project rather than general tax revenues.

‘The reporting did not track project spending … against budgeted activities.’– Internal report on passport modernizaton project

The test was carried out despite warnings of some officials that it posed significant security risks. In the summer of 2015 the department suspended its use of the new system, which was plagued with hundreds of glitches. Officials said none of the 1,500 problematic passports was issued to any citizen.

An internal audit of the initiative’s first stages found a raft of problems, including lack of cost control.

“The reporting did not track project spending against budgeted activities,” says the February 2016 audit report, adding the project “did not include a plan for security requirements.”

In 2013, the new fee for a five-year passport was set at $120 compared with $87 previously, and the department introduced a new 10-year passport for a $160 fee.

Revenues currently far exceed expenses; the passport program generated a surplus of $253 million for 2015-2016, the most recent year reported.

Revenue to drop

But because more Canadians are holding 10-year passports, the department expects revenues to drop significantly starting next year as fewer people need renewals.

The program will start drawing on its accumulated surpluses after next year to avoid deficits — but the modernization program’s cost overruns will add to the fiscal pressures.

That’s the opposite of the original plan, which was for the passport modernization project to dramatically cut the cost of issuing passports, and help IRCC get through the lean years from 2018 to 2023 as revenues decline because of the effect of 10-year passports issued in 2013 and after.

Source: New passport processing system $75M over budget – Politics – CBC News

Canadian passport will have new marker for transgender travellers, justice minister says

As expected and good that this is being done government-wide to ensure consistency:

Transgender travellers will soon have another option to tick off on their passport other than “male” or “female.”

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government is working to update its gender identity policies right across federal departments, and they will include a revamped travel document.

“The prime minister is very mindful of perhaps a third box or an ability to mark something other than male or female. This work is being undertaken at Passport Canada,” she said. “Individual ministers and (people) within their departments are recognizing that this bill has been introduced, that there is work that needs to continue to be taken.”

Wilson-Raybould was testifying before the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, which is studying government legislation to protect the human rights and security of Canadians based on gender identity and gender expression.

She said the government has much work to do to ensure its own policies accord with the intent of C-16, including a recognition that “simply ticking a box of male or female” doesn’t comply.

A sex field is mandatory for travel documents under International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules. ICAO allows one of three markers: F for female, M for male or X for “unspecified.”

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has already removed a requirement for proof of sex reassignment surgery for persons requesting to change the sex marker on IRCC documents, and the department is taking further steps to change the sex marker on travel documents, citizenship certificates and documentation for temporary and permanent residents, according to a government official.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to make all government-issued documents more reflective of gender diversity.

Seven countries have issued identification documents, such as a passport, with a third-sex designation.

‘Where does that end?’

But Conservative Senator Don Plett said changing the passport could have implications on international travel.

“When you start putting other boxes in, where does that end? How many boxes are we going to put in? I don’t think it’s a workable solution,” he said.

Bill C-16 would update the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, making it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity or expression and extending hate speech laws to include the two terms. Under the legislation, judges would also consider it an aggravating factor in sentencing when someone has been targeted for a hate crime based on gender identity or expression.

Wilson-Raybould said the protections are “long overdue” to end discrimination, lift barriers to employment and fill an important gap in the Criminal Code.

The bill has been praised by human rights and transgender advocates, but some senators on the committee raised concerns that there is no definition of the term, leaving it too vague for clear interpretation. Plett said the word “gender expression” could refer to what a person wears or how they comb their hair.

He asked what would happen if a person simply does not recognize more than two genders.

Personal pronouns

“For personal, scientific or faith-based reasons, do you believe they should have to refer to a person by a personal pronoun and should failure to do so constitute discrimination?” he asked.

Wilson-Raybould said Canadians should rest assured the bill will not infringe on freedom of expression, or compel anyone to refer to an individual by a certain personal pronoun.

Source: Canadian passport will have new marker for transgender travellers, justice minister says – Politics – CBC News

Ottawa looks at user-fee hikes for potential new revenue

While it is appropriate that the government is reviewing the User Fees Act to streamline the process (and increase revenues), there is a risk in providing departments with too much flexibility and too limited public consultations.

A clear case in point is with respect to citizenship fees, set at $100 in 1995.

The previous government obtained an exemption from the Act in Budget 2013 omnibus legislation which allowed it to avoid lengthy consultations and increase the fees to $300 in February 2014 along side Bill C-24’s revamping of the Citizenship Act. The government then did a further increase to $530 January 2015, with the change buried during the Christmas holidays.

This further increase was never mentioned during the Commons and Senate hearings on C-24, highlighting again the risk to public accountability.

There is also the broader risk that the current government may only look at fees from a cost recovery or private interest perspective, and not take into account that some fees reflect a mix of private and public interest.

I have argued elsewhere that citizenship fees have such a mix (see The impact of citizenship fees on naturalization – Policy OptionsC-6 Senate Hearings: Expected Impact on the Naturalization Rate) given the shared interest in encouraging political as well as economic and social integration.

Passports, also part of IRCC, are IMO more of private than public interest, where full cost recovery makes sense. Passport fees are subject to the Act and in testimony, departmental witnesses indicated that it took about two years to obtain approval:

The Liberal government is eyeing the user fees Canadians pay for federal services as a new source of revenue.

Since 2004, fees for everything from fishing licences to campsites have generally fallen farther behind the cost of providing those services. That’s the year the User Fees Act was passed, compelling departments to justify to Parliament any proposed fee increases or new fees.

The requirements under the law have been so onerous, however, that they effectively discouraged departments from applying for increases even as costs rose. The result is that taxpayers are stuck with higher bills for private benefits enjoyed by individuals and corporations.

The federal Treasury Board wants to fix the law to smooth the way for more fee increases, putting the fee-cost arithmetic back into balance — and snaring fresh revenues that could be worth millions of dollars.

The wide-ranging initiative, called the Modernizing of the Management of User Fees, is outlined in an internal document CBC News obtained under the Access to Information Act.

“While fees have not increased over time, costs have,” says the heavily censored Aug. 8 memo for Scott Brison, the Treasury Board president. (Numerous sections of the document, available below, have been whited out.)

“This resulted in an increase in the rate of taxpayer subsidies for government services that benefit private interests,” it says.

The freezing effect of the 2004 User Fees Act was dramatic, says the memo. Prior to the legislation, there were an average of 10 proposals each year to increase fees. After 2004, that dropped to 2.4 proposals annually.

Increased paperwork

Changes brought about by the legislation added “significant time and effort” in paperwork for fee increases or new fees, which discouraged applications. Departments have also since been wary of a provision that requires them to cut fees whenever they fail to meet performance standards, says the document.

As a result, 84 per cent of existing user fees have not been revised in nearly 13 years, and now cover a diminishing fraction of the cost of providing the services.

The memo cites the example of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which in 2004–2005 collected $54,999 in user fees for services that cost government $694,641 — or only about eight per cent of the bill.

Nine years later, at $55,988 in fees versus $877,306 in costs, the ratio had worsened to 6.4 per cent.

Other departments, including Health Canada and Industry Canada, have been more successful in keeping the fee-to-cost ratio in balance.

The released sections of the memo do not contain an estimate of potential new revenues.

A spokesman for Treasury Board declined to provide details or timing for the initiative.

‘Strengthening the accountability’

“While the matter of modernizing user fees is still under consideration, we remain committed to strengthening the accountability, oversight, and transparency of user fees,” Alain Belle-Isle said in an email.

Sheila Fraser, then-auditor general of Canada, found in 2008 that there were about 220 federal fees reported publicly, worth about $1.9 billion to the federal treasury. Fees are charged on a wide range of services, including passports, licences for manufacturing drugs, marine navigation, citizenship, and national park entry.

Fraser’s report, which made headlines that spring, criticized the government for overcharging Canadians for consular fees that were attached to passport application fees.

‘Inappropriately subsidizing’

Less noticed was her warning that the government “may be recovering less than an appropriate amount from fee payers, or, depending on the fee, taxpayers may be inappropriately subsidizing a private benefit …”

Source: Ottawa looks at user-fee hikes for potential new revenue – Politics – CBC News

New gender-neutral Ontario health cards make it harder to get a passport

Inexcusable lack of communication and due diligence by the Ontario government. While I know that OHIP cards are not intended for identification purposes, the reality suggests otherwise.

Systems are linked and it is the responsibility of officials to make the necessary checks:

Ontario’s decision to issue gender-neutral health cards is making it more difficult for some of the province’s residents to get a passport, since the federal government wasn’t consulted on the switch.

….The province announced in June that it will start issuing health cards that no longer display information about a person’s gender on the front of the card.

Changes made to be fair and equitable, province says

Beginning in early 2017, drivers will also have the option on their licences to select X, instead of an M for male or F for female.

The province’s Liberal government said it is making the changes “to ensure the fair, ethical and equitable treatment of people with trans and non-binary gender identity.”

Bestard maintains this is a positive step for non-binary people, and one that she has absolutely no problem with. “I do understand the nuances of the LGBTQ community, and the challenges they face,” she said.

The issue, she says, is the headache that has been created by the two levels of government not working together.

“The lack of communication is quite surprising,” she said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Lindsay Wemp told CBC News that “IRCC was not consulted as part of this initiative from the government of Ontario.”

Christine Burke, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, says ServiceOntario has been working with the federal government to address this situation.

“No consultations took place with the federal government prior to the change, as we were unaware that the photo health card was being used and accepted as an identity document by Passport Canada,” she said in an email.

Kwok Wong, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, told CBC News that the ability to just mark an X for gender on an Ontario licence complies with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards for machine-readable official travel documents.

“In various other countries, X is used in place of M or F when gender is not specified,” he said in an email.

“Ministry of Transportation officials discussed this proposal with the federal government counterparts including Passport Canada and Canada Border Service Agency.”

It appears that a licence marked with an X would not be able to be used to obtain a passport, as proof of gender is still one of the requirements.

Source: New gender-neutral Ontario health cards make it harder to get a passport – Hamilton – CBC News

Canadian passports exposed to security risks under new processing system

Normal teething pains or more serious problems?

At least 1,500 Canadian passports have been produced under a flawed new system that has opened the door to fraud and tampering, according to documents obtained by CBC/Radio-Canada.

Internal records from Citizenship and Immigration Canada reveal the processing program was rushed into operation on May 9, 2015, despite dire warnings from senior officials that it was not ready and could present new security risks.

One government source told CBC/Radio-Canada there are concerns that passports produced under the new system could wind up in the wrong hands.

Internal reports warn these problems endanger the security of the Canadian passport.

Since the launch of the new system, officials have been scrambling to fix hundreds of glitches and seal security gaps. Weeks after the new process was brought on line, there were calls to stop production.

Those recommendations were ignored, and the passports continue to be issued in the first phase of production under the new system, designed to enhance security and integrate with other global programs.

Numerous reports show that during a period of several weeks, it was possible for Citizenship and Immigration employees to alter the photo on a passport after it had been approved. And there are numerous reports of discrepancies between information contained in the database and what actually appeared on a passport.

In some cases, information disappeared from the system, making it difficult to verify if the applicant had used questionable guarantors or had made repeated claims of lost or stolen passports in the past.

That information acts as a safeguard to flag potential problems with applications.

Responding to the CBC report during a campaign event in Etobicoke, Ont., today, Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said ensuring the Canadian passport is secure is a top priority.

“Any mistake, any problems are quickly looked into and remedied,” he said. “The system that we have in this country is as good as any in the world, and I’m confident that will continue.”

Source: Canadian passports exposed to security risks under new processing system – Politics – CBC News

Planned passport renewal change opens door to fraud, forgery

My working assumption is that there would have been considerable risk analysis undertaken before making this change, and that Public Safety and its agencies would have been consulted and likely would have commented on the potential risks.

As more and more information is captured and shared electronically, hard to see how an expired passport would allow entry to any OECD country or equivalent.

Option summary worth noting:

From the Citizenship and Immigration Canada documents

Option No. 1 — Status quo of requiring passport holders to return their travel documents

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • The application process would not be entirely online, since 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 can not be located.

Option No. 2 — Policy change that does not require passport holders to return their travel documents to the passport program

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Source: Planned passport renewal change opens door to fraud, forgery – Politics – CBC News

Montreal imam has passport revoked; was once named as ‘subject of interest’ in probe

Seeing how the policy is being applied and what (public) risk factors are considered:

The case is spelled out in documents filed last week in the Federal Court of Canada, where Mr. Goldberg is arguing the government “erred in law” by revoking the cleric’s [Sheikh Ali Sbeiti’s] passport “and denying him passport services for an unspecified time.”

In his application, Mr. Goldberg claimed the decision violated Mr. Sbeiti’s mobility rights and was based on “erroneous findings of fact it made in a perverse and capricious manner.” Passport Canada also failed to observe procedural fairness, he said.

The case is the latest test of federal regulations that allow the government to revoke or refuse passports on several grounds, including if it is deemed “necessary for reasons of the national security of Canada or another country.”

A 46-year-old Shi’ite cleric, Mr. Sbeiti was born in Najaf, Iraq, and studied religion in Lebanon and Iran, according to the Centre Communautaire Musulman de Montreal website, which identifies him as its imam, although a person who answered the centre’s phone said he no longer worked there.

“He immigrated to Montreal, Canada, in 1988 and went back to Qom, Iran, to continue his religious studies. Few years after he came back to Canada to serve the community,” it said. He founded “associations and community centres all across Canada,” including in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Edmonton and Vancouver, the CCMM biography said, adding he was an “active member of several committees and bodies involved in the community and religious activities across North America.”

According to Quebec corporate records, Mr. Sbeiti is president of the Association El-Hidaya, a Montreal non-profit group founded in 1997. The association’s address, according to provincial records, is the same as that of the CCMM.

In 2006, he told a self-styled “People’s Committee on Immigration Security Measures” about “his personal and community experiences of harassment” by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Quebec activist group wrote in its report.

“He has been interviewed tens of times by CSIS (starting well before 11 September 2001), often for hours at a time,” and people who arrive in the country are regularly asked about him and whether they plan to attend his prayers; they are made to feel as though he is dangerous,” the committee’s report said.

Mr. Sbeiti “began having problems at airports” and complained about delays getting his boarding passes and being “asked to stand aside and wait while others were processed,” it said. “Eventually, he found out that he had been placed on the no fly list in the United States and that this was affecting him even when he was flying in Canada.”

Montreal imam has passport revoked; was once named as ‘subject of interest’ in probe | National Post.

How can we stop the jihadi tourists? – Margaret Wente

Wente conflates cancellation of passports with revocation of citizenship.

Not the same at all. Cancellation of passports potentially applies to all Canadians, whether born in Canada or naturalized, whether Canadian citizens only or dual nationals.

Revocation on the other hand, applies only to those with dual nationality (or with the right to another nationality).

So take some examples from the same Calgary terrorism cell. The Canadian-born extremist Damian Clairmont would not be subject to revocation while his “cellmate” Pakistani dual national Salman Ashrafi, who came to Canada as a child, would be.

Both are dead, but there are other comparable cases among the known and likely unknown extremists.

Two different punishments for the same crime. Hard to see how this would not be successfully challenged before the courts.

Far better to use the Australian approach, as stated by PM Abbott, “If you fight with a terrorist group, if you seek to return to this country, as far as this government is concerned, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed for a very long time indeed.”

Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Leader, has said he opposes the Conservatives’ new measures, and that homegrown terrorists should be dealt with through the criminal justice system. “I think that a lot of Canadians, including very conservative Canadians, should be worried about the state willing to, and taking the power to, arbitrarily remove citizenship from people,” he said. “That’s a slippery slope that I don’t think we want to go on.”

But Mr. Trudeau – who is now out of step with the rest of the world – will not be eager to raise the subject again. After all, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has allied himself not only with Britain and Australia, but with Barack Obama and the UN.

It’s a very serious matter for governments to revoke the passports of their citizens, restrict their freedom and deprive them of their citizenship. And people who warn that states might abuse their new powers are right. Without vigilance, they probably will.

Finding the balance between national security and personal liberty is always tricky. But our first obligation is to protect ourselves – and the world – from bad Canadians. The virus of murderous fanaticism hasn’t gone away. And it will be around for a long time to come.

How can we stop the jihadi tourists? – The Globe and Mail.

Canadian government revoking passports of citizens trying to join extremist groups

Sensible measure:

He [Alexander] would not disclose the number of passports Citizenship and Immigration Canada had revoked over the conflict but said there were “multiple cases.” The government says about 30 Canadians are with extremist groups in Syria and 130 are active elsewhere.

“Yes, I think it’s safe to say that there are cases of revocation of passports involving people who’ve gone to Syria and Iraq already,” Mr. Alexander said. “I just don’t want to get into the numbers, but multiple cases.”

The action means Canadian fighters in Syria and Iraq may effectively be stranded there. Their passports are no longer valid and therefore cannot be used to return to Canada. Nor could they be used to travel elsewhere.

…. Mr. Alexander said while they were few in number, he was troubled that Canadians had joined ISIS, which has been committing widespread atrocities in an attempt to impose its militant version of Islamic law on Syrians and Iraqis.

“We are not by any means the leading contributor of foreign fighters to Syria, even though the dozens that are there and the 130 that are abroad [with other extremist groups] is a disturbing number for all Canadians. But we want to ensure that Canada’s good name is not besmirched by these people any more than it already has been and that Canadians are protected.”

Canadian government revoking passports of citizens trying to join extremist groups

Passports are powerful tools: Brender | Toronto Star

As the government prepares to table its revisions to the Citizenship Act, likely focussing on further improving the integrity and meaningfulness of citizenship, including making it harder to obtain, commentary by Natalie Brender on the realities of instrumental citizenship and passport, and how they should be part of the conversation.

One of the tensions all governments face is the balance between attracting the more dynamic and mobile economic immigrants through facilitating citizenship and making citizenship more difficult, which may make countries less “competitive” in attracting immigrants.

Is all this scheming and tit-for-tat a fair way for the business of citizenship to be run? Maybe not, but very little about passports and citizenship is fair in light of the dangers and protections they bring. It’s not fair that those in war-torn or dead-end countries who have the right cash and connections get to resettle abroad while their poorer compatriots are trapped in place. And which of us wouldn’t avail ourselves of any foreign passport we could if we lived in desperate conditions here in Canada?

These aren’t comfortable realities to face. Many politicians and citizens alike would rather change the topic by hewing to a loftier notion of citizenship as a marker of loyalty, shared values and a common fate. We’re lucky that a passport is more than just a tool in Canada, where it also symbolizes shared values and reciprocal obligations between government and citizens. That said, discussions and policy-setting must take into account more than just the high principles of citizenship. Most of the hardest questions are bound up with the geopolitical realities, economic pressures and human strivings that make a passport one of the most prized commodities existing today.

These thoughts suggest that realism and sympathy are in order as the government proceeds with its citizenship review in 2014. There’s not much danger that the new citizenship rules will constrain Ottawa’s ability to extend Canadian passports as a tool for serving pressing economic interests. But in its zeal to defend “the value of Canadian citizenship,” the Harper government may depict that value in ways that obscure broader global realities and blunt our sympathies. Acknowledging clearly the many ways in which a passport is indeed a tool, as well as a political emblem, will make for a healthier national conversation about citizenship policy.

Passports are powerful tools: Brender | Toronto Star.