Sunday, June 30, 2013

Something Foul In The Wind At Passport Canada

It came to my attention a day ago that our government is tinkering with things again...and not in a good way.

In this case, we are talking about Passport Canada - the agency which has been processing and delivering passports to Canadians for years.  (an agency which has been quite efficient in my own experience)  It seems that the government has decided to split Passport Canada in two, with front line services being merged with the Service Canada group, and moving the behind-the-scenes people under Citizenship and Immigration.

On Passport Canada's current "about us" page, we find the following:

Passport Canada is a special operating agency of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada responsible for all matters related to Canadian passports. As mandated by the Canadian Passport Order, its responsibilities include issuing, refusing to issue, revoking, withholding, recovering and providing instructions on the use of Canadian passports.
So ... the first question that comes to mind is why is this moving under the auspices of Citizenship and Immigration?

Second, why do we have a "front end" in the form of Service Canada and a "back end" service under a different ministry?

The answer to the first question seems most likely to be rooted in a power play going on at the cabinet table.    It is no secret that Jason Kenney is deemed by many to be Harper's "replacement in waiting".  He has been in the Citizenship and Immigration portfolio for quite some time now.  It seems that he has "accomplished" much of what he was mandated to do when Harper moved him into this position in 2008, and now new responsibilities are coming his way.

My worry with this change to Passport Canada is twofold.  First, I dislike the idea of decision making being decoupled from the frontline services.  It makes it much, much harder to have a coherent discussion about issues if there is a problem with a passport application.  Imagine, if you will, having to file your tax return with Service Canada, and having to deal with Service Canada if there are issues with it, but finding that you are still (ultimately) dealing with some faceless group within the CRA.  Suddenly, the decision makers are completely obscured from scrutiny and challenge.  Worse, the frontline staff are guaranteed to be utterly impotent to deal with actual issues, which further compounds the level of frustration that people will be experiencing.

The second part of my concerns with this change is in the form of recent changes that Jason Kenney has put forward in Bill C-31.  In his overhaul of the immigration act, Minister Kenney gave himself (and future ministers) extraordinary powers to overrule a reasonable due process construct.  In essence, Kenney has just made every decision that Citizenship and Immigration Canada makes subject to political interference through the Minister's offices.

While it is not unusual for the minister to have the power to overturn decisions in exceptional circumstances, the rewrite done under Bill C-31 goes much further than that, and in many respects politicizes the entire immigration process.  In doing so, he has made the immigration decision making processes subject to the political whims of the government of the day to a degree that I suspect few fully comprehend.  (My own review of the revised immigration act is still ongoing, and I expect I will find quite a bit more yet)

Given the Conservative government's willingness to politicize everything in sight, the idea of putting passports under the jurisdiction of a department which has already been yoked by this party - and a minister who is to say the least overbearing in his decision making - has the whiff of passports suddenly becoming subject to political considerations during the issuing process.


Anonymous said...

There was an earlier move by Kenney and the government to enact a law which would give his ministry the power to revoke a Canadian's citizenship, inspired by Omar Khadr's situation. They backed down because of public outcry, but I have to wonder if this will (by stealth) give Kenney's department to do something similar -- i.e. revoke a passport and any political obligations -- and do it as a policy change rather than as something that needs Parliamentary approval.

MgS said...

Hmmm...interesting point - I had forgotten about that little stinkball. You may be correct ... either way, more power ends up in Kenney's hands.

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