On the Awenen Niin Act (Who Am I), 2021

Published on March 22, 2021

On 22 March 2021, MPP Anand spoke about the "Awenen Niin Act (Who Am I) Respecting Identity Documents, 2021".

"It’s always a pleasure to rise in this House. I rise today to speak on the bill brought forward by the member opposite from Thunder Bay–Atikokan. Before I start, Madam Speaker, I want to start by sharing what I miss today: the hustle and bustle that we used to have before COVID-19. I remember the time when Queen’s Park used to be full of members, their staff, stakeholders and visitors—for example, the new Canadians; the visitors from Ontario; the visitors from Canada, coast to coast; the visitors from the world, coming here, visiting us, watching us working together collaboratively.

And what I miss the most is the visitors from school—the school students. I do remember when they would come here. They would see us in action. They’d get inspired. Those young women, when they look at the members or the ministers—or, many times, they have seen the Leader of the Opposition, they have seen the former Premier. They get inspired. That’s what I miss here.

But I want to say one thing: As we know, we’re in a tough time. I want to say thank you to those heroes who on the front line who have supported us so far, and those who are hidden, their families, who have supported us. But the hope is here. The vaccine is coming. We are ready, and I would say to everyone in Ontario: Please get ready to get your vaccine as soon as possible.

Now, speaking about the bill, Madam Speaker: The member opposite has introduced a bill, and I believe it is with good intent; however, I’d like to echo the same sentiment as my colleague the member from Scarborough–Rouge Park, that the bill represents a misunderstanding of the process for issuing identity documents and the costs associated with providing them to Ontarians. Our government is already taking action to improve access to vital event and identity documents and reducing the fees along the way, so this bill is duplicative.

The bill is not proposing any efficiencies. It is not proposing how we can work together to reduce the cost. All it is saying is to move the cost. It’s not fair in that it would increase the burden on taxpayers by shifting the cost of the individual identity products, such as birth and death certificates, to the broader tax base. I’m sure it is not lost on anyone in this Legislature that this would be happening at a time when families and individuals are recovering from the challenges of the pandemic.

This bill also adds risk to our society. Considering that there is no cost, many individuals may choose to order additional unneeded copies of critical identity documents that could be lost or stolen, or choose to misuse those products. Law enforcement may not support this approach, as the increase in the number of documents in circulation may lead to an increase in fraudulent activities as well. Fees deter this type of behaviour. We have seen it in the past. When there is no cost, you will see the number of documents increasing, and that in turn can result in fraud, creating false identities.

Although only entitled individuals may obtain a birth product, anyone may apply for a change-of-name certificate or birth certificate and anyone may apply for a search for any vital event registration. Again, if the fees were to be removed, fraudsters could see this as an opportunity for phishing of personal information to a larger scale across the board. These implications would undermine the goal of increasing access to identity documents. Our current fees help eliminate bad actors and reduce the number of documents in circulation and that, in turn—this way, we’re able to help the vulnerable, from fraud.

Again, I want to say—I want to echo again—I’m not questioning the intent of the member’s PMB, but we have to look at the overall picture. It is the reality of fraud management for any government, and it must be considered. As my colleague shared, our government continues to work with partners and interested parties towards fair and equitable access to identity documents for the individuals who need them.

We understand this money could be a huge amount for some. That is why a fee-waiver program is available to not-for-profit corporations that have a mandate to assist homeless and marginally housed individuals to overcome barriers in obtaining a birth certificate. There are 27 corporations currently participating in the program. Madam Speaker, I want to share the data: In 2019, the Ontario Registrar General issued 6,056 certificates with waived fees.

I understand the PMB calls for the formation of a statutory advisory committee on efficient identification document services. I want to share with the member that the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services is already engaged with numerous partners, such as the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, to address community-specific barriers to accessing identification documentation.

The ministry has consulted with stakeholders to develop to remove sex information from Ontario health cards and allow Ontarians to select M, F or X on their driver’s licence and Ontario photo card. The ministry is also conducting a ServiceOntario fee review, which includes fees for vital event services, to ensure that registration-related fees of certain services provided by ServiceOntario are set at the level that appropriately recovers the cost of providing the service.

In terms of accessibility, the minister and her team have been working hard to make sure that they’re already there for everyone, and doing excellent work to increase the access to—"