How will the Canadian government use my fingerprints? A Primer on Biometrics

November 2018

The Canadian government is expanding the use of biometrics information when determining who to allow to enter Canada. First, some information on biometrics:

What are biometrics?

            Biometrics consist of your photograph and fingerprints. 

Why does the Canadian government collect biometric information?

            By collecting fingerprints and photographs at the time an application is made, Canadian border officials can easily confirm the identity of individuals when they arrive in Canada.  Information can be compared to previous applications, to prevent fraud.  Fingerprint information can be compared against police databases so known criminals are identified. 

Who must provide biometrics?

            Eventually it will be almost everyone who wants to come to Canada, and who is not already a citizen or permanent resident.  For now, it only applies to individuals from certain countries.  This link will tell you if you need to give biometrics according to your country of citizenship.  

            There are exemptions.  For example, the Queen need not provide us with fingerprints.  Neither must infants.  Visitors with valid electronic travel authorizations (eTA’s) need not provide biometrics.  US citizens are also exempt, along with a few other groups of people.

When must you give biometrics?

            Biometrics must be provided when applying for visas to visit Canada, work or study permits, or for permanent residence.  Refugee claimants must also provide biometrics.

How much does it cost?

            The biometric collection fee is $85 CAD, or $170 CAD per family.  There are some other special rates and exemptions from paying the fee.  Refugee claimants, for example, are exempt.

            The biometric fee should be paid along with the application fee, to avoid delays in processing.  Individuals submitting their application in person at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) will pay the fee at the time of submission and have their biometric information collected at the same time.  Individuals applying online and by way of paper application mailed to an immigration office will receive a letter to present to a biometric collection centre. 

Where is biometric information collected?

            All Visa Application Centres (VACs) can take biometric information.  Additional VACs are being set up in countries which currently do not have one.  In the USA, there are Application Support Centres (ASCs).  Some embassies in Europe are providing biometric collection services while their VAC networks are being expanded.  Finally, certain Canadian ports-of-entry (POEs) have the equipment.  Right now, this is limited to airports, but eventually all POEs should be able to collect the information.  However, only individuals eligible to apply at a POE can have their biometrics collected there.

            Notably, there is currently no way to provide biometrics within Canada.  In a few months, Service Canada locations will be providing this service. 

            These links will help you find where you can provide biometrics:

Visa Application Centres (VACs) – this link also has the list of POEs, through a pop-up window

Application Support Centers (ASCs) in the United States

Temporary locations in Europe

How long is the biometric information valid for?

            You must have your biometrics taken every 10 years.  This is significant, because a permit will not be issued for longer than what your biometric information is valid for.  If you are applying to renew a work or study permit, it is important to know not only when your passport will expire, but also your biometric information.  Otherwise, your permit may be issued for less time that you wish.

            Use this link to determine how long your biometric information is valid for.

            For reasons I do not understand, if your biometric information from a temporary resident application is still valid, you must still give new biometric information when you apply for permanent residence.  

What if I can’t give my biometric information?

            There is an exemption available when it is ‘impossible’ or ‘not feasible’ to provide the information.  For example, it would be ‘impossible’ for someone with amputations to give fingerprints and they would request an exemption from this portion of the requirement.  ‘Not feasible’ is a more difficult requirement.  It should apply where urgent travel is required, or where the person cannot travel to a biometrics collection facility.  However, as this tweet from one of my colleagues to Immigration indicates, they are going to be very stingy in granting exemptions for the ‘not feasible’ ground:

 

The big question is, what is the Canadian government going to do with all of this personal information they are collecting?

Once the biometric information is collected, it is sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP screens for Canadian warrants, convictions, refugee claims, prior removals, and prior temporary or permanent applications.  The information is automatically checked against USA immigration fingerprint holdings, although it appears not to check against USA criminal databases.  Finally, the information is also checked against UK, New Zealand, and Australian immigration holdings, as Canada shares its biometrics information with these countries.   

After these checks are made, the personal information (name, date of birth) will be deleted, but the biometrics information itself will be kept in a national repository for screening and storage.

In terms of how the information is used to confirm the identity of a person entering Canada, this too is an evolving process as equipment becomes available. Currently, only major airports have automated, self-serve primary inspection kiosks (PIKs).  Travellers using these kiosks can scan their passports, make on-screen declarations regarding items they are bringing into Canada (they could also do this in advance using an eDeclaration app and then scanning the QR code upon arrival), and have their fingerprints verified and photo taken.  Facial recognition technology is used to match the photo with the biometric information. 

At other ports-of-entry, equipment has been installed to verify fingerprints, but this is only used where the person is referred to secondary inspection. Eventually all ports-of-entry will have the same technology. 

This may seem futuristic, but it is only the start. Transport Canada has a pilot project with the USA, the Netherlands, Interpol and others to test a new airport security system called the “Known Traveller Digital Identity”.  Biometrics are just a stepping stone.  This more extensive system would see that both travel documents and biometrics would be digitized and sent to authorities in advance of the person arriving at the country.  This will allow border officials to pre-screen passengers even before their flights take off.  The information sharing is done by a smartphone app.  That’s either very cool or scary, depending on how you view this sort of thing.

New Canadian Cannabis Legislation Actually Harsher for Non-Canadians

October 2018

A new law will come into effect on October 17, 2018, which will allow Canadians to possess and produce cannabis (marijuana) for personal use.

However, the Cannabis Act is not carte blanche; the legislation still makes it an offence to possess illicit cannabis:

illicit cannabis means cannabis that is or was sold, produced or distributed by a person prohibited from doing so under this Act or any provincial Act or that was imported by a person prohibited from doing so under this Act.

If you are charged with or convicted of a cannabis offence in another country (where it is still illegal to possess cannabis), then you could be inadmissible to Canada even though it will be legal to possess it here. This is because the illicit cannabis definition could apply to the acts committed in that country.  Further, you need not have been convicted of an offence to be inadmissible; just ‘committing’ an act which would be an offence under law could be enough to make you inadmissible to Canada.  Therefore, if you admit to a Canadian border official that you have smoked weed in a jurisdiction where it was not legal to do so, you could be refused entry to Canada.  

In the United States, though some states have legalized cannabis, it is still against federal law to possess it. As such, all cannabis possession in the United States arguably constitutes possession of “illicit cannabis”.  This would make every United States resident who has smoked marijuana inadmissible to Canada.  This is much harsher than the previous legislation. 

It is also important to know that you will not be able to bring cannabis to Canada once it is legal to possess it here. This will still be considered ‘illicit cannabis’.  You can read more about this here: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/cannabis-and-international-travel

You can read more about the new legislation here: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/introduction-cannabis-act-questions-answers.html

Finally, Canadians themselves should also be wary of the implications of smoking cannabis after it’s been legalized, and then seeking entry to the United States. Since it is still illegal on the federal level in the US, an admission to having legally smoked cannabis in Canada could mean a bar to entry to the United States. For more see the following article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/smoke-pot-us-border-1.4718571

Birthright Citizenship: A Case of a Solution Needing a Problem

September 2018

I consider myself to be a mild-mannered person. Living with teenagers has required learning the patience of Job. It is rare that I find myself hot under the collar about something.  But the issue of birthright citizenship is one that really sticks in my craw. 

All children born in Canada, even in Canadian airspace, are automatically granted citizenship. There is only one narrow exception, which is set out in our Citizenship Act:

(2) Paragraph (1)(a) does not apply to a person if, at the time of his birth, neither of his parents was a citizen or lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence and either of his parents was

(a) a diplomatic or consular officer or other representative or employee in Canada of a foreign government;

(b) an employee in the service of a person referred to in paragraph (a); or

(c) an officer or employee in Canada of a specialized agency of the United Nations or an officer or employee in Canada of any other international organization to whom there are granted, by or under any Act of Parliament, diplomatic privileges and immunities certified by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to be equivalent to those granted to a person or persons referred to in paragraph (a).

This section is about to be litigated in Canada’s Supreme Court, over children born in Canada to Russian spies.  This section is also the one which made Deepan Budlakoti stateless. 

Last month, the Conservative Party of Canada held a policy convention. The party narrowly adopted a resolution which stated:

We encourage the government to enact legislation which will fully eliminate birthright citizenship in Canada unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.

Given how many issues have already been created over the very limited exception to birthright citizenship for children born to diplomats, can you imagine the chaos that will ensue if the Conservative resolution becomes law? The regulatory implications are completely unworkable. 

The purported goal of the Conservative resolution is to eliminate birth tourism. This occurs when women travel to Canada for the sole purpose of giving birth, sometimes misrepresenting their intentions for travelling, and not always fully paying their hospital bills.  According to media reports, the goal of birth tourism is for the Canadian-born children to later be able to sponsor their parents, so that the family can live in Canada together. 

There seems to be a lack of knowledge over the limited quota for parental sponsorships, and the need for the sponsoring child to be able to show three years of Canadian income tax statements proving a solid middle-class income prior to applying. As a result, so far as birth tourism goes, Canada likely isn’t even a particularly good choice.  Abolishing birthright citizenship is a solution in need of a problem – there are only a few hundred babies born in Canada through birth tourism each year.   In addition, our immigration department specifically permits women to apply for visitor visas to come to Canada to give birth. 

In a series of tweets, uOttawa professor Jamie Liew explains that Canada is party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.  That document, in addition to a provision in the Convention on the Rights of the Child that provides a right to nationality, means that abolishing birthright citizenship would lead to Canada violating its international obligations.  It is true that an exemption could be worked into any legislative changes to ensure no child would be rendered stateless. However, why purposefully create a bureaucratic nightmare?  It is those who are most marginalized, including refugee claimants with little English and no resources, who will be disproportionately affected.

When the controversy broke out in the news last week, our associate lawyer Fanni Csaba took to twitter:

If this policy existed when my dad was born in Canada to my refugee grandmother, I wouldn't be Cdn. Canada could've dodged a bullet keeping out SUCH an unproductive member of Cdn society. But hey, I'm the right 'type' of citizen so I should know this isn't aimed at me, right?

A previous Conservative government abandoned plans to tackle the birth tourism ‘problem’.  The ‘solution’ would simply be too costly to enact.  Sensible, they were.  So why is this new crop of Conservative politicians bringing up the issue only four years later?   Surely it is a coincidence that this issue is also coming to the forefront in the USA.

There is an alternative to this issue. Abolish national borders.  One planet, one people.  Not having countries means not needing citizenship in one. 

If this is too radical for you, then just leave things be. Stop playing politics with babies’ lives.

Predicting Express Entry Scores is an Inexact Science

August 2018

In my November 2016 newsletter I made a prediction of what the Express Entry minimum comprehensive ranking system (CRS) score would drop to in 2017.  I based my forecast on the 2017 immigration levels plan and the composition of the Express Entry pool of applicants based on the 2015 Express Entry Year-End Report, which at the time was the most recent source of data available.

My prediction was 370 points. Boy, was I ever wrong.

How many immigrants does Canada need?

March 2018

I am a ‘basketball mom’. Less familiar than ‘soccer mom’, this phrase describes a person who spends most of her free time ferrying children to basketball practices and driving to tournaments hours away from home.  A high tolerance for whistle blowing is required for the role.