le 20 février 1999
MUSINGS BY MADDOCKS
by Ralph Maddocks
Although that assemblage which masquerades as government in this province
has yet to resume its deliberations after the lengthy Christmas break,
a pair of its ageing members have again begun to emit noises about introducing
legislation on voter ID cards at the next session.
|Don't leave home without it
According to the little that has appeared in the press, the justification
proffered for this democratic proposal seems to have been related to events
which were televised during the last election. This involved an individual
being able to vote in six different polling stations without once being
asked for identification. The stunt, accomplished with the help of five
of the perpetrator’s friends, was a clear violation of the Elections Act,
it being an offence under that act for anyone to cast more than one ballot
in the same election. Whether this stunt was arranged by the television
show’s producer as alleged, or whether it was a ploy to provide the basis
for introducing this new legislation, will probably never be known. Instead
of punishing the perpetrators for their offence we are to get a new law;
after all that is what lawmakers are supposed to do, isn’t it?
It will be recalled that in the referendum of 1995 there was much noise
about illegal voting especially by those with ethnic surnames. That there
was tampering with certain polls has been quietly forgotten. This discussion
has raised its ugly head several times throughout the last quarter of a
century and yet again comes to prominence. The last time it was also because
the then Quebec Director General of Elections also believed that there
should be a universal identity or voter's card to eliminate electoral fraud.
The government, as usual, not being slow to see yet one more way in which
it could restrict the liberty of its citizens and control them more effectively,
held hearings on the subject. It seemed that common sense prevailed and
the idea was finally abandoned.
However, it is a serious mistake to underestimate the will of any government,
especially one bent on gaining its political ends by any means that it
can. Now that they think they have once more found a plausible reason,
there will probably be little to stop them. Particularly since the mainstream
press shows little interest in opposing the measure.
The last time they did this, the government claimed also that it wished
to offer a number of services using electronic means. It proposed a multi-service
electronic card, a so-called smart card. As many readers may have
noticed already, their photo appears on their drivers' licences and on
their health cards, if they have them. However, this is apparently insufficient
evidence to identify you at the polls: as are your credit cards, automated
teller cards, video club cards, health club cards, fishing or golf club
membership cards, student bus passes, business or calling cards, etc. Your
birth certificate, store discount card, driver’s licence, social insurance
card, citizenship card, passport and old age security identification cards
are, apparently, not sufficient to identify you either. Now you will need
a special card just to exercise your right to vote.
The government claimed in the past that the Highway Safety Code and the
Health Insurance Act forbid the use of their cards for purposes other than
those stipulated in the respective legislation. Only parts of the government
seemed to have known this; the Quebec Access to Information Commission
has reported many cases where government departments have insisted on using
one or the other to identify applicants for various services. Both cards
seem to have become virtual identification cards and we can all cite similar
cases from our own experience. How many times have you been asked to provide
your Social Insurance Number for a purpose for which it was not designed?
It would, of course, be naïve in the extreme to believe that a voter
ID card will be the end of the matter.
Nothing to fear, ID cards are here
Information on European ID cards ranges from a simple assigned number to
information about the holder, photo, name, place and date of birth, ethnic
origin, the parents’ names, the holder’s occupation, religion, a physical
description, fingerprint and blood group. Reflecting on some of the past
statements made by one of this government’s former spokesmen, the more
sinister aspects of this proposal begin to appear.
All governments claim that ID cards make all personal data more easily
accessible, saying that such cards make it easier for individuals to obtain
public services. Such cards can provide a quick validation of the holder’s
address. They can be used in financial transactions of all kinds, eliminating
fraud and duplicate payments in conjunction with social programmes. The
card would make it easier for merchants to identify underage customers.
The police would be able to identify suspects more quickly. Health information
could be embedded in the ID card which could be useful in an emergency,
e.g. allergies, diabetes, blood group, contraindications to certain medications,
etc. It is all for your own good you know.
Management of social programmes would be simplified by having a central
registry where eligibility for certain programmes could be verified. Those
individuals who failed to fulfill their obligations (e.g. fail to repay
a student loan or support a divorced spouse), may then be easily traced.
Changes of address made to the voter identity card could be made automatically
to all an individual's various files. The prospect of government efficiency
might even seem attractive to some. Just imagine, efficient bureaucracy
no longer an oxymoron.
So, following adoption of the voter ID card will come demands for converting
it into some form of universal ID card. A whole new series of supporting
arguments will then appear. Internet users will be able to identify themselves
properly when making transactions. Merchants will be able to identify customers.
The problem of the use of the driver’s licence and the health insurance
card as pieces of identification will have been solved. Those who object
to the idea of such a ID card will again be proffered platitudes such as
« Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to fear.
We shall hear the usual mindless chattering from the government’s supporters
about the need to preserve the integrity of the democratic voting process,
and how no reasonable person could object to a measure which will ensure
honesty at the ballot box. The amount of platitudinous drivel emanating
from supporters of the Voter ID card will be astonishing only in its verbosity.
What will have been forgotten are the lessons of history. Those who may
have watched Schindler’s List or, worse yet, may have been on a
similar list at some time in their own lives will have no problem remembering.
Not only were the Nazis able to round up and classify their quarry with
ease due to Identity Cards, but a similar act of genocide occurred in Rwanda.
This particularly odious event was possible because, without the ID card,
Hutu could not be easily distinguished from Tutsi. The government of Turkey
obliges all its citizens to carry ID cards, bearing details of religion,
at all times thus enabling them to persecute the Kurds at will. Holes punched
in the cards of « political » offenders make such
persons even easier to persecute. China uses a combination of ID cards,
residence permits and work permits very effectively to maintain its brutish
regime. Without the appropriate documents you cannot enter a town and,
if caught without the documents, you can be beaten savagely and deported
to some unpleasant place.
Greece, the so-called « cradle of democracy »
has ID cards on which religious affiliation must appear. In 1993, a leaked
report, later denied, showed the government proposing to divide the population
into two groups. The Orthodox, or « genuine, pure, incorruptible
Greeks » and the heterodox, or « non-genuine,
impure, corruptible Greeks »; against which «
traitors » repressive and preventive measures should be taken.
Sound familiar? Just think, it all began with a TV show!
* German for « Papers,
please », a phrase used interminably in Germany
to 1945, striking fear into the inhabitants.
de Ralph Maddocks