Montréal, le 20 février 1999
Numéro 31
(page 6)
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 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 
    from 1933 to 1945, striking fear into the inhabitants.  
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