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Ottawa, November 5, 2002 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today sent the following letter to the Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the subject of Canadian passports:
Dear Minister Graham:
I am writing to you with regard to the issue of discriminatory treatment of Canadian travellers on the basis of the place of birth indicated on their passports.
You very appropriately stated last week that we do not have different classes or categories of Canadian citizens depending on their country of birth or indeed, whether they were born in Canada or abroad.
For this reason, I wish to question, from a privacy perspective, why place of birth is included as a data element on Canadian passports at all. It appears to me that this constitutes an unjustified and unnecessary disclosure by the Government of Canada of personal information about individuals to anyone who has occasion to see their passports.
This information is not only irrelevant since a Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen, without distinction. It is also potentially misleading. Some Canadians, born abroad while their parents were travelling or residing temporarily in a country, may have no real connection whatsoever to the country of their birth. Others, although born in Canada, may have a strong attachment to their country of ethnic origin.
While inclusion of place of birth on Canadian passports therefore serves no readily apparent or defensible purpose, recent events have shown that this practice can have negative and unfair consequences for individuals. In today's world, it is also possible that in some circumstances the availability of this information on their passports could expose Canadian citizens to physical danger.
It is noteworthy that there is already a notice on passport application forms informing applicants that they can request in writing that their place of birth not be included on their passports. Since it is thus possible for some Canadians to have their place of birth omitted, it is not apparent to me why this cannot be the standard practice for all Canadian passports, without requiring individuals to opt out.
I therefore recommend that urgent consideration be given to no longer indicating place of birth on Canadian passports issued from this time onward. I also recommend that holders of existing Canadian passports be given the readily available option of promptly exchanging them for new ones that do not include place of birth.
In view of the urgency of this matter, I would appreciate your response at the earliest possible time.
Privacy Commissioner of Canada
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For more information, please contact Anne-Marie Hayden, Media Relations, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, by phone at (613) 995-0103 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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