“Color me impressed with Service Canada- Adele’s
birth certificate took 2 days from the online registration to arrival
at my front door via courier. Now THAT is impressive.
Why can’t all gov’t agencies be that efficient?”
– posted on Facebook by an optimist
Now there is a relevant question. Why can’t all government agencies be that efficient or, at least, sort of in the ballpark? The lack of thinking and motivation that goes into the bureaucratic process at all levels of government is staggering.
In Canada, every citizen has a Social Insurance Number. I was a teenager when the government decided that numbering us was better than simply using our names and I still remember getting my first SIN card. It was white plastic with black lettering and a red Canada flag logo proudly displayed in the upper left hand corner. Its purpose was strictly limited for dealing with the government in terms of taxation and Canada Pension payments.
Over the years, the SIN number became a broader form of identification. Banks required it when new accounts were opened. Credit card companies required it as part of the process of approving you for a new credit card and it was used to run credit checks, background and criminal checks.
I carried that card in my wallet for years from the time I was about 18 but a few years back it finally disintegrated. It had cracked in multiple places over the years and the tape I had used to try and hold the pieces together just wasn’t working anymore so I bit the bullet and went to Service Canada to get a replacement card. I needed it to get a new passport.
Service Canada is the arm of the federal government that provides a centralized point of contact for Canadians for a wide range of government services. This is meant to eliminate the need to go to multiple departments to get something done and to reduce government cost through a reduction in duplication of effort.
Service Canada offices are conveniently scattered in shopping malls and office buildings across the country and I had no difficulty finding one near where I live. So far, so good. I didn’t even have to pay for parking which is a pleasant change from most government buildings. (I personally find it offensive that we have to pay for parking to go into a government department that our money finances.)
I dropped Maggie off for work on this particular morning and zipped out to the Service Canada outlet. I parked and walked jauntily into the office and in that simple act fell down the rabbit hole and found myself in Wonderland.
Consider this information carefully. I was simply getting a replacement card for a SIN I already had been issued. My name and number were on file in the Service Canada data base. I had plenty of government issued photo ID including my driver’s license and health card so I wasn’t concerned about proving who I was. I should have been.
None of that identification was acceptable to prove who I was. I was told that I would require a copy of my birth certificate.
You could almost hear the carousel music starting up as the merry-go-round started to spin.
Birth certificates in Canada are produced by a provincial, not the federal, government. They are issued on cheap paper and you are not permitted to plasticize them in order to preserve their life span. Mine had worn out years earlier but because birth certificates are almost never used as a form of ID in Canada, I had never bothered to replace it. That was a bad decision as it turns out.
Now there was a time when you could drop by a provincial office conveniently located in your city and get a replacement birth certificate while you waited. That was, of course, before the provincial government decided t become more client-centric with the development of Service Ontario. Now, you have to deal with one centralized office to get your birth certificate and it was conveniently located in Toronto a mere 400 kms away.
I could use the handy online ordering system which would only take a few weeks but adding those weeks to the weeks it would take to get my SIN card and then my passport would take me far beyond the time period when I would need my passport. So, I opted to drive to Toronto to the Service Ontario office to get a replacement birth certificate.
I left at 3:00 in the morning and was the second person in line when the office opened for business that morning. (There is always a line at a government service centre.)
I had already filled out my forms and could tell that my service agent was appreciative of that. He and I hit it off right away. I handed him the forms and asked what identification he would require only to be told he didn’t require ID. Excuse me? I was about to be given a government identification document based solely on a form I had filled out and with no verification of who I was. Remember, it was this specific document that federal government required in order to give me a replacement card for what is arguably the most important identification card a Canadian is issued.
My application for a new birth certificate was handled in whiz bang time although they couldn’t hand me the replacement certificate at that office. It would have to be mailed to me but if I liked, for an additional $75 they could courier it to me in three days. This is a piece of paper they used to print out while you waited but under the new and improved efficiency of centralizing services, it now had to be mailed for free or couriered at extra cost.
The bottom line is that I received my birth certificate three days later with absolutely no proof of identity, used it to get a replacement SIN card without any other proof of identity and then used the SIN card to get a new passport.
I’ve gone through more intensive identity checks to get a library card.
It’s small wonder that identity theft is so prevalent these days. Government bureaucracy makes it all too easy with processes that are poorly thought out, procedures that are absurdly absurd by organizations more concerned with employee language skills than anything even closely resembling customer service, efficiency or security.
In this case, it was my own documents I was replacing but it made me realize how easy it is to create an identity or steal one in this country. With a false birth certificate you can obtain a SIN card and a passport. With those documents you can open a bank account in the stolen identity, obtain credit cards, get a driver’s license and a health card and depending on the age of the identity you’ve stolen, even get a Government of Canada pension.
Now that is service!