Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Driver's licence overkill

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Driving in Manitoba in January serves as a cautionary tale for parents anxious for their teens to become their own chauffeurs. The plastic detritus piling up at the intersections makes me think twice about handing over the keys to a budding driver in the house.

But they gotta learn, right?

And besides, try proving identity without a driver's licence.

Not everyone has a passport. They're expensive and time consuming to apply for, and they don't slip easily into a pocket.

Turns out in Manitoba a passport isn't all it's cracked up to be, either.

In this province, a Canadian passport is not proof of citizenship. The Canadian government says it is; other provinces agree. Not Manitoba Public Insurance.

MPI seems to regard a driver's licence, in the wrong hands, to be a greater risk to identity theft and national security than a passport. It sets formidable hurdles for an applicant of the enhanced licence -- the one that can get you past the U.S. border -- which requires citizenship be proved and a passport won't do it.

This we discovered when we tried to get the teenager started on his application.

Applicants for a regular licence must prove all of the identity requirements expected for an enhanced licence -- birth date, legal name, signature, photograph and Manitoba residency/permanent address -- but instead of proving citizenship, MPI asks for proof of entitlement to be in Canada (a passport passes muster here). Saskatchewan asks that five identity elements be proved, and makes them easier to verify. Quebec and Ontario ask simply for your birth certificate and health insurance card.

The standards for proving identity have tightened in the era of identity theft and terrorist threats. But it's an officious twist to declare a passport isn't proof of citizenship. MPI's feeble explanation is that someone who has had citizenship revoked might still hold a passport.

The vast majority of licence applicants each year are teenagers and, I'm beginning to suspect MPI would just as soon not see them driving on the streets.

That's because the Crown corporation sets another hurdle to proving residency/address, which requires two documents. This is where it gets tricky for a teenager.

A Manitoba health card was easy enough, but my 17-year-old does not have a utility bill in his name. Ditto a vehicle registration card (I kid you not), a mortgage document, a personal income tax document. He has a bank account but no bank statement (an accepted document) because he tracks his pennies online.

MPI allows a teacher or principal to sign a "guarantor's declaration" as proof of signature, photograph and Manitoba residency. In Saskatchewan, that declaration -- which can be signed by parents -- subs for both residency documents, but not in Manitoba.

Three trips to the local Autopac agent with documents up to our teeth -- passport, birth certificate, guarantor's declaration and health card -- and MPI conceded my teenager was who he said he was. Making things more difficult is the fact the vast majority of people applying for their licences work through an Autopac agent, a middleman, so to speak, which means you can't question the rationale behind the rules; they are just the messengers.

I don't know why this province feels it needs to break trail in Canada, setting the bar stringently high for proving identity. I was unaware that Manitoba is a hotbed of identity theft and terrorism.

I had an easier time getting this kid a passport, and his dad was in Australia at the time.

A friend said the same about getting her 16-year-old a firearms acquisition certificate not long ago; all it took was a treaty card, health card and birth certificate. She and I agreed that in some neighbourhoods, a lot of kids will be less likely to have a passport or a bank account, and must have a heck of a time clearing MPI's hurdles.

(By the way, a treaty card (certificate of Indian status) -- arguably proof of original citizenship -- is not proof of Canadian citizenship, either.)

And it raises the question, if you were worried about national security, which would you more tightly control, a shotgun or a car?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2011 A11

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