Saturday, August 20, 2011

Undriver = Unperson

A few weeks ago, I came across something rare indeed; a news story about a government initiative that actually makes sense and has the potential to make a lot of peoples' lives just a little easier. The Ontario government had announced that it was offering photo ID cards for people who don't drive.

Because most adults in North America do drive, many may not understand the impact of this announcement on those that don't. The driver's license has become the de-facto standard form of identification for most undertakings that require identification. Some form of photo ID is required if one wants to open a bank account, rent an apartment, vote, stay at a hotel, board a plane and so on, and the most commonly accepted identification is the driver's license.

But what if you don't drive? What if you're handicapped, can't afford a car or, like my wife, simply never learned to drive? Well, my friend, in that case your options get quite a bit narrower. The Canadian social insurance card doesn't work, because it doesn't include your picture. A passport is usually good, but not everybody has one of those either and even those that do don't always carry them around on their persons. Even if you do happen to have one handy, a second piece of identification is usually required because the passport doesn't give your home address. The fact is, for people who don't happen to hold a driver's license, proving that they are who they are is much harder than it should be.

Apparently Ontario's Minister of Transportation, Kathy Wynne, recognized this fact, and decided to do something about it by introducing a photo ID card for those who don't drive. What's even more amazing is that, as far as I can tell, this initiative came totally out of left field. I'm not aware that there was any kind of public lobby urging someone to do something about the situation. Those who lacked a driver's license, like my wife, apparently coped with the nuisance in silence and got by as best they could.

So I applaud Kathy Wynne for taking this refreshing initiative. I don't know who or what it was that brought the matter to her attention, but she has pleasantly surprised this somewhat jaded citizen by doing something about a problem that isn't very high profile and, after all, affects a minority of voters.

Shirley Rieck thought it was an excellent idea too. The seventy-five-year-old pensioner doesn't hold a driver's license and has encountered many of the frustrations that I've already outlined when it came to proving her identity. So she rushed right out to get one of the new Ontario photo ID cards. She brought along her birth certificate, her Ontario health card and an old age security card that included her social insurance number. They weren't enough.

Okay, let's all stop to think about this. She couldn't get the photo ID card because she lacked the appropriate ID. Or, put another way, she couldn't make it easier to prove who she is, because it was too difficult to prove who she is. Somewhere along the line, somebody forgot that people like Shirley Rieck are the very reason why this new ID card was launched in the first place! It's like that old aphorism which says that the only way to qualify for a bank loan is to prove that you don't need it.

It's not like Mrs. Rieck didn't come prepared. The list of cards and documents that she took along with her certainly sounds reasonable enough to me, and I would have thought they'd be sufficient. Unfortunately, the birth certificate wasn't acceptable because it bore her maiden name (she hadn't been married yet when she was born, you see). It also didn't show her picture and, even if it did, I'm sure it wouldn't have looked anything like her. The Ontario health card wasn't any good, because the Ministry doesn't like to ask for that, since it can be used to access confidential health information. You can volunteer it anyway but, even then, they want a second piece of ID (I guess the birth certificate and old age security card don't count, though). The news article through which I discovered all this didn't explain why the old age security card was no good.

Well, hats off anyway to Kathy Wynne. At least she tried. Unfortunately, in the end, bureaucracy won out again.

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