Security took back seat in passport rush, review suggests

OTTAWA - Security might have been compromised as Canada's passport office scrambled to meet an unprecedented demand for travel documents, an internal review says.

OTTAWA - Security might have been compromised as Canada's passport office scrambled to meet an unprecedented demand for travel documents, an internal review says.

An audit of Passport Canada's security bureau found that some employees felt time constraints and inadequate training may have "contributed significantly" to documents being rushed out the door.

New security rules requiring people who enter the United States to carry a passport or other acceptable identity document put tremendous pressure on Passport Canada to respond to travellers in the post-9-11 era.

Over a six-year period, the number of travel documents issued rose by 137 per cent - to 4.83 million in 2007-08 from just more than two million in 2001-02.

Demand jumped markedly between 2005 and 2008. Staff levels also quickly swelled.

"It is not clear to what extent security may have been compromised during the period of high volumes in 2006-07," the audit report says.

The review was completed last August but only recently made public. It was based largely on interviews with 68 officials, including dozens of passport agency employees, workers at Canadian missions, the RCMP and three foreign countries.

The review found many employees didn't understand the security bureau's role, and it noted gaps in the tools and databases available to bureau staff to help make decisions about passport applications.

The report recommended the agency conduct an assessment of security risks for issuing passports, come up with new management procedures and set performance benchmarks.

In a response appended to the review, Passport Canada agreed with the recommendations and set out timelines for achieving them.

Jean-Sebastien Roy, a spokesman for the passport office, said in an email reply to questions that the agency "remained cognizant at all times of the critical importance of maintaining the security and integrity of the Canadian passport.

"These changes allowed the organization to become more efficient."

He declined to say whether Passport Canada had looked into the security allegations. But Roy said the audit recommendations had been implemented.

Many employees "expressed concern" to the reviewers that security may have taken a back seat during the 2006-07 crunch because of:

-Suspicions that "less time was spent on details" compared with normal periods;

-Belief that "the new hires did not receive enough training;"

-Emails outlining policy changes on issuing passports "was not read by all" - especially when employees were too busy working at counters.

The audit report says the passport office is shifting from a "complete and standard review" of each and every passport application to an approach that zeroes in on high-risk files, including a simplified renewal process introduced in August 2007.

The process allows many previous passport holders who have not reported a lost, stolen or damaged passport to reapply without sending in a supporting document or finding a guarantor.

The audit says there was limited training and explanation of the rationale for the changes.

While many felt the streamlined measures sacrificed a measure of security, some managers disputed the assessment.

The report notes the federal auditor general identified serious concerns about the passport office's ability to respond to increased demand and meet security requirements, first in 2005, then in a followup audit two years later.

It says although Passport Canada has taken many initiatives to address these issues, there remain obstacles beyond the agency's direct control.

For instance, vital statistics related to births and deaths that the passport office needs to confirm identity fall under the provinces and territories, each with different standards. In addition, there are restrictions on who can legally have access to such personal information.

 
 
Latest From ...
Most Popular From ...