'Tremendous imbalance': Some Indigenous people are waiting years for their status cards
TORONTO -- Some Indigenous people are waiting for up to two years to get their Secure Certificate of Indian Status (SCIS) card, which is supposed to take just eight to 12 weeks to be processed.
The SCIS card was introduced in Canada in 2009. As is the case with all status cards in the country, it can be used to exercise Indigenous rights including crossing the Canada-U.S. border, make tax-free purchases on reserve and cover some medical dental and prescription costs. One advocate and member of Snuneymuxw First Nation says the delays can be chalked up to systemic racism.
"There’s a tremendous imbalance in Indigenous people accessing a secured document and non-Indigenous people securing a secured document,” Vivian Hermansen told CTV News.
She started a petition to the House of Commons calling on the federal government to speed up the process, to make it no longer than 20 days, which is the length of time it takes for passport approval.
“What I would hope to see most of all is that the process for applying for and receiving one of these cards be improved, that people no longer have to wait as long as they’re currently waiting,” she said.
Her petition has amassed 1,164 signatures from people all across the country.
“[It] includes signatures from every single province and territory in Canada, which to me was an affirmation once again that this is a problem for a lot of Indigenous people right across Canada,” she said.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said it’s not as simple as producing a passport, but agreed that the process is too slow.
“I’d love to get it down to a lower time, but we also have the integrity of the process that has to be respected,” he said at a press conference.
While the Indigenous Affairs website says the wait time is 16 weeks, Lee Deneka has been waiting two years since her first application. She had received temporary status documentation in June of 2019 and waited months for the official card to show up, but it never did.
“This was before COVID, and over six months later I still hadn’t received anything,” Deneka told CTV News.
Because of the pandemic, she tried to give the government the benefit of the doubt, but her patience ran thin this February when she called them every day for a week.
“In early February of this year, for a full week I called their office every morning. There was never less than a minimum of 40 calls in queue,” she said.
One day she was able to leave a voicemail, and another day the phone rang before disconnecting. She never received a call back, so she followed up with an email. After no response to that, she wrote a note on the back of her original letter of temporary status approval. They finally responded by mail, but the letter told her that they needed all new documentation due to the time lapse and information they say was missing, but she says was provided in 2019.
“I believe they lost all my info at some point after issuing my temporary documents. So then on April 30...I mailed in new passport photos, guarantor form and a whole new application with all the required ID,” said Deneka.
Critics say the process needs to be simplified. Rachel Blaney, NDP MP for North Island-Powell River in British Columbia, said that if the process is that complicated, it’s time to revamp it.
“If it's so complex that the services can’t be delivered in a timely way, then maybe there needs to be a step back and look at what that process is and if that is making the most sense,” she told CTV News.
But Cindy Blackstock, a critic of Indigenous Services Canada, told CTV News that the system is designed this way.
“They deliberately choose to do these things. It’s not a failure. They choose to create these kind of issues,” she said.
With the petition started by Vivian having over 1,100 signatures from across Canada, Blanely hopes that it could be a turning point for the issue.
“Now that there’s a collective voice, I don’t think that collective voice is going to stop, so the minister really needs to get this addressed,” Blanely said.
While Deneka awaits approval of her resubmitted documents, she says that her local gas station and convenience store have at least been accepting of her using the temporary document provided to her in 2019.
But confusing the matter further, her daughter, who applied for her SCIS card in August 2019, received her full status card in a matter of months. She doesn’t understand why one person can face so many delays while another in the same family doesn’t.
“It should be easy, it should be fast, this is the federal government, or a part of the federal government, so I would expect better," she said.