Online form poses problem for Passport Canada
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, April 19, 2009 3:17PM EDT
Passport Canada's web police are having a tough time eradicating a rogue application form from the Internet.
And the main culprit in the Case of the Forbidden Form is the Canadian government itself.
The passport agency considers the blank form a potential security risk and insists that anyone who wants to fill one out must appear at an office to request a copy in person.
But the forbidden form has become readily available on the Internet, despite the best efforts of Passport Canada to keep all copies under lock and key.
And the primary source of the online leak is the federal Foreign Affairs Department, which has helpfully posted it to several government of Canada websites.
The bizarre tug-of-war is over form PPTC 132, used by people who want to apply for a passport but can't find anyone to act as a guarantor in vouching for their identity.
Typically, Canadians who are overseas and need a passport require the form, which allows them to make their own declaration under oath.
Darren Enns, a Canmore, Alta., consultant who has worked abroad, had trouble obtaining the form and as a service to other Canadians posted a blank copy on his website last year.
Passport Canada soon warned him to remove the posting.
"Taking into account . . . legal and security considerations, Passport Canada policy limits the use of the form PPTC 132 . . . to applicants who have demonstrated to a passport officer in person that they are unable to fulfil the guarantor requirement," agency CEO Gerald Cossette wrote to Enns last fall.
"Posting the form online would lessen control over access to these forms and could lead to abuse or higher volume of applications being rejected for incompleteness."
Enns complied by providing links on his web page to several Foreign Affairs websites that allow the form to be quickly downloaded.
Foreign Affairs is the parent department for Passport Canada.
Cossette, who has since left the agency, informed Enns last October that Foreign Affairs had been advised to remove all the forbidden forms from its website. But six months later, the online versions are still freely available on several government of Canada sites.
"One hand of government doesn't seem to know what the other hand is doing," says Enns, who adds that his web page gets more than 500 visits a month from people in over 40 countries.
About 177 of those visits have come from government of Canada computers, a level that spiked once Enns was warned off posting the form.
"It's not . . . a very successful crackdown. It's ridiculous."
Some members of Parliament, including Speaker Peter Milliken, also say on their websites that they will send the form directly to constituents.
A spokesman for the passport office called the form a "last resort" for people who can't find a guarantor.
"Because it's a last resort, we're not making the form readily available," Fabien Lengelle said in an interview.
Lengelle added that Passport Canada has been in touch with webmasters at Foreign Affairs. "We've asked our colleagues to remove that file from websites, and we have been successful in some cases but in some we haven't."
Enns said the absurdity of the situation prompted him to act.
"The word `activist' is the last one I'd use to describe myself," he said. "I'm just somebody that got frustrated with the inane nature of the process and did something about it."
Earlier this month, the agency shut down its online application service, begun in 2004, in favour of a downloadable form that applicants must take to a passport office. Officials said the new form was more "convenient" for Canadians.
There are about 17 million passports currently in circulation, and Passport Canada expects to issue about 5.3 million this year as Canadians gear up for tougher rules at the U.S. border starting June 1.