Backgrounder Article from  Passport Canada

History of the ePassport

In the beginning...

As part of the Government of Canada's National Security Policy, Passport Canada was given the task of adopting the electronic passport, or ePassport. In the federal budget of 2008, it was announced that Canada would be adopting an ePassport with 10-year validity. This commitment was repeated in the Speech from the Throne of March 3, 2010.

Since the ePassport was added to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommended practices in 2003, more countries are getting on board every year.

A few international milestones

  • 1998: Malaysia becomes the first country to issue an ePassport. However, it is not ICAO-compliant, as ICAO specifications won't exist until 2003.
  • 2003: ICAO adopts machine-readable travel document (MRTD) specifications for a passport that includes an embedded chip containing the bearer's personal identification data and photo.
  • 2004: Belgium launches the first ICAO-compliant ePassport.
  • 2006: The United States begins issuing ePassports.
  • 2009: 57% of all passports issued around the world this year are ePassports (about 60 million).
  • 2013: Some 100 countries around the world are issuing ePassports. Nearly 400 million ePassports are in circulation worldwide.

What was Canada’s timeline for issuing ePassports to all Canadians?

After Canada's National Security Policy was announced in 2004, Passport Canada identified three priorities:

  • To stop printing passports overseas and have all passport printing done in Canada. This was achieved in 2006.
  • To begin using facial recognition technology to strengthen the entitlement process. This was achieved in 2010.
  • To start issuing ePassports.

It was decided that the first two priorities should be met to bolster the passport issuance process before adopting the 10-year ePassport.

In 2007, the first phase of the United States' Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) came into effect. For the first time, Canadians needed a passport to enter the US by air, which caused a massive increase in passport applications. When the second phase of WHTI came into effect in June of 2009 and Canadians needed passports to enter the US by land and sea, Passport Canada again faced increased demand for passports. Managing these events consumed a great deal of Passport Canada's resources, at a time when many other countries were beginning to implement the ePassport.

As a result, Passport Canada was not able to turn its full attention to the ePassport project until 2009, when planning began in earnest. What's more, in accordance with federal law, Passport Canada underwent a public consultation process before it was able to secure the funding needed to adopt this more secure passport.

The ePassport project and the User Fees Act

On July 1, 2013, Canada introduced new passport and travel document fees. Apart from a small $2 increase to reflect rising shipping costs in 2005, Canada's passport fees have not changed since 2001. However, the cost of producing passports has continued to climb. As a fee-based organization, Canada's passport program must juggle financial pressures while maintaining quality client service and producing passports that are secure, tamper-resistant, respected by other countries and compliant with international standards.

In addition, the adoption of the ePassport has a cost and Canada had to adjust its fee structure accordingly. Canadians were consulted on the new fee structure in accordance with the User Fees Act (UFA), a law that says that any federal department that wants to change its user fees must go through a consultation process.

The main consultation tool, an online questionnaire, was very successful. Between its launch date on April 6, 2010 and its closing date on May 7, 2010, more than 7,000 people participated. Other stakeholders were also consulted through a letter campaign and round-table meetings.

Input received during the consultations was used to help design a new fee-for-service proposal. After the proposal was made public in November 2011, Canadians had another opportunity to provide feedback. With this feedback, a final proposal was tabled in both Houses of Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for parliamentarians to review.

The Passport and Other Travel Document Services Fees Regulations was then approved by the Canadian Governor General in Council on November 29, 2012, and published in the Canada Gazette on December 19, 2012.

The new fee structure took effect on July 1, 2013, when the 10-year ePassport was made available to all Canadian adults.

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