The federal government announced steps to crack down on fraudulent social insurance numbers (SIN) just as the auditor general released a scathing report over the Liberals handling of SINs.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser said the government has issued more SINs than there are adults in the country. The report complained the numbers are handed out far too easily without adequate proof of identity and citizenship. The 2001 census showed there were 22.2 million Canadians aged 20 and older, but there are 27 million social insurance numbers.
"This is a wake-up call for departments," said Fraser. "They recognize what needs to be done and they have made some improvements. But overall, the pace is too slow and the results often fall short."
She said HRDC is aware of the SIN problems, but hasn't followed through on security issues.
Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart announced the sweeping changes on Wednesday, aimed at protecting the integrity SINs.
The changes announced include:
•Effective immediately, only original documents will be accepted as proof of identity. Previously, photocopies were acceptable.
•The number of documents it accepts as proof of identity has been reduced. For example, since August 1, 2002 HRDC has not accepted baptismal certificates from Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador as proof of identity.
•HRDC will de-activate any SINs that have not been used for five years, effective immediately. HRDC said this will “greatly reduce” the number of useable SINs. Individuals who have used their numbers for any authorized federal program, continued to work or completed a tax return will not have their SINs de-activated.
•HRDC is seeking the authority to introduce expiry dates for all SINs belonging to people who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents. These dates would reflect the immigration status of such people.
In addition to the above steps, the federal government is planning on increasing the number of fraud investigations it undertakes. This year, HRDC will conduct about 6,500 SIN-related investigations, triple the total number of investigations conducted before 1998.
HRDC used to accept certified photocopies in recognition of concerns some people have about sending original documents, such as birth certificates, through the mail. This practice has been discontinued effective immediately.
It has also reduced the number of documents it considers to be acceptable when applying for a SIN. Canadian citizens will need one of the following documents to obtain a SIN:
•Canadian birth certificate
•Certificate of Canadian citizenship
•Government of Canada certificate of birth
•Foreign birth certificate or foreign passport and Certificate of Indian Status (for registered Indians born outside Canada).
All other applicants must have documents issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Applicants who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents, such as foreign students and foreign workers, must still prove why they need a SIN.
HRDC said it is “quicky” training staff on policies and procedures related to these changes, such as using ultraviolet light to examine orginal documents.
De-activating old SINs
Effectively immediately, HRDC will de-activate any SIN that has not been used in the past five years. People who have used their SINs for any authorized federal program, such as Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, the Canada Education Savings Grant or a tax return (as a tax filer or as a dependant) will not have their number de-activated.
HRDC says this will greatly reduce the number of useable SINs, and will help protect the integrity of the SIN because once a number has been de-activated, applicants must provide proof of identity to have the SIN re-activated. HRDC will not issue an inactive SIN to anyone else.
Expiry dates on SINs of non-citizens
HRDC wants the authority to put expiry dates for all SINs belonging to people who are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents. These dates would reflect the immigration status of such people.
These SINs, which all begin with the number nine, are issued to people who need them for employment. Holders generally include temporary foreign workers, foreign students and refugee claimants.
Once the new measures have been implemented, all new 900-series SINs will be linked to the immigration status of the applicant. Cardholders will be given a reasonable period to show proof of need and identity and to have their SIN confirmed with an expiry date linked to their immigration status in Canada.
Protecting the integrity
Since 1998, HRDC has been working to get access to vital statistics databases in provinces and territories. Now, the department can verify birth information provided by SIN applicants born in New Brunswick and is working on a pilot project with British Columbia. Eventually, it is hoping to be able to do this for every jurisdiction across Canada.
The SIN was introduced in 1964 as a file identifier for Unemployment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan. Every person who works in Canada must have a SIN, and employers must ask to see the SIN card of all new employees and the employee must show it within three days of starting employment.