Monday, April 19, 2010



I know bureaucrats think the federal government is in the taxation business but the way it is supposed to work in a democracy is that the feds are in the service business.
Every time I get involved with federal red tape, I wonder if any boss ever checks out a service from A to Z to see how things are working.
I went to renew my passport for my wife and I and found, fortunately, by checking the Canadian passport site on the Internet that things are a lot simpler if you have already had a passport. Which is the way it should be.
So I threw away the forms that my wife had collected at the border and downloaded simpler forms from the Internet that didn't require a guarantor to sign the back of pictures etc.
I also got the addresses for the nearest two passport offices.
Off I went one fine morning for the office at 377 Burnhamthorpe Rd. East in Mississauga. I had used the office once before, so I had a faded memory.
I found the usual as I drove along Burhamthorpe, since most buildings there are oriented away from the street and the noise. Street numbers, the most useful thing you can have on your buildings, were in hiding.
So I drove west and west and west, trying to see a street number. Finally I reached a plaza that I vaguely remember might be 'home free,' my destination. Drove around and around the parking lot looking for a number. None to be seen. Saw a post office sign and thought someone there might know the street address of where they were. Hunted in vain. Went into the plaza's main doors and found, believe it or not, a sign for the passport office on the second floor. Wandered around and around and finally found the stairs.
The usual crammed interior awaited me, as it does in all government offices, but things were handled in an elaborate electronic way with flashing numbers sorting out the waiters. There are preliminary desks where they doublecheck your forms before you endure the wait, 30 minutes or more. I said to that clerk that it would be nice if there was actually a street number for the plaza and exterior signs for the passport office itself.
No comments. She continued to look bored.
When I finally got to the passport window, the clerk shuffled through the two forms and I handed over the old passports and my VISA card.
"How are you going to pay for this," she asked? "With the VISA card that you have," I said. "Oh," she said.
She asked for my driver's licence for identification purposes. I told her she already had my old passport, which was still valid, plus two pages of signatures and forms and new pictures, so it did seem I had established who I was.
But, hey, when you're dealing with a government agency, you're lucky if they don't ask you to produce your first-born as collateral.
Besides, the teller at my local TD bank, located on the corner where I've been dealing with banks and trust companies for nearly 50 years, asked me recently for identification.
I spluttered indignantly that I had just deposited $12,000 in cheques into my account and had my bankbook. (Believe me, the money didn't last long before it went for bills.) If he didn't need my identification to accept $12,000 in cheques, why did he need my identification when I was withdrawing a piffling $200? There was some dumb explanation which I don't accept.
But back to the passport office. When I was finished, I said to the clerk that it really didn't make much sense to have an elaborate Internet site and to give the street addresses for the passport office when this particular office was located anonymously in a plaza that had no street number that I could find.
She warmed up. She said everyone working there thought the lack of identification was dumb and that there was no need to make the office sort of the goal in a treasure hunt.
Of course that would be too elementary for the civil servants in charge, that they actually made it simple for people to find the office so they could hand over the tedious forms and the hefty $87 fee.
Canadian passports are notorious for having been used by spies, terrorists and assassins throughout the world for more than a century. I doubt that we are going to keep our passports out of criminal hands just by making it difficult to find the office.

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