Ontario’s expanding access to authenticate official documents, but advocates say that doesn’t go far enough | CBC News

The Ontario government has announced it is simplifying the process to authenticate officials documents, but an advocate in Thunder Bay believes the recent changes won’t actually make the application process any easier for most people.

The province will expand in-person services to four ServiceOntario locations across the province, including one in Thunder Bay and one in Sault Ste. Marie. The expansion aims to save people time and money as they look to authenticate officials documents like birth certificates, required for international use. 

“When you get down to the nitty gritty of the announcement, it’s actually the authentication process that has become simpler, and the authentication is only necessary if you’re traveling abroad,” said Katie Watson, community navigator with Roots Community Food Centre.

In addition to food access programs, Roots Community Food Centre in Thunder Bay runs free monthly birth certificate clinics for people below the poverty line or who face barriers when trying to access this document. Employees help individuals fill out applications and submit them on their behalf.

Watson helps to lead the birth certificate clinics. She said the Ontario government’s new process doesn’t make applying for birth certificates less complicated, and will only help people in certain scenarios. 

“The process of getting the birth certificate is still exactly the same. It’s just that once you have the certificate, you now have more resources to get it authenticated,” Watson said. 

In a news release issued earlier this month, the province said expanding the authentication process puts customers first and will save time and money.

“Whether someone is preparing for a major life event, a new job or an adventure abroad, authenticating documents for international use is often a crucial and time-sensitive matter,” said Kaleed Rasheed, minister of public and business service delivery. 

Numerous barriers to access birth certificates

Watson said Roots Community Food Centre started the birth certificate clinics after she helped employees with their applications and realized how many barriers exist to access the document.

“We decided to sort of shift our focus a little bit to make it more accessible to the wider community,” she said.

Last year, researchers with Lakehead University, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic and the NorWest Community Health Centres published a three-year study which surveyed 600 people in Thunder Bay seeking identification. It found barriers such as cost, bureaucracy, accessibility, and health are making the process inaccessible.

Watson said the birth certificate application is “quite cumbersome,” as there are questions listed that most people don’t know the answers to.

“It asks questions about your weight at birth, the address that your mother lived at when you were born. Just questions that become potentially quite overwhelming if you don’t know the answers.”

As well, Watson said not having all the information to answer the questions on the application is a barrier.

“It’s projected as a way of needing to know all of these details in order to prove who you are, who you say you are,” she said.

“The application itself is already a barrier because there are so many questions on it that, should you have any estrangement from your mother, maybe she’s passed, maybe you’re adopted. Just all of these different real life, lived experiences that might impact your ability to have the answers or feel confident about the answers you have,” Watson said. 

Watson added the application fee can be a barrier for those who can’t afford to pay it or are living paycheck to paycheck.

“That extra $35 is a barrier in itself, especially when you need [your birth certificate] to get literally every other form of documentation. So a birth certificate is sort of the baseline to get your driver’s license, to get your health card, to get to a food bank. You need it for everything. So we’ve established that it’s a necessary document.”

Working to make the process easier

Watson said Roots Community Food Centre meets monthly with the ID Advocacy Group to advocate for changes to the official document application process. She said Service Canada, Service Ontario and the Office of the Registrar General attend the meetings as observers and to answer questions.

“We brought lots of different areas of the application where if you change this one thing that would make it easier. And so far nothing has been changed,” said Watson.

Since the Ontario government’s announcement of the new authentication process, Watson said a few group members communicated with the government to say the statement on the process was portrayed differently than how it’s intended to work.

“The word ‘simplification’ led us to believe that something had shifted in terms of the application, but it actually hasn’t,” she said.

Watson said more needs to be done to achieve a simplification of the birth certificate process. She said the application fee should be eliminated and the paper and online applications should be identical to one another.

“We do the paper copy with someone and then input it online, but the wording is different [on the online application]. So you have to be very careful that you’re not putting things in incorrectly because they don’t translate the same.”

Watson added the Ontario government doesn’t recognize kinship agreements, which is when a child is placed in the care of a family member or an individual who the child is familiar with. As a result, Watson said a child in a kinship agreement can’t access their birth certificate because the document requires the adult applying for the child to be their biological parents, a legal guardian or a parent named on the birth certificate.

“The kinship agreement is already in place,” said Watson. “It’s already been established by the child welfare agency, the family members and, in every other sort of realm, it is considered that they have legal guardianship. Except when they apply for the birth certificate. So by recognizing kinship agreements as legal guardianship, we would be able to get a lot more people their birth certificates.”

Watson said the ID Advocacy Group will meet again in August and plans to bring its concerns about the new authentication process forward to the Ontario government.

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