Lakehead University, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, and the NorWest Community Health Centres have released a report calling on the province of Ontario to act quickly.
The three-year study, aptly named ‘Eliminate Systemic Barriers To Obtaining and Keeping Ontario Birth Certificates,’ was conducted by Lakehead University researchers Dr. Kristin Burnett, Chair of Indigenous Learning, and Dr. Chris Sanders, Associate Professor in Sociology, with Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic.
Kinna-aweya has been assisting people in the community obtain personal identification for well over a decade.
The purpose of this advocacy is to highlight the systemic barriers faced by people in Ontario, particularly Indigenous people, who need birth certificates, and issue a call to action to address these problems so that Ontarians who are the most marginalized in society can more easily obtain birth certificates to access essential services when needed.
“It’s important to acknowledge that in Ontario as well as throughout Canada, missing ID is not a problem experienced only by people who are homeless or precariously housed,” Dr. Burnett said.
“Our research found that many Ontarians live without birth certificates for a variety of reasons and face enormous barriers getting either their first birth certificate or a replacement. Indigenous people in particular face unique and significant barriers to obtaining identification,” she added.
Dr. Sanders said the report is calling on the province to apply changes that would make it easier for people to obtain birth certificates.
“We call for the elimination of all fees for all types of birth certificates because the fees are not a significant revenue source for the province, but they are a hardship for people living in poverty,” he said.
The report also calls for the simplification of birth certificate applications, including reducing the personal/parental information sections, because the phrasing of certain questions confuses people and is unnecessary to issue a birth certificate.
“We call for the elimination of the guarantor requirement on the Ontario birth application,” Dr. Sanders said. “The guarantor requirement is an additional barrier that not all provinces have.”
The report calls for all ministries to recognize kinship agreements or customary care agreements to support family unification and to enable families to access services.
It calls for birth certificates to stay with people in care or custody, so that ID travels with individuals, who would not lose possession of their ID upon transfer or release.
“And, we call for the smaller, more durable birth certificates that were previously used by the Ontario government so that people without safe places to store the document can carry it on their person again,” Dr. Burnett said.
“While digital ID has been suggested as a possible solution, digital ID is not accessible to people without technology and resources.”
Anita Jean, Manager of Community Digital Health Equity at the NorWest Community Health Centres, said from a digital health equity perspective, individuals applying for a birth certificate are at a real disadvantage.
“The option to mail in your application involves payment which requires personal identification in most cases. Applying for a birth certificate online is not an option if you do not have a credit card, access to a computer and an internet connection,” Jean said.
At the Lakehead University Community Legal Services (LUCLS), law students provide access to justice for low-income individuals in the community.
“The application to obtain a birth certificate in Ontario is cumbersome and complicated,” said Rodi-Lynn Rusnick-Kinisky, LUCLS Director.
“LUCLS assists in completing these applications because there is no government service available to help. We call on the provincial government to reduce the barriers to obtaining ID by simplifying the birth certificate application process and by waiving all fees for vulnerable Ontarians,” Rusnick-Kinisky said.
Beth Ponka, Director of Administration at the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, thanked Dr. Sanders and Dr. Burnett for their leadership in completing this research. The report confirms what Ponka already suspected, that people experience numerous barriers trying to obtain basic ID.
“Without ID, and birth certificates in particular, it can be difficult or impossible to access income supports, obtain housing, get a Social Insurance Number, open a bank account, or even get food at a food bank.
“The work to navigate the system and pay the cost for ID is falling on community agencies who do not have the resources to address this huge gap in service to vulnerable Ontarians,” Ponka said.
To read the report, visit lakeheadu.ca/aki.