The federal government says it's reviewing a policy that forbids staff in Canada's passport offices from helping disabled applicants fill out their forms.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says it's looking into revising the policy, which bars staff from filling out applications on someone else's behalf for fear of potential forgery cases.
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The policy applies nationwide, and IRCC currently says Canadians requiring help with their documents should have a friend or family member complete the paperwork. The agency did not offer any indications as to when potential revisions might take effect.
In the past five weeks, two Canadians with disabilities filed formal complaints against the policy after being denied help at Service Canada offices in Ontario.
Both say the current approach is inadequate and presents a troubling accessibility barrier for people wishing to be able to complete passport documents with independence and confidence.
Rebecca Blaevoet of Windsor, Ont. was denied assistance from Passport Canada staff at her local office when she went to renew her travel documents.
Blaevoet, who is totally blind, sought help, but a clerk informed her that he could not fulfil her request, adding doing so was "not his job."
Blaevoet escalated the matter to a supervisor, who said Passport Canada staff could not complete the form for fear of "leading the applicant" to provide inaccurate answers. When Blaevoet offered to sign a document authorizing staff to assist her, she said no such accommodation could be granted.
Hoping for public consultation
Weeks later, Andrew Gurza, who has cerebral palsy and can make limited use of his hands, ran up against the Passport Canada stance last month when he tried to renew his passport at an office in Toronto.
He hopes the government's effort to revise the policy will involve seeking input from people who live with its effects.
"Just to make it accessible for someone who can't write, or someone who is blind or visually impaired, that only covers a tiny fraction of people with disabilities," he said. "They really need to engage in public consultations quite quickly with a varying number of people living with various disabilities to enact a policy that is accessible to everyone."
Policy designed to protect applicants
The government has stated that the current policy exists for the protection of applicants.
"Currently Passport Canada and Service Canada officers are not authorized to write information or fill out a form on behalf of an applicant, as every passport application form has the potential of being required as documentary evidence in the prosecution of a charge of forgery and because it could represent a potential conflict of interest on the part of the employee," IRCC said in a statement.
Optimistic about policy review
Blaevoet acknowledges those concerns have merit, but said a revised policy must be more flexible to account for the varying needs of Canadians with disabilities.
"You can't have a policy that's that black and white without having any gradients of consideration for people who couldn't fulfil it," she said.
Both Blaevoet and Gurza have filed official complaints and say they have heard from Passport Canada officials who listened to their concerns attentively.
"I'm happy. It's a good step in the right direction," Blaevoet said in an interview with CBC News. However, she pointed out that no new policies have been announced.
"They've said they're going to review it, but review could simply be to look at it. I hope it does lead to some tangible changes."
Blaevoet credited public attention with the agency's move to address accessibility concerns.
"I think it was absolutely the thing that sparked the changes," she said.
"I don't think they would have done anything to change it if it hadn't been for somebody coming forward."
IRCC did not give any indications as to what the policy revision process looks like, what alternatives they're considering or whether public consultations would be part of the process.