British Columbia

'I am almost not a person': ICBC denies photo ID to Richmond woman over middle initial

A small discrepancy between Nyoka Campbell's passport and B.C. Services Card has left her without adequate photo identification card for years.

Discrepancy between passport, B.C. Services Card has kept Nyoka Campbell without B.C. photo ID for years

Nyoka Campbell, 29, and her son Cameron Watson, 8, are pictured outside their home in Richmond on Thursday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Nyoka Campbell has been a Canadian citizen for more than a decade, but her ongoing struggle to secure a B.C. photo ID has left her feeling like an outsider.

The 29-year-old has spent much of her life on the move, immigrating to Canada from Jamaica when she was just a child. Now living in the Lower Mainland, she has two primary pieces of ID to her name: a Canadian passport and a B.C. services card without a photo.

The two cards would usually be enough for someone to qualify for a B.C. photo identification card. But a small discrepancy between her documents — her passport includes her middle initial, while her care card does not — has kept ICBC from issuing her a card.

ICBC is the provincial Crown corporation that insures cars and is also responsible for issuing B.C. ID cards.

"I feel like I am almost not a person because of the way they've treated me." Campbell told CBC News from her Richmond home.

"I am Canadian, I am a citizen of the Province of British Columbia, and I feel that I am entitled to be able to identify myself," she added.

ICBC confirmed with CBC News that the documents she's provided are insufficient for a photo identification card.

"In this case, while we sympathize with Ms. Campbell, we've reviewed the provided documents and unfortunately, they do not meet the requirements," spokesperson Lindsay Wilkins said in an e-mailed statement.

Campbell says she now needs to obtain a citizenship certificate in order to clear up her ID troubles, but she can't afford it.

Nyoka Campbell says a small discrepancy between two government-issued IDs has kept ICBC from issuing her a photo ID card. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A prolonged dispute

Campbell moved to Vancouver in 2015. She says she was issued a provincial care card which by default did not include her middle initial.

"I didn't choose the way my name was presented on the [services card], it was just generated by Health Insurance B.C." said Campbell.

She doesn't have her Jamaican birth certificate, and her Canadian citizenship card was stolen along with her wallet several years ago.

When she sought out a photo ID from ICBC in 2016 using what documents she had left, she was denied by staff. She claims her account has been red flagged by staff as potentially fraudulent due to the discrepancy between her passport and services card.

She's kept pursuing the ID ever since, providing the insurance provider with mail, her SIN card, her son's birth certificate and bank statements, but says it hasn't swayed ICBC's position.

"We do look at customer's situations on a case-by-case basis, but it is more difficult in cases where there isn't a verified photo record in our database," said ICBC's spokesperson.

ICBC says it looks at customers' situations on a case-by-case basis, but it is more difficult in cases when there isn’t a verified photo record in its database. (David Horemans/CBC)

Hard times

The Canadian government no longer issues citizenship cards, but Campbell has been advised to apply for a citizenship certificate — a commemorative slip of paper that doesn't qualify as identification but would confirm her citizenship. She could use it at the ICBC office. It can take up to five months before a certificate arrives.

However, the document requires a primary piece of photo ID. The only photo ID Campbell has — her passport — is now expired. She says doesn't have sufficient documents to renew it.

And even if she could, Campbell, a single mother living off disability payments, says she would have trouble finding the money — about $200 in total — to retrieve both documents.

"I get about $1,500 per month ... [my rent is] $1,248 plus my utilities, plus my insurance — and I also have my eight year old," said Campbell.

She wonders just how long it will be before she has an official photo ID to her name — a circumstance she says is particularly troubling because it prevents her from boarding an airplane. Her grandmother, who lives in Ontario, is struggling with kidney failure.

"At any moment I could need to go to Ontario, but I'm not able to," she said.

Brian Caulfield, right, lives in transitional housing and lost his birth certificate and B.C ID when his bag was stolen in the library. Ryan TerAverst, left, of the Vancouver Kettle Society helped him get new identification. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

A common problem

According to Ryan TerAverst, an advocacy manager at Vancouver's Kettle Society, recovering ID is a common challenge for low-income residents and the difficulties are often compounded for immigrants.

"She's being asked to produce a document that she cannot produce because she needs documents in order to get that document," he told CBC News.

The Kettle Society is a non-profit organization that provides a range of community services including an ID bank that helps people obtain and keep identification.

"The process can be much more difficult because you are required to present photo ID or travel documents or documents from your home country to replace your citizenship or permanent residency and the problem becomes circular — you need ID to get ID," TerAverst added.

The Kettle Society has lobbied ICBC to review its policies that make it challenging for marginalized groups. 

Campbell says she is now in touch with her local MLA's office to see if they can help her. 

On Friday, ICBC reached out to Campbell and asked her to courier all of her ID documents from their Lansdowne Centre location to their Victoria office for review by a committee.