The Toronto Sun
Saturday, May 24, 1997

The right to simply disappear

by Connie Woodcock

It was after a particularly trying week of coping with peculiar teenage behavior that the dinner table conversation at our house turned to disappearing.

What if you just walked out the door, turned your back on your squabbling offspring, and never came back?

Disappearing from your life and starting fresh somewhere else is an idea that, if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit has at least crossed your mind at life's more frustrating moments.

I'll be honest -- the idea of getting on a bus, going somewhere warm, and starting life over as, say, a waitress in a coffee shop has occurred to me the odd time when my kids have been particularly annoying.

And when we were younger, my husband and I and our friends used to discuss living in a cabin in the woods as something you really could do, if you wanted to get away from society badly enough and were resourceful enough.

Very few people, other than criminals or Huck Finn, who wanted to light out for the territories, actually do so -- but there are some.

We once bought a house that had, among its previous owners, a couple whose teenage son was so out of control they really did walk out on him. They just gave up and, instead of kicking the kid out, left themselves, effectively disappearing -- at least as far as their son was concerned.

Yes, but were they happy? If the neighbors' stories about the kid were true, they're probably still congratulating themselves.

The reason we were discussing whether you even have the right to disappear was the Metro Toronto social services plan to fingerprint welfare recipients to eliminate fraud.

Premier Mike Harris went even further, suggesting that perhaps all Ontarians should be fingerprinted for such things as OHIP and driver's licence identification.

Darn right, said my husband, and let's not stop there. Let's take DNA samples from people at birth. You'd bring an end to all kinds of horrible crime -- not just fraud, but rape, murder, and child kidnapping.

The federal government has been considering such a law that would create a DNA databank to allow police to compare genetic fingerprints. It's something Canadian police have wanted for years.

Welfare fraud could run as high as $100 million annually in Ontario, as colleague Chris Blizzard reported last week, and a province-wide fraud hotline alone saves $8.5 million a year. Fingerprinting -- or fingerscanning as governments call it -- could save big bucks.

I can still recall the uproar when social insurance numbers were introduced in the 1960s. It would be the end of individual privacy, people said. And perhaps it was. So if you're worried that fingerprinting would give potentially corrupt governments too much information you're too late by 30 years.

And anyway, anyone who uses a bank machine has no right to be concerned about privacy.

But surely someone who just wants to be left alone can do so? These days, that's not likely. Even homeless men who refuse offers of shelter have advocates wanting to save them from themselves.

You can't get a job without a social insurance number. You can't even open a bank account. For law-abiding citizens, fingerprinting changes nothing -- it just eliminates criminals' use of phony identification.

So don't worry, kids, mom and dad aren't going anywhere -- even though I know you'd appreciate us more if we did.

Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Sun. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.