ID Cards Please! Social Sorting, Identity and Canada’s National Registration Program 1919-1945

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During the Second World War national ID cards were everywhere. States sought greater social management tools for their war efforts, and national registration programs were to be the means through which they would attain maximum levels of efficiency in production and military power. In Canada national registration was implemented in 1940 requiring all citizens to be registered and to carry identity cards. Specifically, the program was designed to perform a particular social sorting function: to separate the population into “those who were needed” in Canada to support industry and government and those who “could be removed” and enlisted in the armed forces (Ranger,1949). What this massive sorting procedure required was the collection and compiling of data on all Canadians with regards to their occupation, craft training, employment, country of birth, immigration status, languages spoken, and health (National Resources Mobilization Act, 1940). Although the initial function of National ID cards was the sorting of the Canadian population, the introduction of the cards had a social impact that rippled across the Canadian cultural and political landscape. For example, National ID cards were needed to obtain employment and other governmental services in order to ensure the compliance of Canadians with the registration process. The unforeseen impact was that this effectively eliminated services for both the First Nations peoples not willing to be enfranchised and immigrants living within Canada that were denied legal citizenship. For immigrants, a separate program of surveillance and identification was commenced that ultimately led to the imprisonment of Canadians of Japanese, Ukrainian, German, Italian origin, as well as communists and immigrants of other European cultural backgrounds. Specifically this paper will investigate the technological solutions to the states’ problems of social control during WWII, both for conscription and for industrial production; how national ID cards effectively distinguished individuals in new and lasting ways and how discourses of citizenship and “authenticity” were fueled through these technologies. Data presented in this paper will draw on archival internal government documents and surviving ID card records.


Keywords: Identity Cards, Social Sorting, Pre-electronic
Stream: Technology in Community
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Scott Thompson

PhD Candidate, University of Victoria
Victoria, BC, Canada

Scott Thompson is a sociology PhD candidate at the University of Victoria currently engaged in research concerning classification and its consequences during the pre-electronic period. He has published three papers on surveillance and liquor control in Ontario, Canada: "A Kind of Prohibition: Targets of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario's Interdiction List" (Surveillance and Social Problems. Hier and Greenberg eds. Forthcoming); "Administrative surveillance of alcohol consumption in Ontario, Canada" (Surveillance & Society 4(1/2): 1-28, with Gary Genosko); "Tense Theory: The Temporalities of Surveillance" (Theorizing Surveillance. Lyon ed. 2006, with Gary Genosko). He is currently writing a book with Dr. Gary Genosko tentatively entitled Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Technology and Race in Ontario (Forthcoming, UofT Press).

Ref: T08P0098