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Guelph Mercury Editorial

Whatever you do, DON'T Grin
By Sue Richards

According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS), we the citizens of Canada are no longer permitted to smile for our passport photos.

International face recognition technology has become the new order and that requires a neutral, non-smiling face. Apparently this will help identify the terrorist when cross-referencing of photos is required.

Since smiles can range from grins to "the full beam", the photo pixel count range is too broad and varied for the finely calibrated technology. A standardized grimace works best and will apparently help to keep us all safer. Thank you, Big Brother.

In 1984, my best buddy and I traveled to Europe for what was to be months of backpacking and bumming around. He burned through his money twice as fast as I and so had to return home from Britain, leaving me to continue on my merry way hitchhiking through northern England, Scotland and finally over to Northern Ireland.

On my first night in Ireland, I chose to bunk down at an International Youth Hostel. The skinny male receptionist requested my passport as I signed the guest book.

He casually leafed through the pages until he came to my photo, then remarked that the picture didn't look like me. He kept glancing back and forth from face to photograph and finally, with a hint of mirth in his voice said, "You must have shaved."

Shocked, I grabbed my document from his hands. Seems my playful, departed traveling companion had carefully drawn a perfect curly mustache on my upper lip.

Today's pixel police would not be pleased with my friends artistic rendition.

Smiles are a powerful personal tool that every human being has access to. A smile can literally open doors, improve your day and improve someone else's in a nanosecond.

Try it right now. Smile at the next person you see.

Even better, go and stand in front of your bathroom mirror and practice smiling with your whole face. Then do a personal experiment and take your newfound talent to the street. I guarantee you will reap great rewards from this simple exercise.

Many would argue that we have absolutely nothing to smile about, thanks to several months of disaster, plague and pestilence that has raged across this country.

But rather than sink into national despair and substitute the cheerful and colloquial "say cheese" with something that leaves us stone-faced, we must remember that a passport is our ticket to becoming a citizen of the world. Our international reputation is more aligned with a smiling face than one where minimal facial muscles are required.

Our Canadian passport is our most important and valuable calling card. Ask your aged aunt or any advice columnist just how powerful a good calling card is. And check the Black Market for the going rate on one of the most sought after documents in the world.

This new picture policy will literally change the way the world sees us Canucks. So, perhaps a case can be made for two photos. Let page two show the standardized face that will satisfy the safety-conscious, serious CSIS folk. Then let's add the happy face shot, embellished with the fake mustache or big plastic nose in full colour on page 24 designed specifically for the likes of the Irish Youth Hostel's employee.

That way, the international community will know that Canadians have not become a nation of scowlers and sour pusses but rather have retained our sense of humour despite our current difficulties. And they will continue to welcome us with open arms and their own bright, beaming smiles.

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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