True North has learned that a Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) event on digital ID discussed tracking Canadians’ vaccine status during future pandemics.  

The Feb 1. panel titled The New Economy Series: Digital Identity as a New Policy Frontier was moderated by Senior Assistant Deputy Minister for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Francis Bilodeau and included panellists from both the public and private sector. 

Among the panellists were Secure Key Chief Identity Officer Andrew Boysen, Service New Brunswick’s Director of Digital Lab and Digital ID Programs Colleen Boldon, Interac’s Chief Officer for Innovation Labs and New Ventures Debbie Gamble and the President of the Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada Joni Brennan. 

“What is everybody’s best sort of 10-second elevator pitch on why this matters, why we should be doing this? And particularly in the context like today, where we are living through a pandemic, living an unprecedented time, how could digital identity and a proper digital infrastructure help us deal with future situations or future pandemics?” Bilodeau asked panelists. 

“I think that the identity is important for the pandemic—any time you would need to verify someone, anytime you would need to also do supply chain tracking and management about how do we even get the vaccine to people? How many people do we need to get it to? Have they had it yet or not? Are they due for their second dose?” responded Brennan. 

Brennan also went on to suggest expanding the scope of what digital ID is and using it to identify those who have yet to receive a vaccine. 

“In terms of making this more real, perhaps, for some of the folks inside of government, I would say that we really need to close the chasm of what identity is and what identity does. When we’re talking about identifying someone in order to get them the vaccine and do that tracking that needs to be done to deliver the vaccine and know where and how to distribute it, that’s an identity issue. Knowing that the vaccine actually came from the company, that’s an identity issue,” said Brennan. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, both federal and provincial governments developed their own vaccine certification programs which incorporated elements of digital identity verification. In Ontario, proof of vaccination was provided through a government-issued QR code. 

The event also touched on how the private and public sector could collaborate to make Canada a leader in digital identity. 

“I think the time is perfect for us to do that, but it actually needs some teeth,” said Gamble. “It needs political will to pull the various players across the public and private sectors together. And together, I am confident that over a number of years we can actually start to become leaders in the marketplace.”