by Aran Hamilton, Chair, IdentityNORTH

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world we knew began changing at lightning speed. Each of us, our families, businesses, our governments were all forced to alter our “standard operating procedures,” and any sense of priorities and normal routines were paused or painfully abandoned.  

However, amidst the hardships, upheaval and uncertainty, there is an opportunity. Canada should take pragmatic steps to build foundations for our lives that will leave us stronger, and more prepared for the future. Reducing our dependence on in-person transactions and physical signatures is a logical step forward.  

If we reflect on the transactions that have ground to a halt or experienced unacceptable friction over the last two months, it’s easy to see that we need to work and think differently if we are to capture the benefits of a digital world. 

We need to be able to share medical records and test results digitally, securely and privately to only the trusted recipients. We need to be able to digitally sign contracts, deeds, and wills with a trusted standard that we all recognize. We need to be able to trust the identity of our medical equipment suppliers or contract bidders, and app developers.

Canada needs a system for secure digital transactions to underpin our emerging digital lives and we needed it years ago. A proverb suggests that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. 

Leaping forward in our digital lives

Over the last two months, the shift towards a more fluid work environment has accelerated dramatically. The sudden surge in teleworking is placing a strain on our processes and systems. In the past cheques and contracts could wait for a signature when the boss was back in the office. We need to re-imagine everything as a digital version with protection from hackers.  

Our lives are more than our workplaces. Most aspects of everyday, human life – from health, education, government operations all require more trusted digital support.  

Unfortunately many Canadians are finding out just how difficult it is to register the death of a loved one, and how many painful and confusing forms need to be completed, in what order to satisfy the needs of each level of government and various organizations. 

Sure, 88 per cent of Canadians taxes are filed online, but less than a third of Canadians do it themselves. Twice as many people use an accountant or service. It’s too complicated and time consuming to pull the required data from the various disconnected paper forms and systems. 

There are pandemic-specific problems that will need trusted digital solutions. We see countries implementing phone-based systems to track or prove one’s health or temperature. Canada should ensure that any such system respects our privacy, rights, and freedoms.

With the ability to use and verify trusted digital versions of provincial health cards we could start to build trusted digital vaccination certificates. We need to make sure that vaccination records can be trusted, so they must be editable only by approved personnel with trusted digital ID. 

With digital birth certificates and driver’s licenses and federally issued immigration credentials, we could create digital licences for medical professionals. 

Bars currently check ID before serving alcohol, and hotels request ID at check in. We can expect these and other industries would build systems based on trusted digital government issued ID. Banks want to open bank accounts more easily and phone companies will invest to be able to sell and activate new phone contracts without requiring in-person visits. Some kind-hearted team will collaborate on eliminating the bureaucratic paper nightmare that comes with the death of a loved one. 

We need to anticipate the possibility that it could be necessary to hold elections in new ways. Some Canadian jurisdictions already support members of the armed forces participating in elections online while serving overseas. This pragmatic reality could be carefully scaled to ensure Canadians are not disenfranchised in times when leadership is truly important.

“Our old life in Canada is on pause, perhaps changed forever. Let’s seize this opportunity to make sure it comes back better than ever.” – Aran Hamilton

Canadian innovation in the digital trusted transaction space are heralded around the world. British Columbia’s Services Card is a digitally enabled provincial ID. SecureKey’s Verified.Me, BluInk’s eID-Me are great examples of large and small private sector innovation supporting government and private sector innovation. Members of the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) are working to develop the rules of the road ahead. Their Pan-Canadian Trust Framework, outlines a collaborative approach that enables Canada’s full and secure participation in the global digital economy, giving Canadians seamless access to the services we need in-person or online. 

The power of collective action, and collective investment

The Canadian government has called for proposals for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects to kick-start our economy. There is no question that it is crucial that we bring trusted digital health records, vaccination records, and trusted digital ID to trusted medical professionals immediately. 

The rest of our lives depends on the systems we depend on becoming more resilient and evolving to serve us in-person or online as appropriate. Those systems should be built on better trusted provincial ID systems that can issue digital credentials and are not vulnerable to hacking. 

We need to make our systems more resilient. Anticipating future waves of pandemic, other interruptions of “business as usual” by weather or catastrophe, I call on other leaders to recognize and demand a stronger digital infrastructure for Canada.

Our old life in Canada is on pause, perhaps changed forever. Let’s seize this opportunity to make sure it comes back better than ever.