Canada’s cyber security chief shifts focus to developing COVID-19 vaccine passport

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One of the country’s leading voices on cyber security is shifting focus to take on a new role developing the COVID-19 vaccine passport that Canadians will be able to use for travelling abroad.

Scott Jones, who has been a familiar voice weighing in on the risks of recent high-profile hacks and ransomware attacks, is leaving the Canadian Cyber Security Centre to become the new federal lead on proof of vaccine credentials with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

He will start in the new role on Aug. 16.

Jones has an extensive background working in cyber security and infrastructures with the Communications Security Establishment, which is the country’s signals intelligence agency.

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His appointment suggests the government anticipates digital vaccine verification and the associated need to ensure that information is protected from hacking or misuse will be a priority for the role.

In July, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that whether provinces would require passports for certain activities within their own borders would ultimately be up to them, but that the federal government would be working on standardizing proof of vaccination for international travel.

News of Jones’ new role also comes a day after the prime minister suggested mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all workers in the federal public service, as well as for those in federally-regulated workspaces.

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“We need to get vaccinated to get through this pandemic, particularly with all the real concerns around the Delta variant we are facing that is striving hardest, obviously, in under-vaccinated and non-vaccinated people,” the prime minister said during a press conference.

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“That’s why I’ve asked the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is responsible for the federal public service, to look at mandatory vaccinations for federal employees. And we’re also looking at federally-regulated industries to encourage or perhaps even to mandate vaccinations for those industries.”

Discussions over the potential implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine passport have taken centre stage amid provincial efforts to reopen across the country.

On Thursday, Quebec Premier François Legault also announced that his government would be imposing a vaccine passport system sooner in order to stop the spread of the virus within its borders, after warning of a potential fourth wave driven by the Delta variant.

The province had initially announced its intention to create passports by the fall, but added then that it would only be used to access locations like gyms, bars and restaurants — and would be the province’s alternative to going back to lockdown, according to Health Minister Christian Dubé.

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Manitoba has already begun issuing proof of vaccination cards, which can be either physical or digital — to high demand. Flashing the card would allow some people to skip quarantine after returning from out of province, and would also allow further access to health-care facilities like hospitals and personal care homes.

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When asked about a proof-of-immunization program, British Columbia’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday did not rule out the possibility of the province implementing such passports as well.

The use of vaccine passports, however, still remains a contentious issue for many in Canada.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney previously said that he would not be following in Quebec and Manitoba’s footsteps, and added that he would speak up against the federal government should they attempt to mandate passports.

with files from Leslie Young, Hannah Jackson and The Canadian Press

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