The Canadian government is backing away from its use of a mobile border screening app. Citing anonymous government sources, multiple media outlets have confirmed that the use of ArriveCan for arriving travelers will be made optional at the end of this month, effectively scrapping the use of an app that had provoked a raft of complaints from end users, tourism stakeholders, and even some of Canada’s own border guards.
ArriveCan’s fate has been sealed as part of a broader decision not to renew multiple COVID-19 border screening measures when they expire on September 30. Individuals entering the country will no longer need to be vaccinated, and random testing will no longer be requested of arriving travelers. Returning Canadians who have not been vaccinated will no longer need to undergo testing, nor will they be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
For many, the lifting of the ArriveCan requirement will bring the greatest relief. The app required everyone entering the country to upload documentation certifying their vaccination status, and was widely reported to be difficult to use. That posed a particular problem for individuals who do not own smartphones, and for segments of the population that do not find smartphone apps intuitive to use. (Your Mobile ID World correspondent, considered by some to be highly technologically literate with respect to using smartphone apps, also struggled to retrieve and upload his credentials for a return flight this summer.)
Having provoked complaints and negative media coverage, the ArriveCan app went on to be used as a political cudgel. Leaders in Canada’s Conservative party had complained that ArriveCan was hurting the country’s economy and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to scrap its COVID-19 border measures; and just a few days ago the Yukon Party had described ArriveCan as “a poor tool” for the northern Yukon territory thanks to its “cumbersome process” and unreliable cellular service at the region’s border crossings.
The Trudeau government, meanwhile, had been hinting that ArriveCan would evolve into an even more comprehensive border screening tool earlier this year, with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino asserting at a June 28 press conference that “ArriveCAN was originally created for COVID-19, but it has technological capacity beyond that.” The comment came after the app was quietly updated to enable users arriving at Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International Airport to fill out customs forms prior to arrival.
Now, it looks like the government is ready to abandon those plans. But it hasn’t given up on digital ID tech more broadly. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat quietly announced plans for a national digital ID program in August, with the aim of creating “the electronic equivalent of a recognized proof-of-identity document” that can be used in digital interactions. Given frenzied activity around the world to establish digital IDs that can also be stored on mobile devices, it seems likely that such a system will eventually make its way onto Canadians’ smartphones.
Whether the Trudeau government will have the appetite to see it used in border screening, though, is tougher to predict.