The Quebec government says it will not adopt Ottawa’s COVID-19 tracking app for now, arguing the pandemic is currently under control in the province.
Éric Caire, Quebec’s minister for digital transformation, announced Tuesday that the government has decided not to move forward with a contact tracing application for the moment, but the province is open to using one in future.
“The aim is to be able to deploy an app immediately if things evolve in a negative way, if a second wave that we’re worried about materializes,” Mr. Caire said at a press conference in Montreal.
“You don’t bring out the water bombers to fight a brush fire. But if it becomes a forest fire, the planes need to be ready to take off.”
Quebec reported 62 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, with two new deaths.
The federal government launched its smartphone app, called COVID Alert, in late July. Its use is voluntary, and it is designed to warn users if they’ve been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, by allowing people to notify the app about a positive test result. It is currently only operational in Ontario, but the plan is to expand it to other provinces.
Thierry Bélair, director of communications for Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said the app has been downloaded by more than two million people. “This app does not track the location of users and does not collect any personally identifiable information. It’s also an additional tool we can use as we prepare for a possible increase in cases this fall. So why not make it available now in Quebec?” he said in a statement.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he plans to speak with Premier François Legault, his Quebec counterpart whom he considers a friend, over dinner in the coming weeks to understand the “method behind the madness” in not supporting the app.
“I encourage everyone to download it and I think it’s a good tool, " Mr. Ford said at Queen’s Park.
“I always have to be concerned as we open up travel around the country and people are coming in from Quebec and vice versa … . Just do it, it protects everyone and helps everyone out,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan say they support the app and are waiting on further details about its use from the federal government.
Other provinces say they are watching Ontario to see what happens.
A spokeswoman for Nova Scotia said it is monitoring the implementation closely. “The results of that will inform whether Nova Scotia adopts the app,” said Marla MacInnis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Wellness.
Brant Batters, a spokesman for the Manitoba government, said the province “continues to explore the implications of using the app, taking into account potential public health benefits and security and privacy issues.”
Both Canada’s and Ontario’s privacy commissioners have completed reviews of the app and said they were satisfied with its privacy protections, with both supporting it. However, they added that because of uncertainty over the effectiveness of the app, its use should be closely monitored and the app decommissioned if it does not achieve its intended purpose.
Mr. Legault told reporters Tuesday that, well founded or not, many Quebeckers are concerned about their privacy while using the app. He said all three opposition parties oppose it and a legislative committee studying it raised several issues, even though a public consultation in Quebec found a majority of residents believed it would be useful. Mr. Legault also said he would prefer it if the company that developed the app was from Quebec.
The app is a version of COVID Shield, created as an independent project by a team of developers affiliated with the Ottawa based e-commerce company Shopify. It relies on an interface created jointly by Apple and Google that has been adopted by several other countries, including Britain.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.