Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

An electronic music festival in Ottawa, one of the largest in Canada, has debuted its own homemade proof of vaccination system, a month before the Ontario government is to roll out a provincial-wide digital vaccine passport.

The Escapade Festival requires all attendees to show proof that they are fully immunized against COVID-19. It confirms people’s status with the CANImmunize app, developed by a team at Ottawa Hospital long before the pandemic began.

“We had a conversation with Ottawa Public Health about the best way to try to address this, and that app stood out,” said Ali Shafaee, the festival’s CEO.

“It was not just an app [created because of] COVID … so they already had a lot of the infrastructure in place. “

The security reminded concert-goers to wear masks as they filtered into the room. (Ben Andrews / CBC News)

Escapade’s website instructs concert-goers to upload their personal information and either a photo or screenshot of their vaccination receipts to the CANImmunize app.

The festival, which takes place this weekend at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park, also accepts QR codes from Quebecers who already have a provincial vaccine passport.

Shafaee said he doubled the number of entrances and staff at the gate to make up for any delays in ticket processing.

“A normal treatment time can be 20 to 25 minutes,” Shafaee said. “This year it seems to be going a little faster.”

Festival Director Ali Shafaee says he chose to use the CANImmunize app in consultation with Ottawa Public Health. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

Made-in-Ottawa solution

Launched in 2014 as ImmunizeCA, the CANImmunize app was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and developed by researchers at Ottawa Hospital to help Canadians store, administer, and access immunization information.

The purpose was to alert users to nearby disease outbreaks and help track when vaccinations, boosters and flu shots were available.

“When COVID hit, we recognized that eventually there should be a vaccine, and we tried to prepare for that eventuality.” said Dr. Kumanan Wilson, a doctor in Ottawa and a member of the app’s development team.

CANImmunize has since partnered with the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness to coordinate the province’s COVID-19 response.

‘Best done by a government organization’

To ensure appropriate long-term user authentication, Wilson said it is best that the provincial passport system – which is set to take effect on September 22, with a digital certificate and a mobile app expected by October 22 – handled by the government.

“The information comes from the government warehouse. It must be valid and the persons approved must know that it came from a valid issuer,” he said.

“All of these are best done by a government organization.”

A sign reminds attendees that the Escapade Music Festival requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter. (Ben Andrews / CBC)

Until the app goes into effect, Ontarians must produce printed or downloaded vaccination receipts and a valid photo ID to enter indoor locations such as gyms and restaurants from September 22nd.

In an email, a spokesman for Ontario’s Associated Ministry of Digital Government said it “welcomes[s]”innovation in the private sector and will continue to consult with industry as it develops its own verification app.

Escapade was last held in Ottawa in 2019, and organizers have had to cancel it three times due to COVID-19.

Festival organizers said the event was sold out for 8,500 tickets. The festival sells between 20,000 and 25,000 tickets in a normal year.

Although masks were required and security was in place to enforce the mandate, many in attendance left their faces uncovered.

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