The Saskatchewan Party government’s decision to shelve the pursuit of digital identification late last month seemed more than a little strange.
The announcement followed about two weeks after Jim Reiter, the minister for SaskBuilds and procurement, addressed concerns raised at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities convention in Regina.
Reiter assured SARM delegates that the digital ID being pursued by the province would not be mandatory and that the government was consulting with the privacy commissioner on the matter.
Reiter claimed the government had changed its mind so quickly due to concern expressed by residents. He failed to say who exactly was complaining.
An initiative like digital ID raises legitimate privacy concerns. But, according to documents obtained by Postmedia on the digital ID project, SGI already boasts a facial recognition database that covers about 93 per cent of the province’s population.
Perhaps other concerns are at play here.
Reiter’s explanation sounds a lot like what we heard from Premier Scott Moe when he announced the end of public health measures amid record COVID-19 hospitalizations and one of the deadliest stretches of the pandemic.
Moe explained when he announced in February that restrictions were ending that people had expressed concern about them. So healing the divisions over the vaccine passport system became more important than saving the lives of those the measures were intended to protect.
We know now that a group called Unified Grassroots engaged in an apparently successful lobbying effort to try to convince Saskatchewan’s government to drop the measures.
What many may not realize if they’re fortunate enough not to follow Saskatchewan’s conspiracy community online is that digital ID was among this community’s obsessions.
Some cited the digital ID project as their next target once the public health measures were removed and COVID-19 was allowed to spread freely through Saskatchewan’s population, killing at least 320 people this year.
Digital ID, they assume, is yet another plank in an ever-widening global plot in the pursuit of, well, globalism. It’s ironic that the folks who are allegedly so concerned about privacy spend so much time posting content on social media sites and apps that track them.
The most extreme conspiracy theorists believe the pandemic was a hoax perpetrated by the forces of globalism, including the World Economic Forum.
The plot so far includes almost all doctors, except for the few who embraced conspiracies, almost all politicians and the mainstream media.
The plot must include legitimate journalism so the folks spreading misinformation can tell themselves and others that they’re crusaders for truth and everyone would share their views if only they visited the same shady websites.
In Saskatchewan, though, this thinking appears to be pervasive and persuasive. At very least, few would seriously deny that the conspiracy theorists are getting just about everything they want — except maybe a formal acknowledgement that they’ve been right along and medals for their heroism.
If only the government listened so closely to other voices. Nobody seemed to like the expansion of the provincial sales tax in the recent Saskatchewan budget, including the business community with which this government appears so cozy, but no pause has been announced for that.
Conspiracy theories used to be fun, even goofy, but mostly harmless: Aliens, sasquatch, Elvis is still alive, the moon landing was fake and the Earth is really flat.
Now they’ve turned dark and dangerous: The pandemic is a hoax, vaccines are deadly, the election was rigged, the Holocaust never happened, the Russians are the good guys.
Nadine Wilson, an independent MLA who left the government caucus over her vaccine status, suggested in a bizarre article published this month by the Prince Albert Daily Herald a connection between the Chinese Communist Party and the move to digital ID.
Wilson characterized the province as “weaponizing a digital database” with its vaccine passport system.
You don’t need to adopt the mind of a conspiracy theorist to see the influence of Wilson’s thinking on this government’s decisions.
Phil Tank is the digital opinion editor at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
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