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Q&A: Justin Osmond, Senior Policy Analyst, Regulator Affairs at SCC

September 29, 2021

Q&A: Justin Osmond, Senior Policy Analyst, Regulator Affairs at SCC

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Interview
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Justin Osmond is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Standards Council of Canada working in the regulatory affairs team.

Q.

What is SCC’s role with federal regulators?

A.

At SCC we work with many federal regulators such as Health Canada, Transport Canada, and others. In this work we have two main roles. We advise them on how to effectively use standards and conformity assessment within regulation, and we help them develop new standards and conformity assessment programs.

We work in these two directions because standards are agile, consensus-driven, ready-made regulatory tools, and because the technical committees that write standards need the input and insight from regulators. By helping regulators engage with the standardization system, we help them leverage and shape the standards that are used by the Canadian society. We pave the road between regulations and standardization so that they are mutually beneficial

Q.

The Government of Canada has committed to modernizing our regulatory system, which is crucial to ensure we have the appropriate policies and regulations to tackle national priorities and help improve the lives of the Canadians. One of the review underway is Regulatory Review on International Standards. Why is it important that the government look at standardization as part of a regulatory modernization?

A.

In May 2019, The External Advisory Committee on Regulatory Competitiveness wrote to the Treasury Board of Canada to recommend the review of international standards citing the potential for “international standards in regulation to support regulatory cooperation, facilitate trade, and foster innovation, while ensuring that health, safety, security, and environmental protections are upheld in the Canadian federal regulatory system.”

From 2019 to early 2021, the Treasury Board Secretariat embraced the review of international standards and engaged with SCC and all federal departments and agencies on this topic. Transport Canada then led the writing of the International Standards Regulatory Roadmap. During the regulatory review, SCC saw that many federal departments see value in the strategic use of international standards in regulation. It seems to me that there is agreement amongst federal regulators that international standards can help Canadian industries integrate into international markets.

There’s also a growing sense that standards are valuable because they represent broad consensus that is gained through the transparent standards development process. These are key benefits for regulators.

Q.

Can you give us an example of an initiative that SCC will lead under the international Standards Roadmap and why it matters to Canadians?

A.

SCC is leading a number of initiatives that were identified within the Regulatory Review on International Standards. For one, we are developing a National Standards Strategy that will identify high-value opportunities for the Canadian use and development of national and international standards. This is a critically important initiative that will provide concrete direction to SCC and our partners in the coming years.

Along with this I would highlight one other key example. Throughout the Regulatory Review, and through the work of SCC’s Canadian Data Governance Standardization Collaborative, SCC learned that there is a need for consensus standards for Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI users, developers, and regulators who would develop these standards are still working to understand the opportunities and risks associated with this technology. AI is not new, but it’s potential for massive social impact is growing faster than ever.

There is a lot of activity going on globally to set viable technical and ethical requirements for AI. For these reasons, we see a pressing need to pull together the standardization stakeholders in Canada to discuss and capture consensus about how standards can help serve AI industry in Canada. Establishing an AI Standardization Collaborative would provide a forum for this crucial conversation, and we are working towards establishing this in the coming months.

Q.

What are the advantages of referencing standards in regulation?

A.

There are many advantages. By referencing standards in regulation, regulators satisfy domestic requirements, such as the Government of Canada Cabinet Directive on Regulation, and international commitments and trade requirements, such as the ones in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. Standards are consensus-based, they are developed transparently, and they represent the state-of-the-art requirements for processes, organizations, and technologies. Moreover, they are continually updated as part of the normal standards lifecycle.

But the most important benefit to regulators is that standards are forward-looking. What I see in my work is that regulators must set requirements that protect Canadians without obstructing innovation and economic development. The challenge for regulators is that innovative technologies emerge and change faster than one can estimate the potential risks. When we work with regulators, we hear a lot about the need for agile and anticipatory regulations. The challenge is well-understood, but the ability to keep pace with innovation remains difficult. The good news is that within the innovation cycle, we often see standards development happening early. Technical committees, driven by innovators themselves, will often form out of an interest in standardizing and harmonizing technical approaches. This means that the standardization system is at the leading edge of the innovation curve.

Regulators can join the standards development process to gain insight into emerging risks, and, with proper regulatory impact analysis, the standards can form part of a regulator’s anticipatory rule-making process. In this way, the standardization system can give regulators an edge.

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