Canada’s auditor general will release a long-awaited report into the controversial ArriveCAN application Monday morning, more than a year after being tasked to look into it.
Auditor General Karen Hogan’s report is scheduled to be tabled in the House of Commons around 11 a.m. Eastern. Hogan is also scheduled to appear before the House public accounts committee at 11:15 a.m. Eastern; she will then speak to reporters at 1 p.m. Eastern.
The auditor general was tasked on Nov. 2, 2022, to look into ArriveCAN, the controversial app introduced in April 2020 as a way to manage travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy auditor general Andrew Hayes told MPs on the public accounts committee the audit was “looking at whether the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Public Health Agency of Canada, and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) managed all aspects of ArriveCAN, including procurement and expected deliverables with due regard for economy, efficiency and effectiveness.”
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While ArriveCAN was launched to help the country’s response to COVID-19, it proved to be a controversial tool fraught with technical setbacks.
A glitch in the app in 2022 sent more than 10,000 fully vaccinated travellers erroneous messages saying they needed to quarantine. Global News learned it took the government 12 days to notify travellers of the error.
There was also the issue of price: an early estimate for the app’s preliminary development put the cost at just $80,000 — but the total price tag has since soared to more than $54 million.
Then last January, the Globe and Mail published a story detailing the contracting process: Ottawa IT firm GCstrategies, which the government contracted to take on ArriveCAN and other projects to the tune of $44 million over two years, actually subcontracted the work to build it to six other companies.
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They included international firms KPMG and BDO — which then hired the IT workers to actually build the application.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last January called the contracting process “illogical” and “inefficient.”
Aside from the auditor general, parliamentarians and the Office of the Procurement Ombud have been investigating the saga, with the latter releasing its report last month.
However, last Wednesday MPs on the House operations committee decided to suspend any future hearings on ArriveCAN due to what one Liberal member described as a “scary” secret report on the issue.
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Liberal MP and committee vice-chair Majid Jowhari said on Feb. 7 he was “flabbergasted” by the preliminary statement of facts in Michel Lafleur’s report. Lafleur is executive director of professional integrity at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The report, which is not public, was made available to MPs on the committee.
“We’re doing a disservice to justice, and I’m being very serious about this. I’m not a lawyer, but what I read, it’s scary,” Jowhari said.
Jowhari argued that any further hearings into ArriveCAN could jeopardize ongoing investigations into ArriveCAN by the CBSA and the RCMP.
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“If I start getting into the level of detail of content that’s available here … and we even limit our questions to process in general, we could lead a conversation in such a way that would force Mr. Lafleur to make statements (leading to a) a certain conclusion that (would be) very risky,” he said.
NDP MP Taylor Bachrach agreed with Jowhari.
“Everyone wants to get to the bottom of what happened. I’ve read through the preliminary statement of facts, and I don’t think that it would be compromising the investigation to say that what I read, I found deeply troubling,” he said.
“Most Canadians, if they read the statement of facts, would be deeply troubled by what seems to have gone on.”
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A Liberal motion introduced earlier to dismiss Lafleur carried 7-3 with support from NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs. The Conservative MPs voted against it, and it was made clear the committee would be moving on from ArriveCAN for now.
Tory MP Stephanie Kusie accused the Liberals of a coverup.
“We follow the evidence where it leads us, and it leads us to a government investigating themselves,” Kusie said. “It’s not going to get any better on Monday when the auditor general releases her report, and there’ll be even more questions, and Canadians will demand that we get answers.”
Guillaume Bérubé, media relations manager with the CBSA, told Global News in an email Thursday its investigation centres around allegations of procurement misconduct from Montreal-based software firm Botler AI.
Botler AI did not work on ArriveCAN. The allegations were related to a chatbot proposal to assist employees with harassment related issues, Bérubé said.
“At the request of the OGGO Committee, the preliminary statements of fact from the ongoing internal investigation were provided last week while requesting they remain confidential as the release of this information into the public would be prejudicial to those implicated in the investigation,” Bérubé said.
“When the CBSA Professional Integrity Division and the RCMP investigations are concluded, we will take appropriate action based on their facts and findings. To ensure the integrity of investigations, procedural fairness and due process for those under investigation, we have no further comment at this time.”
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