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Officials blamed for ArriveCan scandal maintain innocence

Photo: Giordano Ciampini Archives The Canadian Press The two men were suspended following the publication of a report blaming them for the app's skyrocketing costs.

Benoit Valois-Nadeau

February 22, 2024

  • Canada

Two senior federal officials suspended without pay for their involvement in the explosion of costs of the ArriveCAN application proclaimed their innocence and claimed that they were being used as scapegoats on Thursday before a parliamentary committee.

Called to testify before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano refuted the allegations made against them and cast blame on their superiors at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), maintaining that the latter “misled” Parliament to cover up their own negligence.

Mr. MacDonald, now assistant deputy minister at Health Canada, and Mr. Utano, director general of informatics at the Canada Revenue Agency, worked together on the development of the ArriveCAN application at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both men were suspended from their positions following the release of a preliminary CBSA report blaming them for the program's spiraling costs.

Last week, Canada's Auditor General, Karen Hogan, estimated the bill at $59.5 million for ArriveCAN, a smartphone app meant to make it easier for travelers to enter the Canada.

Also read

  • Pandemic is no excuse for ArriveCAN fiasco, says Auditor General
  • Editorial | Under a diffuse cloud of suspicion

In her report, Ms. Hogan noted numerous shortcomings in the awarding of contracts, which resulted in a significant waste of public funds. The consulting firm GC Strategies notably won $19.1 million in subcontracting contracts, some without a call for tenders.

The two career civil servants questioned the credibility of the CBSA's internal report. “The preliminary report is done in such a way as to portray us in the worst possible way. Each allegation is false, erroneous and taken out of context. They are stated without adequate evidence and without even meeting with us,” argued Mr. MacDonald.

“We were not responsible and did not have sufficient authority to sign contracts or approve budgets. We are also not responsible for choosing GC Strategies to work on ArriveCAN,” argued Mr. Utano.

Stressing that he and his former colleague were also not responsible for the shortcomings and shortcomings noted by the Auditor General in her report, he also described as “absurd” the allegations of corruption made to his location.

According to Mr. MacDonald, the starting budget for creating a prototype of the ArriveCAN application was set at $400,000. “But there were constant changes, and each party involved had their own requirements. From my point of view, no [precise] budget has been allocated” for the application, he said.

MM. MacDonald and Utano had already made a similar speech before a parliamentary committee last November.

On Thursday, they suggested that their suspension was a way of punishing them and discrediting them in the public eye. “Parliamentary privilege was breached, and we now face retaliation,” MacDonald said. “We are being punished for telling the truth,” Mr. Utano added.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116