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Pandemic is no excuse for ArriveCAN fiasco, says Auditor General

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick The Canadian Press Canada's Auditor General, Karen Hogan, released a shocking report on Monday that caused a stir in Ottawa.

It was perhaps legitimate to suspend certain rules to allow the federal government to act quickly during the pandemic, but not to award contracts without documentation to create ArriveCAN, rules the Auditor General of Canada.

“At the start of the pandemic, the Treasury Board gave flexibility [to departments]. But this flexibility came with a reminder that it was necessary to properly document the decisions taken so that there was good accountability,” Karen Hogan explained to a parliamentary committee in Ottawa on Wednesday. “From my point of view, an emergency is not a reason to throw aside the rules. »

The independent agent of Parliament published a shocking report on Monday which has since caused a stir. It demonstrates the lack of regard for the management of public funds shown by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) when creating ArriveCAN, a smartphone application intended to facilitate the entry of travelers into Canada .

Its use was made mandatory upon its release, in spring 2020, due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic. The app quickly became an emblem of the problems linked to border restrictions during this crisis.

No documentation

The CBSA conducted its own procurement process to order ArriveCAN. And she kept no documentation on the awarding of a no-bid contract to GC Strategies, a company made up of two partners working from their home.

This company is suspected by IT specialists heard in a parliamentary committee last year of being behind a “ghost company” scheme extracting public money. GC Strategies also made the most money from the development of ArriveCAN, at $19.1 million. She also helped write the government's calls for tenders for this project.

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Ms. Hogan's interviews led her to say that certain CBSA officials participated in dinners with government suppliers, a breach of their code of conduct. A police investigation is currently underway. “It is the RCMP which is responsible for determining whether there are actions of a criminal nature, not the Auditor General,” she clarified.

It would have been the responsibility of civil servants to alert their superiors after having simply been invited to dinner by a supplier, notes the Auditor General.

The Minister of Public Safety, Dominic LeBlanc, who is ultimately responsible for the CBSA's actions, emphasized Monday that ArriveCAN had been “developed [during] a pandemic” and that the government must then “act quickly for the safety of Canadians.” His colleague at Public Services and Procurement, Jean-Yves Duclos, added Wednesday morning that “what the Auditor General found [in her report] is unacceptable, despite all the difficult context” of the pandemic.< /p>

The elected officials shocked

The opposition in Ottawa has seized on the scandal since the start of the week. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre sees it as “corruption” and asks the Auditor General of Canada to investigate all contracts awarded to GC Strategies. Some 55 government contracts worth more than $10,000 awarded to this company are documented on the Government of Canada web portal, contracts with a total value of more than $30 million. The list is not exhaustive, however, since those from ArriveCAN are not included.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, did not stop on Wednesday to answer journalists' questions, contrary to his usual. However, he responded to the opposition during the question period. He promises an investigation and “consequences” for anyone who flouted the law.

The leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, indicated on Wednesday that he would like to see the CBSA put under supervision. “Someone who spends such phenomenal sums of money can’t just stay in office,” he said on Wednesday.

The leader of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, for his part denounced a “waste” of 60 million, which according to him proves that “Justin Trudeau is disconnected from people's reality”.

The basic ArriveCAN app was paid $80,000 in April 2020 for its Android and iOS versions, although the CBSA says it never anticipated such a final cost. At least $59.5 million was added to the bill to update it 177 times, the Auditor General estimates. This amount was also used to create a website, open a call center or develop digital proof of vaccination, for example.

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