Photo: Giordano Ciampini archives La Presse canadienne Un comité parlementaire à Ottawa examine les contrats liés à l’application ArriveCAN, qui sont entachés d’allégations de mauvaise gestion.
The federal government required companies wishing to develop the ArriveCAN application, whose contracts total tens of millions of dollars, to work in English, under the pretext that it is the dominant language in IT.
“The option chosen by the CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] was English since the concepts and terminology in the technological field are mainly in English and this language had to be mastered to execution of the technical work requested”, specifies in Devoir the spokesperson for the Agency, Guillaume Bérubé.
On March 13, 2020, the same day that the Premier of Quebec announced a first generalized lockdown in response to the arrival of the new COVID-19 virus, the federal government launched an imposing call for tenders as part of the modernization of its border management IT tools, a project already in the pipeline since the previous year.
The program will give birth to the ArriveCAN application, whose mandatory use will become one of the emblems of border restrictions during the pandemic. A constellation of government contracts linked to this application will increase the bill for taxpayers to some $55 million, according to the latest available balance sheet. These contracts are currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee in Ottawa and are the subject of an investigation by the Auditor General of Canada.
The original request for proposal for what would become ArriveCAN was posted on the Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) portal to solicit interest from IT companies across the country. It bears the linguistic notation “essential English”.
“By submitting a bid, the bidder certifies that, if awarded the contract resulting from the solicitation, each person proposed in its bid is proficient in English. The proposed candidates must be able to communicate in English both orally and in writing, without assistance, and with few errors,” specifies the document.
This passage outraged Bloc Québécois MP Julie Vignola, also vice-president of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Budget Estimates (OGGO). This committee undertakes the grueling task of combing through this type of government contract awarded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are still unfavorable prejudices against those who speak French,” she concludes of the linguistic requirement for the development of ArriveCAN.
“This shows that Quebec or Franco-Canadian companies that want to apply, but who have specialists in their field who do not speak English, are going to be squeezed. » Julie Vignola maintains that computer coding is a language in itself, and in this case the one that must be mastered for this contract.
His vision of things is nuanced by the professor of management and law at the University of Ottawa Gilles LeVasseur, who believes that the technical aspect can be a valid justification for departing from the bilingualism standard in the federal government. “If we ask to work with NASA, you can’t start speaking French with NASA,” he illustrates.
Work in French
However, according to his analysis, such registration in the call for tenders would have merited guarantees that the organization of work or relations with the ministry could be conducted in French. He believes that the federal government always chooses to favor English for its IT management, which creates gaps in the French versions of its services, relegated to translations.
“Can the French speaker function in French ? Is he required to speak in English at work ? […] The problem is that it creates the culture of the environment in which we work only in English , and then we do translations,” he criticizes.
The Canada Border Services Agency argues that the ArriveCAN application has been available to travelers in French, English and Spanish since its launch. For its part, SPAC, the government's central buyer, indicates to Devoir that it does not have any statistics on the proportion of contracts that require only English, since these requirements are determined by each of the ministries.
In the House, the conservative opposition regularly returns to the charge concerning the price of the development of ArriveCAN, considered exaggerated, especially since specialists attempted to reproduce the application in a single weekend. The $55 million spent, however, includes the development of several other applications and a website, the management of a call center, and nearly $5 million for the development of digital proof of vaccination, for example. example.
Irregularities have also been suspected in the creation of ArriveCAN. Entrepreneurs would have won contracts, then passed the work on to others while pocketing part of the sums. The Auditor General is conducting her own audit in this matter, which will determine whether public funds were adequately spent. She promises to submit her report at the end of January.