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Use of subcontractors caused ArriveCAN fiasco, blames Auditor General

Photo: Giordano Ciampini Archives The Canadian Press ArriveCAN is an application developed in 2020 and became temporarily mandatory during the global COVID-19 pandemic, becoming one of the emblems of border restrictions during this crisis.

Addicted to external consultants at $1090 per day, the Canada Border Services Agency kept no documentation on awarding a contract without a call for tenders to contractors who applied more enriched with the development of ArriveCAN during the pandemic.

“We found that there was no documentation on file regarding the initial discussions and interactions between the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and GC Strategies,” writes the Auditor General Karen Hogan in a highly anticipated report released Monday.

No one in the government was able to tell him who had made the decision to retain the firm GC Strategies, a company which came first among the subcontractors having made the greatest fortune with the ArriveCAN project, with a total of $19.1 million.

Despite her investigation, Karen  Hogan has not been able to know for sure how much the ArriveCAN app cost, but she estimates the bill at $59.5 million.

ArriveCAN is an application developed in 2020 and became temporarily mandatory during the global COVID-19 pandemic, becoming one of the emblems of border restrictions during this crisis.

A subcontractor too close

The CBSA allegedly provided answers on the awarding of contracts which did not at all convince the Agent of Parliament, according to whom its explanations “were not supported by convincing elements”. It notes numerous shortcomings which have resulted in a significant waste of public funds.

In particular, the Auditor General notes that after obtaining a first contract in these circumstances which were, to say the least, nebulous, GC Strategies subsequently participated in the development of the project's tender requirements ArriveCAN. Contracts without calls for tenders were also awarded to the firms 49 Solutions and KPMG without documentation.

Another department, Public Services and Procurement Canada, had even advised the CBSA to consider other suppliers, but the latter still decided not to launch a competitive process, in defiance of the elementary rules of good management.

The Auditor General confirms that CBSA officials responsible for the ArriveCAN project were invited by suppliers to dinners and other activities. The federal government is working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in its investigation into these allegations.

“Existing relationships between vendors and [government officials] and the lack of documentation that Agency staff declared invitations to dinners or other activities created significant risk or perceived conflict of interest with respect to procurement decisions,” writes Ms. Horgan, who does not delve into this element of the audit so as not to duplicate the work of the investigation by course.

Financial fiasco

Following the advice of its contractors, the government drafted tenders for ArriveCAN with eligibility criteria that were “very restrictive, which likely prevented competition.”

Le Devoir notably reported that a call for tenders for this project had ignored the federal bilingualism standard, by requiring in its call for tenders to be able to “communicate in English both orally and in writing, without assistance, and with few errors”.

The CBSA has also relied heavily, and sometimes unnecessarily, on the expertise of external companies whose average daily cost for an employee is $1,090, much more than an equivalent position to the Government of Canada, estimated at $675.

All this leads the Auditor General to say that those responsible for this major IT project had little regard for “optimization of resources”. The Canada Border Services Agency accepted each of the report's 10 recommendations.

Generally speaking, the government had not properly divided responsibilities between the CBSA and public health. The ArriveCAN application had not been tested properly, and its users suffered from an avalanche of updates, numbering 177 between April 2020 and October 2022. ArriveCAN is no longer mandatory upon arrival in the country.

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