‘Scary’ secret report prompts MPs to suspend ArriveCAN hearings – National

The House of Commons operations committee has suspended future ArriveCAN hearings after some members raised a “scary” secret report about the controversial app.

The sudden suspension of hearings on Wednesday was based on a report produced by Michel Lafleur, 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.

Liberal MP and committee vice-chair Majid Jowhari said he was “flabbergasted” by its preliminary statement of facts.

“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,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Poilievre presses Liberals to explain ArriveCAN app contract after tech CEO says he never worked on it'

Poilievre presses Liberals to explain ArriveCAN app contract after tech CEO says he never worked on it

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.”

Click to play video: 'Tech Talk: $54 million price tag for ArriveCan App'

Tech Talk: $54 million price tag for ArriveCan App

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.

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Tory MP Stephanie Kusie accused the Liberals of a coverup.

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“We follow the evidence where it leads us, and it leads us to a government investigating themselves,” said Kusie. “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.”

Click to play video: 'Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, vaccine mandates'

Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, vaccine mandates

The House operations committee has been conducting a study on ArriveCAN for years. The application was launched in April 2020 as a way to manage travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. It proved to be a controversial tool fraught with technical setbacks.

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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 reported that 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.

Click to play video: 'Controversial ArriveCAN app to be scrapped'

Controversial ArriveCAN app to be scrapped

They included international firms KPMG and BDO, which then hired the IT workers to build the application.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last January called the contracting process “illogical” and “inefficient.”

The House of Commons adopted a motion calling on the Auditor General of Canada to conduct an ArriveCAN audit on Nov. 2, 2022.

The audit was “looking at whether the Canada Border Services Agency, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Public Services and Procurement Canada managed all aspects of ArriveCAN, including procurement and expected deliverables with due regard for economy, efficiency and effectiveness,” Deputy Auditor General Andrew Hayes said Jan. 26.

It will be released on Feb. 12.

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