CBSA Hands Over ArriveCan App Invoices with Details Hidden, Contradicting Liberal Transparency

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has presented all of the invoices pertaining to ArriveCAN — but with exact pay rates, purposes of contracts, and more redacted, much to the disappointment of the MPs investigating the app’s budget (via The Globe and Mail).

ArriveCAN was built as a mandatory tool for travellers to submit their vaccination status and other health information online before crossing into Canada. However, it is no longer mandatory as of October 1, 2022, and now serves as an optional resource for filing customs declarations in advance.

After reports indicated that ArriveCAN’s budget was on track to cross $54 million this financial year, MPs on the House of Commons government operations committee ordered multiple federal departments to provide a wide range of documents related to the app, including a list of contractors and subcontractors, and copies of invoices, “in an unredacted format.”

Canada’s border agency, the main federal arm responsible for the app, missed the committee’s October deadline to hand over the documents. Instead, the CBSA furnished invoices in batches, with the most recent installment being delivered in December.

At the same time, CBSA President Erin O’Gorman told the committee that the agency will not be revealing the identities of all the subcontractors involved in making the app. That matters because work on the ArriveCAN app relied heavily on subcontractors.

GCstrategies, a company that received $11.2 million in taxpayers’ money to work on the ArriveCAN app — the most of any contractor — only has two employees and exclusively farmed out all of its work to 75 other private subcontractors.

NDP MP and committee member Gord Johns called out the CBSA’s redactions for contradicting the Liberal government’s pledges of transparency.

“They’re hiring really expensive consultants to hire really expensive consultants to deliver services for Canadians. We saw that with GCstrategies,” he said. “They’re avoiding transparency on this because they don’t want to, again, be embarrassed for the lack of accountability.”

Conservative MP and government operations committee chair Kelly McCauley said he is disappointed by how long the CBSA took to comply with the order for documents. He noted that the heavily redacted documents only provide lump-sum costs, adding that the committee will likely issue another order for unredacted documents.

“I’m very greatly concerned that documents are redacted, blocking any ability for us to see what the government was actually buying and how many units. All we get is a lump-sum price,” said McCauley. “I suspect the committee will probably put through another motion demanding unredacted documents.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a member of the committee and the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, defended the CBSA’s decision to redact the identities of subcontractors in an emailed statement.

However, Housefather said he is “far more sympathetic” to his fellow MPs’ concerns over the CBSA’s redaction of descriptions of the services provided.

“I do believe that we should have a clear view of what exactly was being paid for in each case, and I would be supportive of a request to receive that information in an unredacted format,” he said.

Previously, the CBSA gave MPs a cost breakdown and list of contractors that were rife with errors.

According to a report from last week, the federal government’s spending on IT contracting rose 8% to $4.6 billion during the 2021-2022 fiscal year.