Ottawa Man Sues the Feds Over ArriveCAN iPhone App

Ottawa-based lawyer Darius Bossé has filed a case against the federal government over the ArriveCAN app not allowing iPhone users to choose whether they wanted to use French or English as their official language — reports the CBC.

ArriveCAN was built as a mandatory tool for travellers to submit COVID-19 vaccination proof and other health information online before crossing into Canada. As of October 1, 2022, it is no longer mandatory and now serves as an optional resource for advance customs declarations.

Bossé was required to use the ArriveCAN when returning to Canada from the U.S. in the summer of 2021. He was forced to use the app in English because the iPhone version didn’t allow him to switch to French.

“When I am required to make personal statements about my health and location, it is absolutely essential to me that communication with the Canadian government takes place in the official language of my choice,” Bossé said.

Frustrated with the user experience, Bossé filed a complaint against the app. He won his case before the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in the spring of 2022. Canada’s Language Commissioner said in a report that was obtained by Radio-Canada and is yet to be made public that the ArriveCAN app may have violated the language rights of Canadians.

The case is now being heard in Federal Court. Bossé is seeking damages in the amount of $22,500, claiming that the Public Health Agency of Canada violated his language rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act.

“The Constitution states that people have the right to be served by the federal government in the official language of their choice. For me, it is important that the Federal Court formally recognize this,” Bossé explained.

The feds will be required to defend their management of the ArriveCAN app before the court.

ArriveCAN’s language selection issues have existed since the app was launched back in 2020. The iPhone version of the app allowed users to select a display language at launch. However, this feature was “defective,” according to a federal government affidavit, as it didn’t work consistently.

What’s more, users’ language preferences were not always respected by screen readers, exacerbating the issue for users with special needs. The government admitted to the court that it decided to “remove the language feature” in December 2020.

Ottawa didn’t release a version of the ArriveCAN app that allowed iPhone users to switch language until November 2021, well after Bossé’s original complaint, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

In its report, the Language Commissioner noted that the Public Health Agency “was aware” of the problems iPhone users were facing in operating the ArriveCAN app in their language of choice.

Bossé argues that the feds should not have mandated the use of the ArriveCAN app if they were aware of the display language selection issues.

Chulaka Ailapperuma, head of the ArriveCAN app, confirmed in an affidavit filed in Federal Court last September that the agency encountered several technical challenges related to the app’s display language on Apple devices in 2020 and 2021.

However, an expert hired by Bossé said in another affidavit that the government should have been able to allow users to switch display languages on the iPhone version of the ArriveCAN app. The expert estimated that such a feature would have only cost an additional $72,000, while the app in its entirety should not have cost more than $2 million.

In reality, the federal government’s spending on the ArriveCAN app is on track to cross $54 million this fiscal year. Millions from this budget went to a two-person company, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted last week was “illogical and inefficient.”