Officials in Hot Water Deny Blame in $60M ArriveCan App Scandal

Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano, two suspended civil servants, have voiced their concerns over being unjustly targeted in the wake of the $60 million ArriveCan app controversy, saying they are scapegoats.

MacDonald was an assistant deputy minister at Health Canada and Utano was a director general at Canada Revenue Agency. They both refuted claims made in a preliminary report by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), labeling it as filled with “exaggerations and falsehoods.”

During a parliamentary committee session on Thursday, MacDonald criticized the report to MPs, stating, “The reality is this document is nothing more than a collection of baseless accusations, unsupported by any other evidence; accusations of wrongdoing, supported by cherry-picking emails and calendar entries. It should be called the preliminary statement of falsehoods,” reports the National Post.

Both men have been suspended without pay following the internal investigation into their conduct related to the ArriveCan app’s development and launch.

“CBSA is punishing us because we told the truth, because we told this committee they have been misled by senior officials from CBSA,” claimed Utano. He highlighted their transparency, including the full disclosure of a knapsack with the ArriveCan logo and participation in a virtual whiskey tasting, as evidence of their integrity.

The duo has expressed willingness to engage in the CBSA’s ongoing internal investigation, seeking a “fair shot” at presenting their side. MacDonald emphasized their repeated offers to participate, contingent upon receiving adequate information.

ArriveCan launched in 2020 to help COVID-19 vaccination verification and customs declarations for Canadians abroad. The mobile app has faced scrutiny over its insane development costs and lack of transparency. The auditor general said the app’s estimated cost is at $60 million, with a final tally unknown due to a missing paper trail.

MacDonald implicated Minh Doan, the government’s current chief technology officer, and other senior officials in misleading practices regarding the app’s development and the selection of GC Strategies as the main contractor, who has received $20 million from ArriveCan app development alone, just for finding outsourced workers to do the work.

The controversy has prompted calls for an external investigation by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, a move supported across political lines. MacDonald and Utano have also sought judicial review to halt the CBSA investigation, seeking an independent review.

Despite criticisms, MacDonald defended the app’s high costs and said it would not have been possible to do for $80,000. He said the total app costs were between $12 million and $14 million, which included hosting and cloud services, and disputed it could have been built in a weekend, as previously shown by developers to prove the ridiculous cost of the app (well maybe not on a “government” weekend). He claimed that for every use of the app it saved Canadians $3 as it replaced paper declarations.

P.S. Help support us and independent media here: Buy us a beer, Buy us a coffee, or use our Amazon link to shop.