Politics

Pierre Poilievre asks RCMP to expand investigation of ArriveCan app

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre sent a letter to the RCMP commissioner Tuesday asking the Mounties to investigate the government's COVID-era ArriveCan app, a pandemic program that's been marred by controversy.

'This is completely unacceptable and reeks of corruption at the highest levels,' Poilievre says of ArriveCan

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre sent a letter to the RCMP commissioner Tuesday asking the Mounties to investigate the government's COVID-era ArriveCan app, a pandemic program that's been marred by controversy.

In his letter to commissioner Mike Duheme, Poilievre said the auditor general's scathing recent report on the matter demands that the national police force review the file for possible criminality.

"I am writing to ask that you immediately expand your existing criminal investigation into the matters surrounding the Government's ArriveCAN application due to findings by the Auditor General that have exposed corruption, mismanagement, and misconduct on a massive scale," Poilievre said.

Amid troubling allegations about the conduct of some employees at the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), the RCMP was called in last year to review the conduct of "certain employees and contractors" working with the agency, according to the auditor general.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the "RCMP and the CBSA's professional integrity division are investigating" any alleged wrongdoing linked to the app, which was used to screen travellers at a time of pandemic-related restrictions.

"The CBSA has also launched an internal audit to look into contracting at the agency and has increased oversight processes when it comes to contracting," Trudeau said last year when pressed on news reports of mismanagement.

Poilievre said he thinks that whatever probe is underway should be expanded.

In question period, Poilievre sought assurances that Trudeau will not try to block the police.

"We will, of course, encourage the RCMP to do its work," Trudeau said.

"It doesn't take politicians, even leaders of the opposition, to tell the RCMP to do their job. They do their job and they do it well. We will make sure all rules are followed and that there are consequences for people who broke the laws or broke the rules."

WATCH | Poilievre presses Trudeau for answers on ArriveCan audit

Poilievre presses Trudeau for answers on ArriveCan audit

2 months ago
Duration 2:33
Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the recent audit of ArriveCan, which found serious irregularities in the app's procurement process. Trudeau said there will be 'consequences' for those who broke the rules while working on the project.

Although he's asking the Mounties to launch a larger investigation, Poilievre has been critical of the RCMP in recent days.

Last week, he accused Trudeau of mismanaging and politicizing the RCMP when speaking about crime in some of Canada's big cities.

The RCMP operates at arm's-length from the government of the day.

"We will get the RCMP back to fighting organized crime and protecting Canadians against extortion, assassinations, car jackings, human trafficking and all the other crimes that have raged out of control over the last eight years," Poilievre said. "We will fix the RCMP."

Auditor General Karen Hogan reported that the government overpaid for the app and the CBSA's handling of the file was woefully inadequate.

The app cost taxpayers about $60 million, a price tag considerably higher than initial estimates.

But even that $60 million figure is an estimate, Hogan said, because the CBSA's record-keeping was so poor.

Hogan said CBSA and the Public Health Agency of Canada "repeatedly failed to follow good management practices in the contracting, development and implementation of the ArriveCan application."

She also raised questions about a possible cozy relationship between GC Strategies, the company that was contracted to develop the app, and the public servants ultimately responsible for the procurement process.

WATCH | Total cost of ArriveCan app 'impossible to determine,' AG finds 

Total cost of ArriveCan app 'impossible to determine,' AG finds

2 months ago
Duration 2:35
A new auditor general report has found the final cost of the ArriveCan app is "impossible to determine" due to what it says is poor financial record-keeping.

The auditor general found GC Strategies, a private IT staffing company, was involved in developing the requirements that were later used for a competitive contract related to the ArriveCan app — a contract the firm later won.

"In short, millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted by Trudeau government officials who rigged the contracting process for a preferred company," Poilievre claimed in his letter to Duheme.

"The application also didn't work, as 10,000 Canadians were mistakenly forced into quarantine. This is completely unacceptable and reeks of corruption at the highest levels," Poilievre said.

"There were also severe violations of the CBSA Code of Conduct, including failure to disclose whisky tastings and extravagant dinners paid for by lobbyists and private interests."

That's a reference to a Globe and Mail report that said the head of GC Strategies invited key federal officials to an "ArriveCan Whisky Tasting" to celebrate the app's one-year anniversary, and also invited officials to off-site meetings at various breweries and restaurants around Ottawa.

Invitations to the mid-pandemic virtual whisky tasting event were extended to four CBSA officials, including Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano, who were suspended without pay this month in connection with the internal investigation into the app, the newspaper reported.

At the press conference where she announced her findings Monday, Hogan confirmed there were "emails, invites" for "an online whisky tasting."

"Anyone who received an invitation, whether they attended the event or not, should have informed their supervisor of the invitation," she said.

"The public sector has a code of conduct to make sure that individuals who are making decisions are always seen to have done so in an impartial way."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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