Canada's top technology officer lied to MPs on the ArriveCAN app boondoggle, according to a high-ranking public servant.
Cameron MacDonald, an assistant deputy minister at Health Canada, testified November 7 that Mr. Minh Doan, his former superior at the Canada Border Services Agency, held heated discussions October 2022 on the $55 million app. ArriveCAN tracked the vaccination status of travellers during the COVID pandemic.
Before the government operations committee, MacDonald told MPs he "felt incredibly threatened on [a] phone call with Minh Doan," who called to discuss what agency leadership would say. As first reported by The Globe and Mail, they called on CBSA leadership to explain the app's cost expenditures.
Doan, now chief technology officer for the federal government, reportedly told MacDonald that then public safety minister Marco Mendicino wanted "somebody's head on a platter" over negative press on ArriveCAN.
"He just said: 'You know, Cam, if I have to, I’m going to tell the committee that it was you,'" the public servant told MPs. "To which I said, if you do that, I will have to respond. And we ended the conversation."
MacDonald informed committee he advised Doan to select Deloitte to build the app, but he declined the suggestion as the company's efforts on a separate IT project went poorly. Doan told MPs October 24 they decided to hire GCStrategies, but clarified he "was not personally involved in that decision."
MacDonald corrected the record, stipulating: "Everyone knew it was his decision to make. It wasn’t mine."
GCStrategies – a two-person IT staffing firm based in Ottawa – received over $11 million to work on ArriveCAN. Kristian Firth, managing partner at GCStrategies, clarified that neither he nor his business partner, Darren Anthony, performed any remedial IT work themselves. They subcontracted the work and collected commission worth upwards of 30% of the federal contract values.
The co-founders of Montreal software company Botler, Amir Moravej and Ritika Dutt, confirmed Firth approached them via LinkedIn in late 2019 on behalf of the CBSA. He referred to his client as MacDonald. Moravej and Dutt took exception with the unusual correspondence and began recording their conversations with Firth and CBSA officials.
According to the conversations, MacDonald directed Botler in February 2020 to "please work with Kristian" and "let Kristian work his magic." Firth urged them to solely praise the public servant whenever they met with other senior government officials.
MacDonald told MPs they followed all rules with respect to ArriveCAN and the Botler file. "In terms of nefarious activities, and some of the things that have been suggested at this committee, I have never seen that in my entire life," he said.
The GCStrategies partner appeared before the government operations committee last week, admitting he made a mistake by inflating work experience records for Moravej and Dutt.
The same committee expanded its ArriveCAN study last month after Botler - which worked on a project for the agency – objected to 'cozy ties' between private staffing firms and public servants.
After performing work for CBSA in 2020 and 2021, they raised concerns with the agency about the contracting arrangement in September 2021. Afterwards, they submitted a more detailed complaint to CBSA and other top officials last November, raising serious concerns about how the agency hired their firm.
In November 2022, CBSA approved internal audits, referring the matter to the RCMP. The federal police agency confirmed its investigation into the allegations, but not ArriveCAN.
On Tuesday, the border agency suspended its contracting relationship with the three IT staffing firms who received contracts for ArriveCAN.