Canadians are taking the federal government to court over alleged Charter violations by its dysfunctional ArriveCAN app.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom (JCCF) announced they had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Canadians who either received fines or were forcibly quarantined for refusing to disclose their COVID vaccination status.
The lawsuit alleges that the federal government breached the plaintiffs' rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that they are owed monetary damages.
The Trudeau Liberals launched the expensive ArriveCAN app in April 2020 as an alleged pandemic management tool. They claimed it would streamline the border-crossing process by allowing travellers to upload their quarantine details.
Though ArriveCAN was initially optional, it eventually became a prerequisite for air and land travel by July 5, 2021, when the federal government required all travellers to disclose their COVID vaccination status.
However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted in late January that his government's approach to the ArriveCAN app was "highly illogical."
Nevertheless, those who failed or refused to use ArriveCAN could potentially face a maximum fine of $750,000 or be imprisoned for up to 6 months, or both.
According to the Justice Centre, some of the plaintiffs willingly disclosed their vaccination status through other means, but all shared privacy concerns concerning ArriveCAN potentially sharing their collected personal medical information widely with other government departments and agencies, police forces, and even other countries.
The Plaintiffs also expressed concerns about having their vaccination status searched upon entry to Canada and are required to use the software to enter their own country without fine and quarantine freely.
One of the Plaintiffs, Joanne Walsh, a retired Canadian who resides in Burlington, Ontario, travelled to the US on a short trip in the summer of 2022 to take advantage of the re-opened border. Upon her return to Canada, she presented a vaccine certificate to the border agents.
The agents refused to accept this certificate and demanded Walsh use the ArriveCAN app. When she refused, border agents issued her a ticket and ordered her into 14-day quarantine, despite being a “vaccinated traveller.”
After the incident, the Public Health Agency of Canada sent agents to her residence during this period to check her compliance with quarantine.
“Privacy of Canadians is one of the fundamental rights our Charter protects,” said Hatim Kheir, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs. “ArriveCAN’s disclaimer that Canadians’ private information could be widely shared is a serious concern to the Plaintiffs and should be for all of us."
Hatim added that with the introduction of this "unprecedented requirement" upon Canadians to enter Canada to allegedly address the pandemic, it is vitally important that the health of our rights and freedoms are examined in the process.
The lawsuit will proceed in the Federal Court at a date to be determined later.
Trudeau has since asked for the Clerk of the Privy Council to review the ArriveCAN contracts and subcontracts tied to the two-person staffing firm tasked with its development and maintenance.
GCstrategies — the Ottawa-based company that received millions in federal commissions on IT projects — subcontracted its work on the ArriveCan app to six other companies, including multinationals such as BDO and KPMG.
Constructing its software costs taxpayers $54 million, with GCstrategies typically billing the federal government between $1,000 to $1,500 per worker daily.
Trudeau faced questions on why the federal government couldn't hire these IT companies directly instead of paying millions in commissions to the two-person staffing company.
"That's exactly the question I asked of the public service," responded Trudeau. "This is a practice that seems highly illogical and inefficient."
"Of course, speed was the essence during the pandemic, and helping people quickly was the essence," he added. "But there are principles we should ensure are sound moving forward."