Health Canada tried to justify the $55 million cost for the ArriveCan app by claiming it 'saved lives' without evidence to substantiate that position.
"Without the use of restrictive measures and without high levels of vaccination Canada could have experienced higher numbers of infections and hospitalizations," the agency wrote to the Commons government operations committee on December 7.
Minh Doan, chief federal technology officer, also testified November 14 that the app saved lives. "As far as I am concerned it saved lives," he said.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, other bureaucrats claimed ArriveCan "was value for money." However, it failed to quantify the "exact number of lives" indirectly saved through the pandemic app turned vaccine passport.
"Would you provide something in writing to us quantifying that statement?" asked Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, committee chair. "We have heard repeatedly from people on the witness stand about how it has miraculously saved lives."
Liberal MP Marcus Powlowski, a medical doctor by profession, acknowledged the claim is unverifiable. "Having studied public health I would think that finding that evidence is going to be very difficult," he said.
Ottawa launched ArriveCan on April 22, 2020, claiming it would streamline the border-crossing process by allowing travellers to upload quarantine details.
Though initially optional, ArriveCAN eventually became a prerequisite for air and land travel from July 5, 2021, to October 1, 2022, when the federal government required all travellers to disclose their COVID vaccination status.
Initially described as a timesaver, the app saved travelers "about five minutes" in the travel queue, according to the Department of Public Safety in a June 5 Inquiry Of Ministry.
In committee testimony on September 27, one Customs and Immigration Union executive contested the claim, stating the long lineups led to drivers urinating and defecating themselves, reported Blacklock's Reporter.
"One of our officers at Niagara Falls had travellers who […] urinated and defecated themselves having been stuck in the car for so long," said Mark Weber, union president. "I think that says it all."
Public Safety Canada disclosed that of 9.97 million air travellers who entered Canada in the first quarter of 2023, only 1.13 million used ArriveCan or 11% of travellers.
At international airports in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, usage rates fell as low as "less than one percent" for the voluntary program.
Nevertheless, Health Canada has repeatedly claimed vaccine mandates, lockdowns and other restrictive measures saved lives, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
"We have done a study in which we modeled and almost 800,000 lives were saved," Harpreet Kochhar, then-Agency president, testified last February 6 at the Commons public accounts committee.
He said those mandates prevented 1.9 million hospitalizations and 34 million COVID cases, courtesy of early access to vaccines and the public health measures but did not elaborate on the figures.
The Agency in a follow-up briefing note said pandemic restrictions "might have saved up to 760,000 lives." They did not clarify which modeling they used to calculate that figure.
Health Minister Mark Holland told the Commons November 1 that cabinet "saved literally hundreds of thousands of lives, which is something we should be deeply proud of." He too did not elaborate.
An estimated 56,291 Canadians still died from the respiratory virus — greater than the Canadian death tolls of the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic that predated the Department of Health.