MPs ask CBSA ‘32 times’ to identify recipient of ArriveCAN contract

Public Works Minister Jean-Yves Duclos declined 32 times to answer who awarded GC Strategies $11.2 million to subcontract IT work on the ArriveCan app.

MPs ask CBSA ‘32 times’ to identify recipient of ArriveCAN contract
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini
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CBSA Officials refused to tell MPs Tuesday which company they awarded the ArriveCan contract — despite being asked 32 times.

"Nobody wants to take responsibility," said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis on the government operations committee.

In October 2022, GCStrategies received more than $8.9 million to work on the ArriveCan app, a costly pandemic tool that tracked traveler vaccination status.

Coradix and Dalian Enterprises received a combined $4.3 million, while the GC Strategies sum grew to $11.2 million. Each company is now subject to an RCMP investigation following a whistleblower complaint.

As reported extensively by The Globe and Mail, Botler co-founders Ritika Dutt and Amir Morv learned that GC Strategies, Dalian and Coradix collected extensive commissions, used personal information without consent and exaggerated their work experience.

Kristian Firth, managing partner of GC Strategies, told a Parliamentary committee last year that he and his business partner, Darren Anthony hired subcontractors to work on the app. They collected between 30% of contract values or $2.7 million without performing any IT work from their private home office.

Botler, which worked on a pilot project for detecting sexual harassment, said the funding came from a larger $21.2 million contract for “general services” that CBSA also used to outsource work for the $55 million ArriveCan app.

On November 28, Public Works Minister Jean-Yves Duclos declined 32 times to answer who awarded the company the sweetheart contract, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

"Who is responsible for the decision?" asked Genuis. He replied: "Well I can provide information on what ArriveCan did."

"No that’s not what the question is, Minister," repeated Genuis. "The question is who’s responsible for the decision?"

"Your title is Minister of Public Services and Procurement and you’re telling us you’re not responsible for procurement and you don’t know who is," he continued. "I am left wondering, what is it that you do?"

Conservative MP Larry Brock, bewildered over the contract to GC Strategies, said the two-person company works out of their basement and merely did a simple Google search to find IT professionals. 

"Canadians want a straight answer from this government," he said, noting that senior bureaucrats are not being forthwith on the contract.

"Who was responsible?" repeated Brock. "We are there to help," replied Duclos. 

Karen Hogan, the Auditor General, began re-interviewing government officials in October over alleged "cozy relationships" between these firms and the public service. The allegations involve "identity theft, fraudulent forged resumes, contractual theft, fraudulent billing, price fixing, collusion, all with senior bureaucrats with the Government of Canada."

According to Blacklock’s Reporter, the Auditor General learned of the allegations through The Globe report on October 4 rather than from federal officials, claiming they should have told her team.

"Through the course of our audit, we always ask questions linked to actual, suspected or alleged fraud. And we would expect that there’s an ongoing responsibility for officials to keep us informed of any matters that are relevant to the subject that we are auditing," said Hogan. "I am disappointed that they did not tell us," she added.

During an emergency Public Accounts Committee session on October 12, Brock expressed disgust with the feds keeping her in the dark.

"Are you saying that your office, you in particular, found out that the RCMP is investigating the contracts under the $54 million ArriveCan app not by the government of Canada itself, but from reading the Globe and Mail story?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Hogan. "Management had not informed me that they referred a contracting matter which involved many common players that we are looking at, to the RCMP."

Over the past decade, Coradix and Dalian received a combined $362 million as a joint venture. Since 2017, GCStrategies received $46 million in taxpayer-funded contracts with the federal government.

Hogan launched her ArriveCan audit earlier this year after the Commons voted 173 to 149 to audit the app on November 2, 2022. She has until early 2024 to submit findings to Parliament.

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