Photo: Canadian Press
Auditor General Karen Hogan says the federal government disregarded its own contractual rules and policies in the expensive development of the oft-maligned ArrivalCan app. A person holds a smartphone at the opening screen of the ArrivalCan app in a photo illustration taken in Toronto on June 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini
Disregarded policies and a management failure led to the development of the excessively expensive and much-maligned ArrivalCan app, an investigation by Canada's auditor general has found.
The federal government launched the app in April 2020 as a way to track health and contact information for people entering Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic and to scan customs and immigration declarations.
The auditor found that the government's dependence on external, single-source vendors increased the price of the application and these costs were not properly monitored.
Hogan estimated the app cost about $59.5 million, but project management was so poor that it's impossible to know the final cost for sure.
ArrivalCan's first contract was initially valued at just $2.35 million.
The government did not document initial discussions with contractors or why it did not use a competitive process, Hogan said in a report released Monday.
She ultimately discovered that most of the problems with app development stemmed from the initial decision to rely on non-competitive contracts with outside companies.
Hogan also found little evidence that the app was properly tested, which may have contributed to more than 10,000 people being required to quarantine for 14 days in 2022 even though they provided proof of vaccination.
“Overall, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada have repeatedly failed to follow good management practices in the procurement, development and implementation of the ArrivalCAN app,” Hogan said in its report on Monday.
The application was introduced as a mandatory measure in the early days of the pandemic, when the government effectively closed borders in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Canadians and others authorized to enter the country have had to provide personal information to the government for quarantine purposes.
As the response to the pandemic evolved, so did the app. The auditor found that ArrivalCan was updated 177 times between its launch and when use of the app became voluntary in October 2022.
The government had no evidence that the Canada Border Services Agency had user tested 25 substantial updates to the app to ensure it actually worked.
Only three updates appeared to have been fully tested and documented.
“Without assurance that testing was complete, agencies ran the risk of releasing an application that might not work as intended,” Hogan’s report stated.