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Canada’s chief technology officer, Minh Doan, a central figure in the hearings related to the ArriveCan app and contracting misconduct allegations, faces accusations of taking unusual steps that led to the destruction of e-mails at the Canada Border Services Agency, a claim he strongly denies.

According to an internal complaint filed by a CBSA IT employee and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Doan is accused of moving data files around in a way that led to the permanent destruction of e-mails and other documents that may have been relevant to an access to information request about the agency’s interactions with GCStrategies. The private two-person IT staffing company has received more than $59-million in federal contract work since 2017.

But Mr. Doan says no e-mails were destroyed and the allegations against him appear to be part of an effort by others in government to try to falsely pin blame on him for their own actions. He denies any wrongdoing.

“I am deeply concerned that this all seems to be part of a pattern by certain individuals to deflect attention, to blame me for their actions and decisions, discredit, and harm my reputation, despite growing evidence that demonstrates I had no relationship with any of the vendors in question,” Mr. Doan told The Globe in an e-mail.

Mr. Doan was the CBSA’s vice-president and chief information officer when the agency decided to launch the ArriveCan app for international travellers in early 2020.

The accusations and Mr. Doan’s response are the latest development in a rare and bitter public feud involving senior officials in the federal public service. The open disagreement has played out during months of hearings by the government operations committee, which is investigating how the cost of the ArriveCan app grew to exceed $54-million. It is also looking into allegations of contracting misconduct raised by Montreal software company Botler, which performed contract work for the CBSA that was unrelated to ArriveCan but involved many of the same public servants and private consultants.

Auditor-General Karen Hogan’s office announced Thursday that she will table an audit report into ArriveCan on Feb. 12. Procurement Ombudsman Alexander Jeglic will release a report on ArriveCan next week.

The IT employee’s complaint was submitted to Michel Lafleur, the CBSA’s executive director of professional integrity, in December and describes events that primarily occurred in early 2023, shortly before Mr. Doan left the agency to become the government’s chief technology officer at the Treasury Board Secretariat.

The complaint records obtained by The Globe do not identify the IT employee. Mr. Doan acknowledges he dealt with IT support last year about corrupted computer files, but rejects allegations that he acted inappropriately.

The IT employee said Mr. Doan had approached them directly, going around proper protocol for requesting technical support. According to the complaint, Mr. Doan had said some files were lost when he attempted to move files between his laptop and the network drive in preparation for a new computer.

“When I had my conversation with Mr. Doan, the things he was telling me or saying he was advised to do made no sense,” the complaint states. “I have never heard of a VP or an individual who receives VIP treatment in regards to IT related tasks taking it upon themselves to move files or organize information in the way he suggested he did.”

The complainant said Mr. Doan had said he was acting on the advice of the CBSA’s IT team, but the IT employee expressed skepticism.

“There are many points where I questioned the truth of what was being told to me as I did not find it credible,” the complaint states, asking investigators to determine the seriousness of Mr. Doan’s actions and whether the destruction of documents was intentional.

“In summary, I believe there has been a loss of information, specifically e-mail records of Mr. Doan that would be considered corporate information that should be recovered,” the complaint states.

In his e-mail response to The Globe, Mr. Doan said there is growing evidence that he had no relationship with any of the private vendors in question.

“I have not been contacted by anyone at the Agency regarding an investigation into my files or laptop,” he said in a lengthy e-mail. He said the situation began when an IT specialist advised him that it was time to get a new laptop.

While transferring files to the new laptop, he said his Outlook file was corrupted. However, he said agency e-mails are backed up on a server and can also be accessed through other methods.

“This issue has not prevented the CBSA from retrieving and providing all my relevant e-mails and calendars to the OAG [Office of the Auditor-General], OGGO [government operations committee] or anyone else who has required access to them,” he said.

CBSA spokesperson Guillaume Bérubé said all allegations of code-of-conduct violation by employees are taken very seriously, but that the agency doesn’t comment on specific cases.

“Improper behaviour brought to the attention of the CBSA is investigated and acted upon accordingly,” he said, in response to a request for comment on the complaint related to Mr. Doan.

The hearings into the ArriveCan app have featured an unusual level of finger pointing between government officials, with Mr. Doan at the centre of some of the drama.

In a Nov. 7 committee appearance, former CBSA official Cameron MacDonald, who worked as a director-general under Mr. Doan, publicly accused Mr. Doan of lying to MPs the month before when he told them he did not personally select GCStrategies for the ArriveCan app project. Mr. MacDonald also told MPs that Mr. Doan had threatened to tell MPs that the decision was Mr. MacDonald’s.

Mr. MacDonald described a conversation he had with Mr. Doan in the fall of 2022 about what CBSA executives should tell MPs at committee about who selected GCStrategies. He said Mr. Doan was “pretty upset” and almost crying.

“At times, he was almost yelling. He basically said that somebody’s head was going to be on a platter,” Mr. MacDonald said. He also made reference to various individuals sitting in the committee room behind him, saying they were colleagues showing their support for the claim that Mr. Doan lied when he said he did not select GCStrategies.

“That is a lie told to this committee. Everyone knows it, and we have our team here behind us. Everyone knows that it was his decision to make, not mine,” he said.

Mr. Doan returned to the committee the next week, denying that he selected GCStrategies to work on ArriveCan and also denying that he had threatened Mr. MacDonald.

Mr. MacDonald, who later left the CBSA to become an assistant deputy minister at Health Canada, was suspended without pay earlier this month, along with Antonio Utano, who previously worked with Mr. MacDonald at the CBSA and had moved on to the Canada Revenue Agency as a director-general.

Mr. Doan, Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Utano were all at the CBSA when the agency decided to award contract work to Botler, using layers of subcontracting that included GCStrategies.

Botler submitted a detailed report of contracting misconduct allegations – including the use of inflated résumés and cozy ties between public servants and contractors – to the CBSA leadership in November, 2022. The CBSA is investigating those allegations, as is the RCMP.

Botler has said it was initially approached by GCStrategies managing partner Kristian Firth, who said he was reaching out on behalf of Mr. MacDonald. Botler also said Mr. MacDonald urged Botler’s two co-founders to work with Mr. Firth.

During a committee appearance last week, CBSA president Erin O’Gorman said the agency’s investigation has raised some concerns. She contradicted Mr. MacDonald’s claim to MPs that he had received an “unsolicited” proposal from GCStrategies and Botler.

“It shows that the Botler chatbot was not the result of an unsolicited proposal and that there was a pattern of persistent collaboration between certain officials and GCStrategies. They show efforts to circumvent or ignore certain established processes and roles and responsibilities,” she said. “We still don’t know everything. What we do know is not okay. I am concerned and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

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