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In addition to the government operations committee study, ArriveCan issues are also being investigated by the CBSA, the Access to Information Commissioner and the public accounts committee.Giordano Ciampini/The Canadian Press

Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Harriet Solloway is launching an investigation into alleged wrongdoing related to the ArriveCan app, as well as accusations that two former border agency officials faced reprisals after criticizing their superiors.

The commissioner’s investigation is the latest among nearly a dozen completed or active reviews related to the government app and broader issues involving how Ottawa awards billions of dollars a year in federal outsourcing contracts.

Ms. Solloway confirmed her investigation in a letter to Conservative MP Kelly Block, who had written to the commissioner about the government’s management of the smartphone app for international travellers. The commissioner says in the letter that her office takes note of a motion approved unanimously last month by the Commons government operations committee asking her office to investigate.

The motion passed after MPs heard testimony from two former Canada Border Services Agency officials who worked on the ArriveCan app and who said they were suspended without pay in retaliation for testimony they provided to the same committee in November.

“I recently informed the Clerk of the Committee, after a detailed analysis of the information available to my Office, of my decision to commence an investigation into several allegations of wrongdoing as defined under the Act in relation to the development and management of ArriveCan,” Ms. Solloway wrote, adding that she is limited in what more she can say because of confidentiality provisions under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which governs her office.

Ms. Solloway’s office is an independent watchdog that reports directly to Parliament and was created in 2007. It investigates wrongdoing in the federal public sector and was created as a way to help protect whistle-blowers from reprisal.

Earlier this year, Auditor-General Karen Hogan and Procurement Ombud Alexander Jeglic both released very critical reports about the government’s handling of the app, which cost an estimated $59.5-million.

Ms. Hogan found a “glaring disregard” for basic management practices and both offices raised concerns that private ArriveCan contractor GCStrategies was directly involved in setting narrow terms for a $25-million contract it ultimately won.

The two partners of GCStrategies – Kristian Firth and Darren Anthony – are scheduled to appear separately on Wednesday and Thursday to answer questions before the government operations committee, which obtained a House of Commons summons for them to appear.

In addition to the government operations committee study, ArriveCan issues are also being investigated by the CBSA, the Access to Information Commissioner and the public accounts committee. The RCMP has said it is investigating allegations of wrongdoing that are not directly focused on ArriveCan but involve the CBSA’s interactions with private staffing companies such as GCStrategies that also worked on the app. The RCMP has also said it is reviewing the Auditor-General’s findings related to ArriveCan.

Several departments have also announced plans for various reviews triggered by concerns over ArriveCan contracts, including Treasury Board and Indigenous Services Canada.

Public Services and Procurement Canada has suspended contract work with GCStrategies, as well as Coradix Technology Consulting Ltd. and Dalian Enterprises. All three companies worked on ArriveCan.

Federal ministers also recently announced they had suspended Dalian president and founder David Yeo after expressing extreme surprise to learn that he was working as a public servant at National Defence. Dalian later said he only accepted that position in September.

Arianne Reza, the deputy minister for the procurement department, told MPs last week that she has personally discussed the Dalian situation with RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme.

“The issue that has been uncovered in the last week on Dalian and their use of contracting, their employment is egregious. It’s wrong and it is a terrible situation. I myself have picked up the phone to speak to the RCMP Commissioner. They have been suspended, so action is being taken,” she told MPs. “I empathize that the situation is not acceptable. It has come to our attention and we have moved as swiftly as possible to do something about it.”

Catherine Poulin, the procurement department’s assistant deputy minister responsible for oversight, also provided some insight into the decision to suspend GCStrategies, which received $19.1-million to work on ArriveCan.

“We received allegations, however allegations are not enough to support a decision to suspend,” she said with respect to GCStrategies. “We need to support this by evidence and as soon as we got enough evidence to support the decision, we decided to suspend the security clearance of the key senior official, as well as the company.”

The latest announcement from the Integrity Commissioner brings the number of total investigations to more than 10, with others possibly on the way.

The Integrity Commissioner could potentially take a broader look at the culture of the public service amid concerns that public servants responsible for contracting are sometimes too close to the private companies seeking to land federal contracts.

The government operations committee requested the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation after hearing testimony from two former CBSA officials, Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano.

In November, Mr. MacDonald told MPs – with Mr. Utano at his side – that former CBSA vice-president Minh Doan had lied to the committee about not knowing who at the agency had selected GCStrategies to work on the app at the onset of the pandemic. Mr. MacDonald also accused Mr. Doan of threatening him in 2022.

When they appeared again in February, they alleged that Mr. Doan has deleted “tens of thousands” of e-mails as part of a “cover-up” by senior managers.

Mr. Doan has denied all of the allegations against him, describing them as “a pattern by certain individuals to deflect attention, to blame me for their actions and decisions.”

Ms. Solloway’s letter states that Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Utano have given her permission to disclose that they have filed complaints to her office related to alleged reprisal measures taken against them after their testimonies before the committee.

“Their complaints are being dealt with under the Act. To protect the complainants’ personal information and the confidentiality and integrity of the process, I am unable to comment further on ongoing matters,” she said.

The commissioner’s office confirmed sending the letter to Ms. Block but declined to provide any further comment.

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