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A Canada Border Services Agency investigator said he is conducting a preliminary review into allegations that the agency’s former vice-president took actions that led to the destruction of e-mails, but said he’s found no evidence to date that any documents were destroyed.

Michel Lafleur, the CBSA’s executive director of professional integrity, appeared Monday before the House of Commons committee on government operations, which is holding hearings into the cost of the ArriveCan app for international travellers as well as related allegations of contracting misconduct.

The Globe and Mail reported late last month that a CBSA IT employee submitted an internal complaint to Mr. Lafleur in December that alleged the agency’s former vice-president and chief information officer, Minh Doan, had taken unusual steps that led to the destruction of e-mails.

The complaint said the loss of e-mail records likely meant that an access to information (ATIP) request was not responded to in full.

Mr. Doan, who has since been promoted to chief technology officer of the government of Canada, has denied any wrongdoing. The CBSA initially declined to confirm that such a complaint had been received.

On Monday, Mr. Lafleur confirmed receiving such a complaint on Dec. 11. He said his office generally conducts a preliminary assessment of any complaint before deciding whether to proceed with a formal investigation. Mr. Lafleur said his review of the complaint related to Mr. Doan is still in the preliminary stage, which he said often takes about 45 days.

Throughout the hearing, Mr. Lafleur said he could not speak about details of any continuing reviews.

“I have seen no evidence to date – again, speaking generally, not about any specifics – of evidence being withheld from ATIP requests or being actively deleted,” he said.

Mr. Lafleur is also leading the CBSA’s internal review of allegations of contracting misconduct raised by Montreal software company Botler through a November, 2022, written report to the agency. Botler had raised concerns about cozy ties between private contractors and CBSA officials and the way in which contract work was awarded through layers of subcontracting. After receiving the allegations, CBSA president Erin O’Gorman referred them to the RCMP and also ordered internal reviews and audits.

In that case, Mr. Lafleur said his preliminary review led to the conclusion that a formal investigation was warranted.

“It happened relatively quick. So I would say by December of 2022, we had evidence that at least some of the allegations appeared to be substantiated, and we would have been in a position to proceed further with the investigation at that time, were it not for the ongoing criminal investigation,” he said.

While Botler did not work on ArriveCan, Mr. Lafleur said his investigation of the Botler allegations includes a review of contracts that were also used for ArriveCan.

Mr. Lafleur said his role is to investigate complaints involving public servants and not wrongdoing by private contractors.

Two former CBSA officials – Cameron MacDonald and Antonio Utano – were suspended without pay as of last month in their jobs with other departments in connection with the continuing reviews.

Mr. MacDonald is an assistant deputy minister at Health Canada and Mr. Utano is a director-general at the Canada Revenue Agency. The CBSA has previously said that while it forwarded initial findings to Health Canada and the CRA, the suspension decisions were made by those departments.

The meeting of the committee on government operations took a twist when Conservative MP Larry Brock revealed that he had obtained a redacted copy of Mr. Lafleur’s statement of fact report related to Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Utano.

Mr. Brock said the report, which he did not make public, describes an investigation called “project Helios,” that the Conservative MP said presents a misleading picture by describing unproven allegations as facts.

“Your investigation in this matter is seriously flawed,” Mr. Brock said.

Mr. Lafleur disputed Mr. Brock’s interpretation of the report and Liberal and NDP MPs questioned the Conservative MP as to how he received it.

Mr. Brock explained that he received information from Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Utano.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach described the committee’s work as a “twisted tale” in which Conservative MPs aggressively questioned Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Utano last year, but are now defending them.

“Now the Conservatives seem to be running interference for the same civil servants, who appear to be giving them confidential information so that they can ask certain questions at committee, where not all members are privy to that information. So it creates a very odd dynamic,” he said.

Mr. Brock defended his actions.

“I spent some time with both individuals gathering information. That information, I’m not under any legal obligation to share that with opposing members,” he said.

After the meeting, CBSA spokesperson Guillaume Bérubé said the preliminary statements of fact have been provided to the committee, but the agency asked MPs to keep the information confidential as its public release “would be prejudicial to those implicated in the investigation.”

Chris Spiteri, a lawyer representing Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Utano, said in an e-mail that Mr. Lafleur’s preliminary report is “nothing but a heap of baseless accusations supported by manipulated cherry picked emails and calendar entries.”

Mr. Spiteri said his clients are being targeted for “maximum damage” because they criticized CBSA executives during their public testimony last year.

“All these two did is tell the truth and their lives are now being ruined,” he said.

During the meeting, Mr. Lafleur said that while he can’t comment on the suspension decisions, “I can say that generally speaking, it is normal in the course of the investigation for management to assess whether there is a need to mitigate potential risk pending the conclusion of the investigation.”

Liberal MP Parm Bains asked Mr. Lafleur to put the allegations into historical context.

“Is this like the first of its kind?” he asked. “We’ve been extremely confused. It’s been like a tangled web.”

“It is the first time that I see a file of this complexity and seriousness related to procurement,” Mr. Lafleur replied.

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