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Members of Parliament look on as GCStrategies partner Kristian Firth answers questions after being admonished in the House of Commons, April 17, 2024 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The RCMP searched the Ottawa-area home of one of the central figures in the ArriveCan scandal, one day before he appeared Wednesday at the bar of the House of Commons for the first public admonishment of a government contractor in more than a century.

The home belongs to Kristian Firth, managing partner of two-person IT staffing company GCStrategies. The company received more funding than any other contractor to work on ArriveCan, the mobile app for cross-border travellers that the government launched early in the pandemic. The app ballooned in price and ultimately cost taxpayers $59.5-million, according to an investigation by the Auditor-General.

In a statement, the RCMP said they conducted a search of the residence in Woodlawn on Tuesday, but police say the search is not related to their ArriveCan investigation. The RCMP did not elaborate about what it sought from the home, but said no charges have been laid. Mr. Firth has previously said that he works from home and has no standalone office.

During questioning from MPs on the floor of the House of Commons Wednesday, Mr. Firth confirmed that a search warrant was executed at his residence. He said it was to obtain information with respect to allegations of misconduct raised by Botler, a company that worked with GCStrategies. In 2023, The Globe and Mail published stories based on interviews with the founders of Botler, who alleged misconduct in government contracting, and provided recordings that showed a public servant had directed them to work with GCStrategies.

Among their allegations, the Botler co-founders have said their work experience was inflated without their knowledge on résumés submitted to the government.

“There were six points on the search warrant,” Mr. Firth told MPs. He said that while he wasn’t aware which specific allegations led to the RCMP’s search, he understood it was related to allegations of “fraudulent billing and résumé fraud.”

He said he welcomes the RCMP investigation and expects to be exonerated.

GCStrategies has come under scrutiny by federal MPs in part for its fees, which Mr. Firth had said are typically between 15 and 30 per cent of a contract’s value. Auditor-General Karen Hogan reported in February that GCStrategies had received $19.1-million to work on ArriveCan, a figure Mr. Firth disputes.

Mr. Firth’s appearance in Parliament was the third time he has been interrogated by parliamentarians over the past seven months, as MPs from all parties have seized on the cost overruns associated with ArriveCan and attempted to peel back the layers of IT contracting and subcontracting in Canada’s capital. Mr. Firth’s appearance was precipitated by a House of Commons committee hearing in March, when he declined to answer questions about Ms. Hogan’s finding that GCStrategies helped the government set narrow terms for a $25-million contract that his company ultimately won. At that time, he explained that doing so might interfere with a potential RCMP investigation.

In response, MPs voted unanimously to find Mr. Firth in contempt of Parliament, and he was summoned to the bar of the House of Commons on Wednesday to be found in contempt for not answering questions about his interactions with federal officials.

During the hearing, MPs said the point of the exercise was to show parliamentary committees must be respected when they request answers from witnesses.

Mr. Firth stood behind the brass bar as the Speaker outlined the reasons he has been found in contempt.

“On behalf of the House of Commons, I admonish you,” Speaker Greg Fergus said.

Mr. Firth then sat at a desk with his lawyer at his side to answer questions.

Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon began the question-and-answer period by informing the House that MPs received a doctor’s note from Mr. Firth indicating that he should not participate in the session because of his mental and physical health.

Mr. MacKinnon said that while the Liberals supported the motion to have Mr. Firth appear, he suggested postponing the session. The Conservatives objected and the planned three rounds of questions continued. Liberal MPs did not participate.

Opposition MPs repeatedly asked Mr. Firth about the Auditor-General’s comments about his role in the $25-million contract.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said Canadians would likely find that Auditor-General finding to be the most troubling.

“It would look like a rigged system that is designed to benefit Ottawa insiders and make it more difficult for entrepreneurs and small businesses in this country to do work for the government,” he said.

Mr. Firth said that while he did interact with federal officials about the contract, he said he only made three suggestions. He said many other companies could have bid on the work.

“I don’t see that as overly restrictive,” he said.

Mr. Firth remarked that his appearance was making history Wednesday and noted that he has apologized to MPs for not being more forthcoming.

“I think I have acknowledged the fact that I made mistakes in previous committees,” he said.

Green Party MP Elizabeth May, who described the ArriveCan saga as an appalling failure of the federal procurement process, asked the final question.

“Mr. Firth, given the experience here, and knowing that you have health challenges, all I can say is, aren’t you ashamed?” she asked.

“Mr. Speaker, do I have to answer that?” Mr. Firth replied.

“Yes, yes you do,” Mr. Fergus said.

“I am not ashamed,” said Mr. Firth, before the questioning ended and he was dismissed.

Summoning someone to the bar for admonishment represents a very rare escalation of Parliament’s power to request answers and documents from witnesses.

Only 14 people have been summoned to the bar since Confederation in 1867. Nine of those occurred during the 1800s.

The last time a private contractor was called to the bar was in 1913.

In that case, the summons was requested by MPs on the public accounts committee, who were frustrated that R.C. Miller would not answer all of their questions about potential bribery tied to contracting.

Mr. Miller was a former president of the Diamond Light & Heating company, which was receiving federal contract work to supply the government with parts for lighthouses.

Parliamentary transcripts for the Feb. 14, 1913, meeting of the public accounts committee show MPs were asking Mr. Miller about payments that had been described in a recent report by the auditor-general.

During the hearing, Mr. Miller refused to tell MPs who he paid to secure contracts.

“I would respectfully request that I be not forced to answer that question, because I think it would be prejudicial to my case in court to give these details at the present time,” he said.

A few days later, he was called to the bar of the House of Commons, where he again refused to answer the question. The House ordered him jailed.

In more recent times, NDP MP Ian Waddell was called to the bar in 1991 for being in contempt of the House for attempting to grab the Mace as a form of protest over not being able to vote on a motion.

A similar event occurred in 2002 involving Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin.

The parliamentary power was not used again until 2021, when Iain Stewart, who at the time was president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, was reprimanded after a committee found he and his department had failed to provide documents related to two scientists at Canada’s high-security infectious disease laboratory.

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