ArriveCAN as expensive as 600 border services agents, union says

Rather than investing around sixty million dollars in the application ArriveCANOttawa could have hired 600 border services agents for a year, which would have given it much better performance at a time when thousands of employees are missing at points of entry into the country, says the national president of the Customs Union and immigration.

What there is to know

  • Canada’s Auditor General released a devastating report on the app this week ArriveCANthe cost of which she estimates at 59.5 million while the initial price was $80,000.
  • The app was of little use and humans were able to do a better job, according to the Immigration and Customs Union.
  • The union claims that the “failure” ofArriveCAN stems from a desire by the government to rely solely on machines and to reduce the work of its members at the borders.

As a union leader, Mark Weber says he is “not particularly surprised” by the Auditor General’s report on ArriveCAN.

” Generally, ArriveCAN was a failure. I don’t think it was delivering what it was supposed to deliver,” he says.

The application, developed in the emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed travelers to indicate their vaccination status and contact details upon arrival in Canada. In her report, Auditor General Karen Hogan says the project was plagued by deficiencies and weaknesses at all stages.

The initial bill of $80,000 exploded over 177 subsequent updates, reaching $59.5 million, according to his estimate. However, poor bookkeeping within the government makes it impossible to precisely determine the money swallowed up in this misadventure, she laments. One thing is certain, private consultants have made a lot of money in the process.


Mark Weber, National President of the Immigration and Customs Union

This money would have been very useful for hiring staff. We currently estimate a shortage of up to 3,000 border services agents. I cannot give an exact figure, but we estimated that given the bill of around 60 million for ArriveCANaround 600 agents could have been hired for one year.

Mark Weber, National President of the Immigration and Customs Union

Currently, the lack of staff is such that the screening of travelers at entry is much less systematic than in the past, he says. The team that searches for stolen vehicles in containers at the Port of Montreal lacks many hands to carry out its work effectively, he adds. “And for the railway sector, we no longer really examine what comes in, quite simply,” says the trade unionist.

“It’s all about self-reporting in front of a machine, but of course people don’t self-report things they want to hide, like guns or opioids,” he says. He also notes that queues have not disappeared after agents were replaced by computerized terminals at airports where travelers can make their own declaration.

“Money invested in humans returns more,” he said. A machine does a single task. An agent can conduct a search, interview a traveler, seize contraband, find a weapon, find a missing child, all things a machine can’t do. »


Currently, the lack of staff is such that the control of travelers at entry is much less systematic than in the past, says the president of the Customs and Immigration Union.

The union also questions the objective behind the development of the application. “The main objective initially was to collect information for Public Health such as place of residence, contacts with people who had COVID-19. There was a long list of questions that needed to be answered, and many border services officers found themselves spending their time helping people use the app. At some entry points there were long queues forming, officers were exasperated. Travelers could have simply shown us their phone to prove that they were vaccinated,” says Mark Weber.

In the past, he remembers, public health workers were assigned to airports. They could have carried out this type of audit, but their positions were eliminated for cost-saving reasons under Stephen Harper’s government.

Thinking about new technologies

The union hopes the controversy surrounding ArriveCAN will lead to a reflection on the use of technology within the Canada Border Services Agency.

“We need technology, we need new x-ray machines that work for our inspections, and more tools for intelligence and other tasks. Technology can really help us do our jobs,” he emphasizes.

But if the sole objective is to replace workers, the result will not be the same, he believes. It’s a concern he hears a lot from his members. “We are currently in negotiations for the renewal of the collective agreement, and people are not only talking to me about salary and benefits. They’re proud of their work, they want to work more, but they’re frustrated that we’re not letting them do what they were hired to do,” he says.

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