Canada Border Services Agency wins Code of Silence Award

The award is given to the CBSA for the ArriveCAN application and the costs associated with its implementation.

Canada’s 2022 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy has been awarded to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

The ‘acknowledgment’ comes because it failed to disclose basic information about how the cost to taxpayers of the controversial ArriveCAN app doubled over original public cost estimates, according to a press release.

The government heavily pushed the app for travelers coming and going from Canada as a way to save time at border crossings. It was implemented on April 29, 2020 as part of federal efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Code of Silence Awards are presented annually by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Ryerson University Center for Free Expression (CFE) and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

The CAJ said a Globe and Mail analysis found the pandemic-era public health app cost taxpayers $54 million.

“After spending at least 10 times what it should have for the ArriveCAN app, CBSA provided the Canadian media with misinformation about how that happened,” CFE Director James L. Turk said in a statement.

Beyond price, the groups said there was a lack of transparency and conflicting responses surrounding the awarding of app-related government contracts.

“During the summer of 2022, the CBSA told the media that there were a total of five companies that had received enforcement-related contracts,” the CAJ said. “That number shot up to a total of 27 contracts involving 23 unique companies, in documents the agency later submitted to Parliament.”

In one case, technology company ThinkOn was said to have been awarded a $1.2 million contract, but company CEO Craig McLellan asked the CBSA to issue a correction, saying his company had never received that money. The CBSA admitted it was wrong and launched a review.

Soon, a parliamentary committee ordered the CBSA to disclose outsourced invoices related to the application, but the agency missed the deadline. Shortly after, CBSA chair Erin O’Gorman told MPs that she did not know when the document requests would be honored.

“CBSA missed deadlines for providing answers to Parliament and ultimately said it did not have key information and did not commit to finding it, a worrying violation of government transparency,” Turk said.

The CAJ found merit in other entries for “repeated institutional neglect” and selected two dishonorable mentions worthy of recognition.

The first was Trans Mountain, a federal Crown corporation subject to the Federal Freedom of Information Act. The jury noted how, despite the corporation’s reliance on billions of dollars of public money, it has improperly withheld information from Canadians.

Of particular concern was a March 18, 2022 statement from the federal Office of the Information Commissioner addressing a complaint alleging that the Crown corporation failed to fully disclose documents related to the Trans Mountain project and other board meeting matters. of 2019.

The second honorable mention was awarded to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The CAJ said that was because DFO, for a decade, kept secret a scientific study that raised serious questions about the safety of salmon farming operations in British Columbia.

“The intent of the awards is to draw public attention to government or publicly funded agencies working hard to hide information to which the public is entitled under access to information legislation,” a joint statement said.

This year’s winner in the provincial category will be announced on June 13.