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GC Strategies was awarded 3 other border agency contracts while working on ArriveCan | CBC News

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GC Strategies was hired to work on three other Canada Border Services Agency projects as it was working on the controversial ArriveCan app.

The company has been facing heightened scrutiny ever since the federal auditor general cited excessive reliance on contractors as a major factor contributing to ArriveCan’s ballooning costs.

The CBSA has told CBC News that it contracted GC Strategies to work on three other applications between 2020 and 2022. The news was first reported by La Presse.

The projects include an app that is currently being tested to track and report cargo data and an app that helps border agents assess the risks posed by travellers and vehicles.

The third project is an app that allows arrivals subject to the Immigration Act to report to the CBSA. That app has not yet launched.

The total value of these contracts is just over $8.3 million. GC had been paid $19 million for ArriveCan as of last year.

Roch Huppé, Canada’s comptroller general, told the House public accounts committee last week that GC Strategies and its predecessor, Coredal, have been awarded 118 contracts totalling $107 million since 2011.

The government suspended all of its current contracts with GC Strategies in November. Last week, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) announced that it had suspended GC Strategies’ security status, effectively banning the company from bidding on new contracts with security requirements.

A woman in a dark suit stands in a doorway holding a sheaf of papers.
Auditor General Karen Hogan waits in a hallway to begin a news conference on Feb. 12 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The heads of GC Strategies, Kristian Firth and Darren Anthony, will appear separately before the government operations committee on Wednesday and Thursday. It will be the first time the two have made public comments since Auditor General Karen Hogan released her report on ArriveCan last month.

Hogan said she found little documentation to show how or why GC Strategies was chosen to work on ArriveCan.

The company was given a sole-source contract in April 2020 despite a lack of evidence that the firm had provided a proposal document for the project, Hogan’s report says.

Hogan also found that GC Strategies was involved in developing requirements that were later used for a competitive contract. That contract — valued at $25 million — was awarded to GC Strategies, the report says.

WATCH | ArriveCan was a hot mess, auditor general finds: 

ArriveCan app was a hot mess: auditor general report | About That

In a scathing new report, Canada’s auditor general says the final cost of the ArriveCan app is ‘impossible to determine’ due to poor record-keeping by the Canada Border Services Agency. Andrew Chang breaks down the report’s findings about this pandemic-era tool that is estimated to have cost Canadians nearly $60 million.

A previous report by Alexander Jeglic, Canada’s procurement ombudsman, found that the criteria used in awarding the $25 million contract were “overly restrictive” and “heavily favoured” GC Strategies.

Jeglic also found that GC Strategies “copied and pasted” government-listed requirements for subcontractors on numerous occasions when submitting proposals to CBSA officials.

Hogan’s report also raised concerns about CBSA officials having a close relationship with certain contractors, noting that the officials in question were invited “to dinners and other activities.”

Those officials did not disclose information about these invitations to their supervisors. Hogan said that “created a significant risk or perception of a conflict of interest around procurement decisions.”

Two men in suits sit in a committee room on Parliament Hill answering questions from MPs.
Antonio Utano, left, and Cameron MacDonald were both suspended without pay following the completion of preliminary findings from a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) internal investigation of the ArriveCan contracts. Both men say the report contains only allegations, with no supporting evidence. It has not been publicly released. (CBC)

The CBSA has been conducting its own internal investigation of ArriveCan. Agency president Erin O’Gorman told the House government operations committee in January that the investigation’s preliminary findings caused her a great deal of concern.

O’Gorman said the investigation found “a pattern of persistent collaboration between certain officials and GC Strategies. They show efforts to circumvent or ignore established procurement processes and roles and responsibilities.”

Two public servants, Antonio Utano and Cameron MacDonald, were subsequently suspended without pay.

New investigation launched

Canada’s Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Harriet Solloway has launched an investigation into both the management of ArriveCan and into Utano’s and MacDonald’s suspensions.

Utano and MacDonald have claimed that they’re being scapegoated by senior CBSA officials. Both men told the House government operations committee last month that they did not have a friendly relationship with people from GC Strategies and did not recommend that CBSA hire it to work on ArriveCan.

MacDonald said the initial findings from the CBSA’s investigations are “baseless accusations unsupported by any corroborating evidence, accusations of wrongdoing supported by cherry-picked emails and calendar entries.”

The lawyer for MacDonald and Utano told CBC News his clients are seeking to have the preliminary findings of the CBSA’s investigation sealed by a judge because the allegations could cause irreparable damage to their reputations and careers.

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