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Former CBSA official denies lying to committee about ArriveCAN contracting

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A former top Canadian border official faced pressure over whether he lied to a parliamentary committee probing the federal contract for the controversial ArriveCAN app.

Minh Doan, now the federal government’s chief technology officer, testified under oath at the Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO) committee for more than two hours after a former subordinate directly accused him of lying at a previous hearing.

The questioning included several instances of MPs expressing frustration they could not get straight answers out of Doan and a reminder from the chair that Doan refusing to answer questions can result in a charge of contempt of Parliament.

“The decision I was asked to make was to fully outsource the work or to have my team oversee the application development,” Doan told the committee on Tuesday.

Doan said he chose to partially outsource the work, due to wanting to have CBSA control over timelines and ensure sensitive data was stored on the organizations cloud servers. He added at no point in his emails and subsequent emails was the firm GCStrategies mentioned.

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He also said he did not recall discussing the firm.

Despite being asked numerous times by committee members, Doan maintained he is not aware of who specifically first contacted GCStrategies, the firm ultimately used to develop the app, and said this is under investigation by the CBSA.

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The hiring of GCStrategies has been a political hot button since it was first reported by The Globe and Mail earlier this year that the two-person, home-based operation had secured $44 million in government contracts over the prior two years to find and hire subcontractors.

This includes $9 million billed for work on ArriveCAN between 2020 and 2021.

Last year, GCStrategies’ managing partner Kristian Firth told the committee that they were approached by the government to work on ArriveCAN, and charged an industry rate on commission of 15 to 30 per cent for finding IT subcontractors.

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Building and maintaining ArriveCAN cost approximately $54 million.

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Last week, the CBSA’s former director general Cameron MacDonald told the OGGO committee that Doan lied to the committee about his involvement to hire GCStrategies to work on the ArriveCan app, and he felt threatened by his former superior.

At an Oct. 24th OGGO committee meeting, Doan told the committee that his former CBSA team was responsible for the decision to hire GCStrategies instead of Deloitte to work on the ArriveCAN app.

When asked if he was personally involved in the decision, Doan had told the committee he was not.

“As CIO of the organization at the time, you mean to tell me that you were not fundamentally the individual who made the decision to go with GCStrategies instead of Deloitte. Who would you pin that one decision on?” Alberta Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie asked him on Oct. 24th

“That was made by my team. I believe right now, with the current allegations that are under way…. I do not know, in terms of who I would identify that to. That’s part of the investigations that are currently underway,” Doan replied.

On Nov. 7, Bloc Quebecois MP Julie Vignola had asked MacDonald about his assertion that this was not the case.

“That was a lie said to the committee. Everyone knows we have a team in the back of us. It was his decision to take, not mine. And I can also confirm that with other people,” MacDonald said in French.

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He went on to say that he was told by Doan that he was informed by the CBSA president that they would not go with Deloitte for ArriveCAN due to issues on another project.

Alleged threats of blame and contempt of Parliament

MacDonald told the committee that in an Oct. 28, 2022, phone call with Doan, he was told by Doan that former Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was unhappy with ArriveCAN media coverage and “wanted somebody’s head on a platter.”

“Minh was worried that either he or [then CBSA Chief Financial Officer] Jonathan Moor were going to get fired, so he was talking about somebody’s head on a platter,” MacDonald said.
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“Then he turned—we were on the phone, but he stopped the conversation and he just said, ‘You know, Cam, if I have to, I’m going to tell the committee that it was you.'”

Nearing the two-hour mark of the meeting, Alberta Conservative Garnet Genuis read the above quote and asked Doan if MacDonald was telling the truth.

Doan began to reply about how he hadn’t briefed Mendicino, before being cut off by Genuis. A back-and-forth ensued until committee chair Kelly McCauley intervened.

“Refusal to answer questions or failure to reply may result in a charge of contempt [of Parliament],” McCauley said to Doan.

“This has been repeated to you several times today, there have been a lot of direct questions. There have been very specific questions and we would like specific answers.”

At this point, Genuis repeated his question and Doan promptly replied that MacDonald was not being fully truthful.

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“I had no fear for my job this time last year. I stand behind the decision, I think it’s value for money and I don’t think at any point in time I was afraid for my job,” Doan told the committee.

“I did not threaten to blame [MacDonald]… I was here on Oct. 24. I had an opportunity to do so, with all the allegations around his name, and I still did not do so.”

Doan said the conversation MacDonald referenced on Oct. 28, 2022, did happen but the goal was to try and determine who first reached out to GCStrategies.

Doan maintains he does not know who made the decision to hire the firm.

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