ArriveCan contractor grilled in House of Commons in rare reprimand

Click to play video: '‘Aren’t you ashamed?’: ArriveCAN contractor Firth admonished by MPs'
‘Aren’t you ashamed?’: ArriveCAN contractor Firth admonished by MPs
WATCH: GC Strategies partner Kristian Firth has been reprimanded by the House of Commons over the controversial ArriveCAN app, after refusing to answer many questions from MPs at a previous parliamentary committee. Mackenzie Gray looks at how MPs grilled Firth, and the surprising revelations from what he said – Apr 17, 2024

For the first time in over 100 years, the House of Commons has reprimanded a private citizen over the ArriveCan app, in the latest development in a widening scandal over the nearly $60 million pandemic-era project.

GC Strategies partner Kristian Firth – whose firm is the contractor behind the program – was admonished and grilled Wednesday, after he refused to answer questions to a parliamentary committee and was held in contempt of Parliament.

It’s just the latest example of ArriveCan fallout as MPs point fingers over the Liberal government’s failure to manage development of the COVID-era app.

Click to play video: 'GC Strategies’ Kristian Firth confirms property raided by RCMP'
GC Strategies’ Kristian Firth confirms property raided by RCMP

A hush fell over the House of Commons as Firth appeared before the bar of the House.

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“On behalf of the House of Commons, I admonish you,” Speaker Greg Fergus said directly to Firth, who stood upright and did not look away.

In addition, Firth was ordered to respond to questions that he refused to answer during a House committee meeting last month. His testimony was delivered under oath and under the authority of the House.

The rare appearance came after the RCMP executed what Firth confirmed was a search warrant at his property. An RCMP spokesperson said Wednesday that the search “was not related to the ArriveCan investigation,” and Firth said police were looking for electronic goods related to another matter.

Click to play video: 'ArriveCAN: GC Strategies partner testifies, criticizes auditor general report'
ArriveCAN: GC Strategies partner testifies, criticizes auditor general report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre and several cabinet ministers left prior to Firth’s public scolding.

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Firth insisted in the House that while his answers were at times “obtuse,” he was not evading MPs’ questions. He said he also apologized to MPs in writing.

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“I’m making history right now. I think I’ve acknowledged I’ve made mistakes in previous committees,” Firth said, who was given 10 minute breaks in-between three rounds of questions to accommodate his mental health.

A doctor had provided a note to the clerk of the House recommending that Firth not appear because of acute mental-health diagnoses, with Firth saying he is actively under therapy and on medication. The note was shared with all parties.

That was enough for Liberal MPs to opt out of questioning Firth on ArriveCan, citing concerns over his mental health.

Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon said all recognized parties were informed of options to delay the questioning component of Wednesday’s proceedings until Firth was medically cleared to participate, but he said only the Conservatives refused.

“On this side of the House, we do not believe that it is appropriate to question Mr. Firth if he is not medically able to participate,” MacKinnon said in the House.

“We want this to be done in a way that respects the dignity of Parliament, and forcing someone against medical advice to do something a doctor believes could harm their treatment and recovery is indeed beneath the dignity of this place.”

Click to play video: 'ArriveCan app: A look at Canada’s procurement process after baffling testimony from contractors'
ArriveCan app: A look at Canada’s procurement process after baffling testimony from contractors

The last time a private citizen received this rebuke was 1913. Since then, a handful of people have received the admonishment, but none were forced to answer questions in the House.

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In 2021, the former head of the Public Health Agency of Canada was admonished for neglecting to release documents related to the firing of two scientists from a Winnipeg lab.

The bar of the House is a brass rod in the Chamber that represents a symbolic barrier between members and non-members of Parliament.

In a report last February, auditor general Karen Hogan determined the cost of ArriveCan ballooned to at least $59 million but said “a glaring disregard” for basic management practices made it impossible to determine the exact price tag.

Hogan called it the worst example of financial record keeping she had ever seen and found little explanation why GC Strategies – which subcontracted the work to other companies – was hired in the first place.

The RCMP is examining her findings.

In an appearance at a House committee last month, Firth said he has had the full weight of government come down on him over false claims against his company.

Those claims, he said, have led to threats against him and his family, including his children.

Click to play video: 'ArriveCAN contractor says he was ‘not involved’ in app’s development'
ArriveCAN contractor says he was ‘not involved’ in app’s development

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said before the appearance on Wednesday that he was “uncomfortable” about what would take place, saying a “populist political show” was taking place “at the instigation of the Conservatives.”

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Despite the rare occurrence, most MPs left after the first round of questions.

By the second round, several Conservative MPs had already uploaded several videos of themselves on social media showing them question Firth.

And when the third round of questions began, many of the handful of MPs that were left in the House were either on their phones or talking amongst themselves ignoring the questions — and the answers.

After two hours, Firth was discharged by the Speaker. His last response, before being escorted out of the House by the sergeant-at-arms: “No, I am not ashamed.”

-with files from Canadian Press

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