Key statistics offered by the government in support of its use of the ArriveCAN app are “absolutely false,” according to the union that represents Canada’s border agents.
Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, told a House of Commons committee Wednesday that the number of people who successfully complete the ArriveCAN app prior to showing up at the border is significantly lower than what the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) claims.
Weber also said the ArriveCAN app has contributed to decreased security at the border because officers are forced to help travellers with the app rather than focus on their law enforcement responsibilities.
“What I can tell you is that the numbers that were provided to you by the CBSA – where it said that 99 per cent of air travellers and 94 per cent of land travellers have the app completed – is absolutely false,” Weber said.
“As far as border officers are concerned, the last few months have shown that ArriveCAN neither facilitates cross-border travel, nor does it improve operational efficiency. In fact, it does exactly the opposite.”
ArriveCAN was launched in April 2020. It became mandatory for all travellers entering Canada in November of that year.
The app collects vaccine status and personal information, such as home address and phone number, which can then be used by health officials to monitor compliance with government orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But the app has also been called out by travellers and the airline industry as a source of frustration, confusion and delays at Canadian airports and land border crossings.
Weber told the committee the percentage of people who use the app correctly provided to the committee by the CBSA is the percentage “after” border officials help people complete the app.
He added that without this assistance, the figure for successful completion of the app by travellers is actually closer to 75 per cent.
At some border crossings, such as those near the Eastern Townships in Quebec, Weber said the number of people who use the app correctly prior to getting to the border is about 60 per cent.
“Our officers now largely work as IT consultants,” Weber told the committee. “You have land borders that have essentially become parking lots for us to help people complete the app.”
Over the past two weeks, the federal government has announced that it’s shutting down the COVID Alert app, suspended mandatory random COVID-19 testing at the border, and lifted vaccine mandates for outbound international flights and for domestic air and train travel.
But the government has kept the ArriveCAN app in place, saying it’s an important tool to prevent the continued spread of the virus. Public health officials have also said the app will be useful in the event of another outbreak and if quarantine measures are reinstated.
Denis Vinette, vice-president of the CBSA’s travellers branch, told the committee Wednesday the app was developed to “eliminate an onerous and unmanageable volume of paper forms” needed to monitor travellers entering Canada.
He said the app is the “fastest, easiest and most secure way” for travellers to show that they meet public health requirements.
“Use of ArriveCAN, which is mandatory, expedites processing and helps protect the health and safety of travellers and our own CBSA employees,” he said.
Meanwhile, some politicians have called on the government to scrap the app.
The mayors of Niagara Falls and Sarnia, Ont., have said the app should be discontinued so that American tourists and other visitors can come to Canada more easily this summer.
These sentiments were echoed by representatives of the tourism sector who told the committee the industry has lost tens of billions of dollars and shed hundreds of thousands of employees during the pandemic.
Global News asked the CBSA to respond to Weber’s remarks. A response was not provided prior to publication.