In fact, without the app, Alghabra said the processing of arrivals “would take longer.”
“ArriveCAN is not contributing to the congestion. In fact, ArriveCAN is a useful tool that helps verify the vaccination status of an individual before arriving at our borders,” he said at a committee meeting.
“If we didn’t have ArriveCAN, the processing of arrivals would take longer time, because it would have to be done manually.”
Alghabra made the comments while appearing before the House of Commons transport committee, where he had been called to face questions about airport delays that impacted customers across the country this summer.
A number of factors have contributed to the delays, from staffing shortages to airlines’ refusal to reduce flights to match their reduced capacities, experts have told The Canadian Press.
The delays caused widespread flight cancellations, baggage delays and lengthy lineups, particularly at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
But airport and airline delays haven’t been the only issue travellers have faced. The government’s mandatory ArriveCAN app has come under fire from data and privacy experts for its technology, which is considered a “trade secret,” according to the app’s Algorithmic Impact Assessment.
Meanwhile, a glitch in the app earlier this month sent fully vaccinated travellers erroneous messages saying they needed to quarantine. The glitch affected more than 10,000 people, according to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Global News learned it took the government 12 days to notify travellers of the error.
On top of that, businesses near the Canada-U.S. border have said sales are still below pre-pandemic levels.
“We are certainly feeling the difference,” said Jeff Butler, vice-president of a Thousand Islands Duty Free store in Lansdowne, Ont.
“We’re one of the few places that can only sell to people that cross the border. If people aren’t crossing the border, we can’t make sales — and that’s where we are right now.”
The duty free association, as well as some of the businesses it represents, placed blame for the decreased sales at the feet of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related restrictions — specifically, ArriveCAN app.
“Traffic is not happening because of the ArriveCAN app,” Barbara Barrett, executive director of the FDFA, told Global News. “It’s hurting businesses and hurting border town communities.”
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman criticized the app during the committee meeting, saying it adds time at customs, doesn’t keep pace with health restrictions, and has prompted privacy concerns.
“In the face of the overwhelming evidence on its problems and the criticism, why is the government not abandoning the mandatory use of ArriveCAN?” she asked Alghabra.
The transport minister fired back that “ArriveCAN is actually helping process arrivals much faster and helping reduce congestions.”
Transport Canada says in a recent statement that it has been working with industry partners to improve conditions at airports and cited fewer cancellations and delays in the first week of August compared with a month ago.
— with files from The Canadian Press, Global News’ Irelyne Lavery and Global News’ Brian Hill