ArriveCan app frustrates users and experts even after fixing issue

Calls to remove the ArriveCan app continue from medical and tech experts as well as travelers, even after the feds fixed a technical glitch that required some users to self-quarantine unnecessarily .

While the flaw was patched last Wednesday, social media platforms are teeming with posts from passengers complaining that the app as a whole is not user-friendly.

The union representing border services officers estimates that around 30% of border workers have not completed it, extending processing times for travelers amid an already chaotic travel season.

“We’re so understaffed and spending so much time managing this application that we really don’t have time to do our real work,” Mark Weber, president of the Customs and Immigration Union, said in an interview. .

The app has also lost its usefulness as a way to protect public health, according to Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto.

“I really have no idea why we would continue to use it the way we do now. It seems like a lot of effort, work, and to be honest, inconvenience to many people for very little benefit. “, he said in an interview.

Morris also questioned the value of confirming participants are vaccinated “when we’re not even really making sure their vaccinations are up to date, when the federal definition of being fully vaccinated doesn’t include three vaccines or one vaccine inside, say, five or six months after your last dose.

Launched in November 2020, the ArriveCan app aimed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring arrivals were doubly vaccinated and facilitate contact tracing, with faster processing times at the border as a potential bonus .

It was initially only mandatory for air travelers entering Canada, but became a requirement for all cross-border commuters in February 2021. Canadian and international travelers must still submit information, including proof of vaccinations, travel dates and contact details within 72 hours of arrival.

The government announced last month that the app would be mandatory until at least September 30, and Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said it would survive the pandemic as part of a modernization strategy. aimed at reducing bottlenecks at borders.

“ArriveCan remains an important and mandatory tool that helps inform public health advice and is an integral part of Canada’s surveillance program for emerging variants of concern that may pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians,” said Judith. Gadbois, spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency. St-Cyr said in an email.

Meanwhile, random testing, which is communicated via the email address associated with an ArriveCan user, resumed at the country’s four largest airports last Tuesday just five weeks after they were halted on June 11.

Technology expert and Digital Public partner Bianca Wylie says a lack of oversight and accountability affects an app containing sensitive information, saying the ArriveCan platform should be voluntary.

“You’re telling people you have to use this app, when we know there are people who aren’t comfortable with an app like this and may not have the required technology “, she said in an interview.

“It’s a closed code. We don’t know how it works. There’s no advisory board, there’s no oversight… there’s been no audit.

Canada’s quarantine law allows for data collection but nowhere specifies the use of any particular technology, Wylie said.

The app was designed by the Canada Border Services Agency and five companies that did not have to participate in a tendering process due to pre-existing contracts with the government and “to respond to the rapidly evolving pandemic environment,” the agency said.

“All contractual rules were followed in developing and improving the app and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner actively engaged in any collection of personal information through ArriveCan,” said Gadbois-St. -Cyr.

The border services agency said it spent $24.7 million to develop and maintain ArriveCan, in addition to $2.2 million for advertising.

It’s too much for some. Maryia Rakina, a Vancouver-area resident who returned from an overseas trip last week, said she received “random emails asking how my quarantine is going – I can’t believe they spent $26 million for this system.”

Following a June 28 update, passengers arriving at Pearson and Vancouver airport can now complete their customs declaration forms before landing in Canada – Montreal will host the same from Thursday, followed by additional airports this fall and winter – part of Mendicino’s plan to “modernize our border” and reduce border queues.

According to the government, hundreds of automated kiosks used in the customs areas of major airports by travelers using the app slash a two-minute interaction by 40 seconds.

ArriveCan was successfully used by more than 99% of international air passengers and 90% of ground travelers in the week ending last Sunday, the federal agency said.

Mark Weber, who heads the union representing border services officers, says “these are the completion rates after we’ve helped the traveler fill it out — or we’ve filled it out for the traveler.”

Regarding the now-fixed issue, Public Safety Department spokesman Alexander Cohen said about 3% of arrivals from overseas were affected, out of a weekly total exceeding 1.3 million by way. aerial and terrestrial.

– Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Lance B. Holton