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Former CBSA chief says he doesn't know who chose controversial ArriveCan contractor

The former head of the Canada Border Services Agency defended its response to the pandemic under his leadership, telling MPs on a parliamentary committee Thursday that he is «proud» of the work it did.

John Ossowski, who was CBSA president when it oversaw the creation of the ArriveCan app, appeared before MPs for the fourth time to address the controversy surrounding the project.

«Yes, there should have been financial coding set up right at the beginning so that we could track the expenses more carefully,» he said.

«All the rules were in place. It appears, unfortunately, that they were not always followed so I make no excuses for the lack of documentation … that's not acceptable. That should not have happened.»

Auditor General Karen Hogan's February report estimated ArriveCan cost taxpayers roughly $59.5 million, in part because of the agency's reliance on external contractors. That same report said the total cost of the app is «impossible to calculate» because of CBSA's «poor financial record keeping.»

«If I could roll back the clock, there would have been some changes but I remain proud of the work that I did and my team did during the pandemic,» Ossowski said.

Ossowski said that the need to replace paper documents with a digital alternative that could collect health information during the pandemic required the CBSA to seek staffing and expertise from outside of government.

«Mobile app expertise is a relatively new field for the government, and while the agency had some nascent capability, it was not sufficient, especially as the app changed frequently and became increasingly complex,» he said.

Ossowski said it was not possible to hire public servants to develop the app because those skills are in high demand, and about 30

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