Little more than a tenth of international arrivals at Canada’s major airports used the ArriveCAN app in the first few months of 2023.
The app was launched during the pandemic as a communication and screening tool to ensure travellers arriving in Canada complied with pandemic border measures. It later became a way for travellers to show their vaccination status.
The app was made optional in October. Travellers no longer need to use it to report their vaccination information — but at certain airports they can still use an app feature that allows them to fill out a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) declaration form before arriving at customs.
Nearly 10 million travellers arrived at Canadian airports between January 1 and April 15 of this year. Just over one million of those travellers used ArriveCAN to fill out their declaration forms, according to a government response to an order paper question tabled earlier this month.
The advanced declaration form is only available at 10 international airports, according to the CBSA.
When asked about the apparently low uptake, CBSA told CBC News that the app is a “useful tool” that allows travellers to save time when going through customs.
“The CBSA expects that traveller uptake of this technology will continue to grow as availability increases,” a spokesperson for the agency said in a media statement.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, the minister responsible for CBSA, didn’t reply to CBC’s request for comment.
Conservative transport critic Mark Strahl told CBC News that the app “was always a waste of money” and was “broken from the start.”
“It isn’t being used because, much like the Liberal government, Canadians have no need for it,” Strahl said in a media statement.
CBSA said that $54 million was budgeted for the operation and development of the ArriveCAN app up to this past March. Updated costs are expected to be revealed when the department posts its annual financial report.
The app came in for some heavy scrutiny last summer when its use was still mandatory and travel began to return to pre-pandemic levels.
In June, some mayors and businesses in communities along the Canada-U.S. border began calling on the federal government to end the ArriveCAN app, saying it was discouraging Americans from visiting and shopping in Canada.
Later in July, the government said a glitch in the app incorrectly told travellers to quarantine when they didn’t have to. That error affected about 10,200 people.
The government also faced criticism earlier this year when it was revealed that the public service had hired a two-person firm that subcontracted out its work on the ArriveCAN app.
During his leadership campaign, Conservative Leader Pierre Poillievre promised to scrap the app if he forms a government.
NDP transport critic Taylor Bachrach said the app now has a bad reputation because the government bungled its launch.
“I don’t think the numbers are surprising,” he said. “The government really botched the rollout of this product and that’s hurt its adoption.”
Monette Pasher, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said the app is still a “valuable tool” and one of many airports are using to modernize their services.
“People can use [ArriveCAN] if they want a faster experience, if they want to speed up their travel journey, if they want to skip a line,” she said. “I think the more that we promote that to travellers, the more we’re going to see numbers increase.”
CBSA said it plans to expand the use of the app to land borders and is exploring the possibility of using it at sea ports of entry as well.