Top U.S. Republican urges Canada to scrap ArriveCAN app

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This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

A top U.S. Republican has weighed in on the debate swirling around ArriveCAN, the travel app the Canadian government introduced for cross-border travel during the pandemic.

She wants it gone.

Elise Stefanik, a part of the U.S. House Republican leadership team, a border-district representative from New York State, and die-hard Donald Trump ally, has written to the Canadian government.

She wrote to Canada’s ambassador to Washington this week with a request: Stop requiring people to use ArriveCAN if they want to enter Canada.

Stefanik called the app a glitchy impediment to travel with no public-health purpose anymore. All it does now, she said, is confuse people and make them less likely to cross the border.

In her letter to Kirsten Hillman, she said confusion about the app worsens wait times at the border and makes people choose to stay home at a time the countries should be encouraging the cross-border partnership. 

“This requirement disincentivizes travel, harms the flow of commerce, and burdens travellers with the submission of private health information,” Stefanik added in a statement. 

What’s the context

The debate over ArriveCAN has been happening in Canada for a while. It so happens that in this case the No. 3 Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, best known for her staunch defence of Trump during his impeachment trial and in his attempt to overturn the last U.S. election, has waded in.

Mayors of Canadian border towns are pleading with Ottawa to scrap the app, as have businesses and a border-district U.S. Democrat, Brian Higgins.

The Canadian government has admitted that the app has occasionally suffered glitches, which gave travellers erroneous instructions. Some people entering Canada report having received out-of-date instructions urging them to quarantine.

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The Buffalo News newspaper also urged Canada to reconsider. “It’s not working,” the newspaper said in an editorial this week. “And it’s hurting both economies.”

The newspaper from upstate New York called ArriveCAN a nice idea and relatively simple to use, but said it has outlived its utility, especially as tourism-dependent businesses around Niagara Falls are still hurting from the decline in overseas travel and are desperate for cross-border visitors.

What’s next

The Trudeau government has given no indication it intends to scrap the app. Federal officials say the app actually saves time by automating questions about vaccination status, rather than having travellers answer them verbally.

Ottawa says it has fixed a glitch that affected some iPhone users. 

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has suggested ArriveCAN could be used in the future as a way of automating customs pre-screening, something Australia has done.

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