Creating an ArriveCAN Incident Report Pt.II — Public Tech, Accountability, Operations Capacity

Bianca Wylie
4 min readAug 1, 2022

Some of what we know about the glitch

This is the sixth post in a series. It’s short, and it seeks to start to piece together some of what we know about the recent ArriveCAN glitch.

On July 22, 2022 CBC’s the National aired a segment detailing the experience of a man that had recently returned to Canada and was received notices from the ArriveCAN system saying he should quarantine. He followed the instructions to do so because, in his words, there was language threatening fines and jail time in the robocall and he felt it was the right thing to do. Link to this segment on The National. At the end of the segment, there is a screenshot shared of an email the traveller received stating that the notice to quarantine was in error.

screenshot from The National segment, July 22,2022 — time stamp: 1 minute 53 seconds in

Further statements from the federal government have yet to clarify exactly how many people experienced this erroneous notice. The most detail I’ve been able to find is reporting from Global News, and others that state: “The warning was sent to roughly three per cent of travellers and appears to have affected Apple devices only, according to the government.”

As was reported by The National, even after the glitch, the Public Health Agency of Canada has continued to say that the tool is a “necessary tool” that helps keen Canadians safe. How exactly it is doing that is not explained.

Another Traveller’s Story from June — No Formal Confirmation of Error

In this oped for rabble.ca, another traveller experienced the same ArriveCAN glitch, but had a different experience, at least at the time of publication, in seeking confirmation that the notice she got was, indeed, in error. It’s important to note the date of her piece — June 15, 2022.

From her piece, all in italics and emphasis mine:

Emails continued to arrive daily and I reported a lack of symptoms. On the eighth day, the email changed. It stated categorically that that day, a PCR test was required. Mandatory. Had I had one? I checked “no.” Had I sent it to an approved laboratory? Again, “no.” There followed a list of consequences for non-compliance ranging from fines to visits from inspectors to imprisonment.

Once again, I called the 800-number. Once again, I was thanked for calling the Government of Canada and then asked where I found the phone number. I explained my concerns, then was put on hold. The agent returned and replied that “it was a glitch in the system.” I should not have received the emails and I should just ignore them.

I asked for evidence that it was an error and was told that there were lots of calls about the same situation. I asked for documentation, should I receive a visit from an inspector. I was told I wouldn’t, with no explanation.

Neither the Government of Canada nor the Public Health Agency of Canada website has information about this “glitch.” No announcement has been made public about this error. And neither the office of the federal Ministry of Health nor my own Member of Parliament responded to requests for comments in time for publication deadline.

In Summary, Some of What We Know So Far

  1. This glitch appeared to be happening in June
  2. The person that was featured in July reporting got a notice of error. The person that shared their story from June appeared not to.
  3. So this was happening in June, at the latest
  4. There is 3% of some number that is the number of people that had the problem
  5. The issue appeared to be isolated in those that have Apple phones

6. The fix for the glitch was put into place on July 20, 2022, as reported by Global News:

“The CBSA can attest that the issue was resolved on July 20 at 6 p.m. The fix was thoroughly tested by the CBSA technical teams before it was implemented, per standard procedures,” said CBSA spokesperson Maria Ladouceur.”

Questions These Questions Raise

  1. Did everyone get a notice of error as at a certain point of time? Why was the second traveller’s situation different, where it was verbal declaration of the issue on the phone, but no email correction? Was it because it was earlier and it was unclear what was happening?
  2. How many people received the error notice? 3% of what over how long?
  3. How many people received a quarantine notice in error, and then followed it when they shouldn’t have? how long did people potentially do that for?

This third question is the one that is a bit of haunting one for me. I have a hard time thinking the government would send notices in error without correcting them. It’s also of course possible that there was a span of time where no one knew where this was coming from and perhaps had inadequate information to correct the error.

If this case was happening, we begin to understand the importance of the design, testing, oversight, maintenance and reporting on the notification feature. Part of incident reporting is planning for failure of different parts of the system.

Will keep looking for more information, but the two points in time and the differing experiences documented in these two pieces help form some of the timeline of what has happened.

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