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Why is ArriveCan still mandatory, and what is Ottawa’s plan for the contentious

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OTTAWA — The glitch-prone app touted as an efficient border tool early in the pandemic has become a punching bag for critics who question its utility ⁠ — but ArriveCan may be here to stay.

The government insists it’s a useful tool. Critics say it has outlived its use, if it ever had one.

Here’s a quick lowdown on what we currently know about it.

What is ArriveCan?

The app was introduced early in the pandemic and its use has been mandatory at air and land borders since February 2021 with exceptions in cases of accessibility issues or outages.

ArriveCan ostensibly screens incoming travellers for COVID-19 and for the last year tracked their vaccination status. Refusing to use the app to provide required information can result in a fine of up to $5,000 under the Quarantine Act.

Has the app done what it was supposed to do?

A December 2021 report from the federal auditor general said the ArriveCan app improved the quality of information the government collected on travellers. But poor data quality still meant that almost 138,000 COVID-19 test results couldn’t be matched to incoming travellers, and only 25 per cent of travellers told to quarantine in government-authorized hotels were verified to have stayed in them.

Last month, due to a glitch, ArriveCan instructed about 10,200 travellers to quarantine for 14 days when they didn’t have to. Bianca Wylie, a partner at Digital Public, questioned why the app would be automating those decisions in the first place, rather than sticking to the information-collection mandate it was launched with.

Is the app only about COVID-19?

Recent government updates to do with the app have focused on efficiencies rather than on public health measures. At air border crossings, it is now possible, though optional, to use the app to fill out a customs declaration form before arrival at Toronto’s Pearson airport, Vancouver or Montreal.

Last week the government said it planned to expand that optional feature to air arrivals in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Quebec City, Halifax and the Billy Bishop Toronto City airport.

In a statement earlier this month that focused on Canada’s broader air travel fiasco, Transport Canada said those who use the forms cut their time at kiosks down by a third. That’s 40 seconds off the average two-minute visit, which the government estimates could “save hours in wait time” if everyone used it.

Are apps the way of the future for air travel?

Electronic data collection related to COVID-19 has been mandatory at many international borders, and online forms are increasingly being used for non-pandemic reasons. Australia handles its electronic travel authorizations exclusively via app, while an online authorization form will be required to visit the European Union starting next year.

Canadian officials haven’t gone so far as to say that they’re planning something similar. But Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters in June that while ArriveCan was created for COVID-19, “it has technological capacity beyond that to really shrink the amount of time that is required when you’re getting screened at the border.”

Before the pandemic, Canada had already started digitizing its border services with other initiatives, including installing customs kiosks at major airports starting in 2017 and introducing an eDeclaration app in 2018, which still exists, to cut down processing times.

Wylie said people were not using that app at a high volume before the pandemic, because it was voluntary and there were easy alternatives. But she said Ottawa has been using COVID-19 as an opportunity to speed up the transition.

“The federal government has been using a public health crisis to basically train people in a border modernization exercise that they have wanted to do,” Wylie said, adding that modernization initiatives are fine as long as they are voluntary and alternatives are available.

How has the app affected travel across the land border?

About a quarter of people who cross into Canada from the U.S. by car don’t use ArriveCan in advance, according to Pierre St-Jacques, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Union.

At the Canada-U. S. land border, a one-time exemption is in place for travellers who “may have been unaware” of the rules, the Canadian Border Services Agency confirmed. Out of five million crossings between May 24 and Aug. 4, the exemption was used 308,800 times, CBSA said in a statement.

But that’s just a temporary fix, St-Jacques said, as officers who already feel spread thin because of staffing shortages find themselves acting as “IT consultants” and troubleshooting travellers’ technical issues rather than doing what they’re trained to do. “If the goal of the app is to make cross-border travel more efficient or more secure, well, it doesn’t work in its current iteration,” he said.

Border town mayors, border-city chambers of commerce and even duty-free stores have complained publicly that they think ArriveCan, along with other pandemic border restrictions, have been a deterrent to American tourists.

Why has ArriveCan become such a hot political topic?

Whether because Canadians are annoyed about the extra hassle, concerned about their privacy, sympathetic to border towns or simply fed up with the federal Liberals, Conservatives have an audience for their calls to eliminate ArriveCan.

Canadian acting darling Simu Liu joined the “scrap the app” bandwagon, challenging his followers to say a single nice thing about it in a tweet Tuesday, then saying immediately: “I failed the challenge.”

Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said in a tweet Tuesday that ArriveCan created “unnecessary hurdles” and “only serves to hurt Canada’s economy and tourism industry.”

Some voices have gone a step further in claiming that the app is part of a broader effort to collect personal information and control the public. Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis called the whole thing a “surveillance experiment.”

The privacy commissioner is also investigating a complaint about the app’s collection and use of personal data.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

— With files from Sarah Ritchie

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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Business

Share debacle a rare setback for Indian tycoon Adani

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By Krutika Pathi in New Delhi

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian billionaire Gautam Adani grinned as he posed this week for photos with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu after acquiring one of the country’s main ports, in Haifa.

“I promise you that in the years to come, we will transform the skyline we see around us,” said Adani, his manner upbeat even as his business empire was losing billions. Investors have been dumping Adani shares for more than a week after U.S. short-selling firm Hindenburg Research put out a report alleging his businesses have engaged in fraud and stock price manipulation. The Adani group has denied this.

Before the debacle, Adani, 60, was Asia’s richest man and the third wealthiest in the world, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. Not anymore.

The massive losses are a rare setback for the coal mining tycoon from western India’s Gujarat state and raise questions about what lies ahead.

Expansion has been at the heart of Adani’s success story. The son of a middle-class family in the Gujarat capital, Ahmedabad, he quit college to become a diamond trader in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai. He returned home to join his brother in importing plastics before establishing Adani Enterprises in the 1980s, trading in everything from shoes to buckets.

Adani shifted to investing in ports, construction and coal mining as India opened up its economy in the 1990s. A new middle class emerged and the ambitious businessman placed bets on providing energy to serve them.

Adani’s first big project, Mundra Port, is now India’s largest commercial port and he is the country’s biggest private port operator. Within a decade, he also became India’s largest developer and operator of coal mines.

Today, Adani companies also operate airports in major cities, build roads, generate electricity, manufacture defense equipment, develop agricultural drones, sell cooking oil and run a media outlet. He has his eyes set on becoming the world’s largest renewable energy player by 2030.

Citing market volatility, late Wednesday his flagship Adani Enterprises scrapped a $2.5 billion share offering that, despite the bloodletting in the group’s shares and a 28% plunge that day in its own share price, had been oversubscribed.

In a video address Thursday, Adani said the share offering was canceled to “insulate investors from potential losses.”

“For me, the interest of my investors is paramount and everything else is secondary,” he said.

The share offering was seen as a test of investor confidence in the self-made industrialist, whose ascent has been celebrated as a symbol of India’s economic ambitions. The Adani Group said in a statement that canceling the offering would not “have any impact on our existing operations and future plans.”

The Adani Group said its balance sheet was “very healthy” and its history of servicing debt was “impeccable.”

Still, Brian Freitas, a New Zealand-based analyst with Periscope Analytics who has researched the Adani Group, said the collapse in share prices for India’s second-largest conglomerate may hinder its future plans for expansion.

“It’s going to be difficult for them to raise new money,” he said.

Adani shares are still losing value. Shares in Adani Enterprises tumbled 27% Thursday, while stock in six other Adani companies fell 5%-10%.

The tycoon, who favors a plain white shirt and dark trousers over fancy dress and is said to be affable and quiet spoken, slid from being the world’s third richest man to the 13th as his fortune sank to $72 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Prior to the Hindenburg report, his net worth was about $120 billion.

More vitally, the company is now without the funds it had hoped to raise in this week’s offering. Companies often launch such share offerings to finance growth while reducing debt.

“Thanks to the short-seller, Adani’s plans will get slowed down significantly,” said R.N. Bhaskar, a journalist who wrote a biography on Adani.

Analysts say that rapid expansion has largely been fueled by borrowing. The group’s debt stands at $30 billion, out of which $9 billion is from Indian banks, the group’s chief financial officer said recently.

After the stock rout of the past week, lenders may deem his group high risk and toughen their criteria for borrowing, like demanding higher interest rates or more collateral, said Freitas.

“Equity investors are going to be wary because the stock isn’t doing well — if they can’t raise equity, they will have to go to the debt market,” he added. “Given the situation, foreign lenders will think twice before lending any new money to Adani.”

Despite Adani’s longstanding ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow Gujarati, and other powerful politicians, the government has so far remained silent on his recent troubles even as pressure from the political opposition for an investigation into Adani’s situation grows.

In recent years, Adani has pumped money into sectors like agriculture, defense and renewable energy — all seen as high priorities for the Indian government.

Like Adani’s commitment to the port in Israel’s Haifa, many of the group’s overseas infrastructure projects, in countries such as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, have served as an Indian counterweight to rival China’s holdings.

The Haifa deal was a coup for India, located close to another port managed by the Shanghai International Port Group.

“India is working with great fervor with Israel on defense and technology, and Adani now has a port there. You think the Indian government can sniff at that?” said Bhaskar. “The thing is, you can’t wish away Adani — because he is indispensable at this point.”

He expects Adani to remain undaunted.

“The more challenging a situation gets, the more defiant and creative he becomes to overcome it,” Bhaskar said.

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International

Ex-UK leader Truss to urge tougher China stance in Tokyo

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By Sylvia Hui in London

LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss will join the former leaders of Australia and Belgium at a conference in Tokyo later this month to call for a tougher international approach to China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of lawmakers concerned about how democratic countries approach Beijing, said Friday that Truss will speak alongside former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Feb. 17 event in the Japanese Diet. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is also a European Parliament lawmaker, will attend as well.

Conference organizers hope the event would help spur more coordinated diplomacy on threats raised by China ahead of the next Group of Seven richest democratic countries’ summit, scheduled in May in Hiroshima.

Truss is expected to address growing concerns over Beijing’s threats to Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory. Morrison will call for more targeted sanctions against Chinese officials for serious human rights violations, while Verhofstadt will speak about the European Union’s role in maintaining international rules under pressure from Beijing.

“The scale of the challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China is such that we all need to rise above our differences and come together to defend our fundamental values and interests,” Verhofstadt said in a statement.

The three former leaders will address about 40 Japanese lawmakers as well as legislators from the U.K., Canada, the European Union and Taiwan. Senior Japanese ministers are also expected to attend.

Truss has kept out of the public eye since she quit as Conservative British prime minister in October after just 45 days in office, following an ill-conceived economic plan she unveiled that triggered a political and financial crisis.

As foreign secretary she was outspoken in criticizing China, advocating stronger ties between democracies so they can counter China and Russia more effectively. She had suggested that the U.K. should work with its allies to ensure Taiwan could defend itself against Chinese military aggression.

Her successor, current British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has rejected “grand rhetoric” against China and wants a more “pragmatic” relationship with Beijing. While he has called China’s growing authoritarianism a “systemic challenge,” he stopped short of describing China as a threat to British security and said the U.K. and its allies needed to engage Beijing in diplomacy.

Western countries are rethinking their relationship with Beijing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the U.S., Britain and the EU’s 27 member states have disagreed with each other over how to approach an increasingly assertive China.

In November, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was criticized by both his European partners and his own coalition government when he led a delegation of senior business leaders to visit Beijing.

Critics said the bilateral visit undermined unity among EU leaders, who discussed reducing their heavy economic dependence on China during a Brussels summit in October. While Scholz said there should be recognition that China was increasingly a competitor and systemic rival, he also warned against decoupling ties.

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