OTTAWA — Many people thought it was no coincidence in November when the website of Canada’s immigration department crashed just as the election returns in the United States were beginning to show that Donald J. Trump was winning the presidency.
Government officials said the problem was because of a flood of requests to the site, and news organizations around the world swiftly reported social media speculation that the crush of traffic had come from unhappy Americans who would rather emigrate than live under a Trump administration.
But it turns out that the computer crash may really have been just a coincidence after all.
According to internal government documents obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, widespread problems with government computer systems generally and an impending deadline for non-American visitors were probably to blame for the website’s crash.
Indeed, the problems that eventually crippled the digital public face of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada began to cause temporary crashes around 2 p.m. Eastern time — hours before the polls would begin to close in the United States.
The department had been bracing for a surge in web traffic on that day, but not because of the American election. There were only two days to go before a program took effect requiring foreign travelers to Canada, other than Americans, to go online and buy an electronic travel authorization ahead of their visit.
When the slowdowns and crashes started on Nov. 8, one public servant, whose name has been removed from the documents, wrote in an email that “it looks like the eTA is starting to experience significant volumes a few days earlier than planned.” The abbreviation refers to the electronic travel authorization program.
That afternoon, as matters grew worse on the website, the department contacted Shared Services Canada, the government’s centralized computer services agency, but apparently got little satisfaction.
“S.S.C. has indicated that ticket is pending and there’s nothing that can be done,” an immigration official wrote in the afternoon; that official’s name also was removed.
By 11 p.m., the website had buckled under the mounting problems.
Shared Services Canada has been plagued with problems since it was set up by the previous Conservative government to take over computer operations that had been run separately by each government department.
A new payroll system it established has left thousands of public servants overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have also complained about a sharp increase in serious computer problems, including shutdowns of a national criminal database used by all police forces in Canada.
“Its ‘one size fits all’ I.T. shared-services model has negatively impacted police operations, public and officer safety and the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Commissioner Bob Paulson, the head of the police agency, wrote in a memo obtained earlier this week by the C.B.C.
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