The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has taken action against its own employees who have inappropriately applied for financial aid benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to CRA spokesperson Sylvie Branch, 600 agency workers are currently under investigation for claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while still employed by the CRA. The National Post reported this development on June 30.
Ms. Branch also confirmed that the agency has already terminated the employment of 20 employees who were found to have falsely claimed the CERB. It is expected that more terminations will occur as the internal review continues.
In response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadian government introduced the CERB in March 2020. The aim of this program was to provide financial assistance to individuals who had lost their source of income due to pandemic-related reasons. Even employed individuals who were not receiving income because of work disruptions caused by the pandemic were eligible for the CERB, as long as they were earning less than $1,000 per month when they applied.
Since the discovery of the fraudulent claims made by its employees, the CRA has been investigating the issue. However, at the time of the initial announcement, Federal Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier did not disclose the exact number of employees who had been fired for defrauding the CERB program. She cited privacy concerns as the reason for not providing the specific figure.
Interestingly, the CRA is not the only federal department that has discovered fraudulent behavior among its employees. Mary Crescenzi, the assistant deputy minister of the Integrity Services Branch (ISB) of Service Canada, revealed in February that 49 individuals within her agency had also been fired for misrepresenting their situation when applying for the benefit. The ISB operates under the umbrella of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
A report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in 2022 highlighted that both the ESDC and the CRA had identified employees claiming COVID-19 benefits. The report also emphasized that $4.6 billion in overpayments had been made to ineligible recipients, and further investigations were needed for an estimated $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and employers.
As of April 2023, more than 600,000 Canadians who had received CERB payments but were found to be ineligible have not repaid the debt. This information was revealed in an Inquiry of Ministry requested by NDP MP Daniel Blaiki and released on March 29.
The CERB program was closed in September 2020, and individuals who were still unemployed at that time had their cases transferred to the employment insurance system.
It is crucial to note that Isaac Teo, Matthew Horwood, and Peter Wilson have contributed to the reporting of this news article.