Known fraudsters targeting CERB for wrongful benefits, Commons committee told

Known fraudsters targeting CERB for wrongful benefits, Commons committee told

OTTAWA — Harsh penalties for defrauding the Canada Emergency Response Benefit are needed because organized crime and identity thieves are trying to scam the program, a House of Commons committee was told Thursday

A Canada Revenue Agency official said federal systems have already flagged a number of potential fraudulent applications for the $2,000-a-month CERB, including people involved in criminal activity that have now targeted the pandemic-aid program.

Ted Gallivan, the agency’s assistant commissioner in charge of compliance, said about five people already under a joint police-CRA investigation for other reasons are now being looked at for CERB fraud as well.

The agency is receiving leads on possible fraud and has “a number” of joint operations with local police, but Gallivan told the finance committee that it wants the power to go after fraudsters.

Earlier this week, the Liberals were unable to get unanimous agreement from the opposition parties to swiftly pass a bill that included fines and possible jail time for CERB fraud. NDP Leader Jagmeet has argued that the penalties will hit Canadians who mistakenly applied for the benefit, despite government assurances that they’re intended to deal only with those who knowingly and deliberately defraud the program.

Gallivan said the measures being sought would target people who have filed hundreds of fraudulent claims, such as those who have reportedly gone into retirement homes to have seniors sign up for the benefit.

“We do think it’s important to have a criminal sanction at the end of that,” Gallivan said during an Thursday evening committee video conference.

“Criminal sanctions being sought are really to deter people operating at scale because merely asking them to pay the money back won’t have the deterrent effect we need.”

Gallivan said the system that doles out the CERB was set up to flag possible fraud, such as someone changing their direct deposit information a day before applying for the benefit, or someone filing thousands of claims on behalf of clients.

Figures released last week by the agency showed that 190,000 benefit payments had been repaid online as of June 3.

NDP finance critic Peter Julian said new powers aren’t needed because criminal penalties already exist for fraud or people misusing social insurance numbers. He noted that criminal investigations are already under way without the additional powers.

Demand for the CERB has surpassed federal expectations, pushing its budget to $60 billion from $35 billion.

The most recent figures show that $43.51 billion in benefits have been paid out as of June 4 to 8.41 million unique applicants. But those numbers include $20.56 billion from the employment insurance account to 3.96 million EI-eligible workers who exhausted their benefits and couldn’t find work due to the pandemic.

In a recent interview, Conservative employment critic Dan Albas said the spending raises questions about whether EI premiums will have to go up in the future.

“There’s a lot of different things in play here,” Albas said. “There’s the overall spending trajectory of the government, there’s the current state of finances, particularly with the EI fund and because there’s been no budget, we just don’t know its status.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau was pressed anew during his appearance Thursday at the finance committee about when the government would provide a budget or fiscal update. But he again said that won’t be possible until there is greater economic certainty.

The total spending package on pandemic-related aid now tops $153.6 billion, not including tens of billions more in loan programs, as detailed by the Finance Department in its latest report to MPs.

A commercial rent relief program has doled out $39 million in loans to landlords as of June 8, representing help to more than 5,000 tenants. Delivered jointly with provinces, the federal government provides almost $3 billion to the program.

Morneau said application numbers have gone up in recent days after provinces announced eviction bans.

“That is starting to change the activity between tenants and landlords,” Morneau said, adding a moment later: “There are very encouraging signs that this program can have a big impact on commercial tenants.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

57 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Friday

Central zone remains at three active cases

Three people arrested after failed escape ends in farmer’s field

Cole Joseph Obdam facing numerous charges for incident with police

Red Deer remains at two active COVID-19 cases

Alberta confirms 94 new cases over past two days

Some Central Albertans calling for mask wearing to become mandatory

A family physician from Didsbury supports the Masks4Canada movement

Sylvan Lake pastor retiring after 43 years of service

Pastor Bill Spangler has been at Sylvan Lake Seventh-Day Adventist Church for six years

PODCAST: Black Lives Matter in central Alberta Part 2

More insight into the Black Lives Matter movement of central Alberta

Protesters return to St. Louis area where couple drew guns

Protesters return to St. Louis area where couple drew guns

Heavy rain floods southern Japan, leaving over dozen missing

Heavy rain floods southern Japan, leaving over dozen missing

At Rushmore, Trump says protesters seek to ‘defame’ heroes

At Rushmore, Trump says protesters seek to ‘defame’ heroes

First Nations coalition rejects recommendation to lift Sen. Beyak’s suspension

First Nations coalition rejects recommendation to lift Sen. Beyak’s suspension

Canada restricts dealings with Hong Kong over new security law

Canada restricts dealings with Hong Kong over new security law

Man accused of ramming gate at Rideau Hall with truck faces multiple charges

Man accused of ramming gate at Rideau Hall with truck faces multiple charges

Hosting regular season MLB in Toronto “totally different ball game”

Hosting regular season MLB in Toronto “totally different ball game”

Siakam says he feels safe in Florida, despite explosion of COVID-19 cases

Siakam says he feels safe in Florida, despite explosion of COVID-19 cases

Most Read