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

Just Posted

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

The influenza vaccine will be available at no cost starting Monday in Alberta. “The more that we can avoid influenza-related tests, emergency visits and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs," says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hinshaw urges Albertans to get flu shot as COVID cases jump by 332

Alberta’s central zone now has 132 active COVID-19 cases

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

(The Canadian Press)
Alberta-raised Cree actor lands role in Disney’s live-action ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’

Tiger Lily is featured in Disney’s 1953 animated “Peter Pan” film

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

Pipeline division owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. will now be required to restore 3,840 hectares of caribou habitat,

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province’s economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Opposition house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP will focus on holding Premier Jason Kenney

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read