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CERB Confusion and CRA Corruption

On Friday night, the news broke that 600 employees of the Canada Revenue Agency were under investigation for CERB fraud. The agency confirmed 20 employees had already been terminated.

This comes at a time when the agency, at the behest of the Liberal Government, is clawing back billions in COVID-19 benefits from Canadians. 

The Liberal Government rolled out the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in March of 2020; a $500 per week payment for up to 16 weeks to offset the cost of growing COVID-19 shutdowns for workers in certain eligible sectors. Needless to say, CRA employees who remained on the government payroll during COVID were not eligible.

At the time, Conservatives warned about the possibility for widespread CERB fraud if the Government didn’t put measures in place to ensure eligibility. As usual, the Liberal Government scoffed at this commonsense proposal—refusing to even ask applicants for a Social Insurance Number—and issued the directive to the CRA and Service Canada to get the money out the door as quickly as possible.

The Government’s decision to have government employees, including CRA employees, work from home, and stay home far longer than necessary, also likely contributed to this problem.

The result of this carelessness was exactly what Conservatives warned about. The hastily created program resulted in billions of dollars of erroneous and fraudulent claims.

Hackers were quick to take advantage of the lack of security to hack the CRA accounts of some 30,000 Canadians and fraudulently apply for CERB benefits. Many in prisons and people outside of Canada also managed to fraudulently access the benefit. As did many who were already on government assistance programs.

Others who understood themselves to be eligible, based on the government’s criteria (and assurances), also applied and received the benefit, only to be told two years later they were not eligible and are now facing government claw backs of the amount in full despite having already paid income tax on the amounts they received.

Nearly one million Canadians accessed COVID programs they may have technically been ineligible for—or been arbitrarily deemed retroactively to have been ineligible. However, this raises the question of who is really to blame? The citizen trying to navigate the maze of more than 100 COVID programs with similar acronyms, with unclear, varying and often changing eligibility criteria? Or the government who, based on the criteria they set up, assured these individuals at the time they were, indeed, eligible for these benefits and paid them?

Moreover, how does one even begin to adjudicate hundreds of thousands of applications for which virtually no information was gathered/required and then differentiate between fraudsters and those who legitimately took the benefit in error due to government expedience and departmental incompetence?

Earlier this year, CRA Commissioner Bob Hamilton made headlines and raised eyebrows when he stated it wasn’t worth the effort to conduct a full-scale review of the more than $15 billion in COVID wage benefits that the Auditor General has said may have been sent to ineligible recipients. This latest revelation of corruption within the CRA raises the question, was his reluctance due to the monumental task of doing so, or was he aware of the damage such an inquiry would do to his own agency?

How can the CRA, who have so ruthlessly gone after everyday Canadians who may (in good faith) have received benefits in error, continue to do so with even a shred of credibility when potentially hundreds of their own employees took advantage in such a blatantly fraudulent manner?  

The woes of the CRA are indicative of the widespread incompetence and corruption that has come to define this Liberal government.

The Liberal Government spent an unprecedented $322.3 billion in their “fight against COVID-19”. The fact that they can only account for $240 billion (leaving $82.3 billion missing) shows just how flawed, careless, and, in some cases, corrupt, this Liberal Government’s approach was.

Those CRA employees (like other Canadians) who engaged in fraud must be held accountable.

Those who innocently (albeit erroneously) took the government at its word deserve due consideration. 

Ultimately, the blame for this situation must rest squarely on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and his incompetent Cabinet who designed and delivered such a deeply flawed program.