The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has received more than 1,000 tips from Canadians about potential misuses of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and other benefits related to the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesperson for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said on Wednesday evening that as of June 10, the CRA is reviewing a total of 1,300 tips received about possible abuse of the benefits through its Leads Program, also sometimes referred to as the tax agency’s snitch line.
That’s up from 600 tips received as of June 1.
The coronavirus pandemic devastated global economies and forced countries into national lockdowns earlier this year in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the virus.
In Canada, the lockdown measures have sent the national unemployment rate soaring to a record 13.7 per cent, up from the last record high of 13.1 per cent in December 1982.
Three million jobs were lost over March and April, while 2.5 million more Canadians saw their hours slashed as a result of the restrictions.
The government introduced the $2,000-per-month CERB program as a temporary measure for Canadians who have lost work because of the pandemic, along with a 75 per cent wage subsidy for employers.
But the CERB program was rolled out without any checks or balances.
People can apply for the benefit and automatically get it without any verification being done to confirm they have met the criteria.
Critics of the government have argued this approach makes it too easy for fraudsters to take advantage of the program, even as the government has warned anyone doing so will face “consequences.”
However, a bill to try to impose those consequences failed to get enough support to move forward in the House of Commons on Wednesday, and it’s now uncertain whether any actual penalties will be imposed on those who abuse the system.
The bill, which is now frozen at first reading, would have hit those who make fraudulent applications for the CERB with either a $5,000 fine and a penalty of up to double what they received, or a $5,000 fine with up to six months of jail time.
Those who refuse to go back to work and continue claiming the CERB would also face a penalty of up to triple the amount of the benefits they receive while refusing “reasonable” work.
So far, roughly 190,000 Canadians have repaid CERB benefits for which they were not eligible.