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CRA fires dozens more employees for applying for CERB while working for tax authority

‘Out of the approximately 600 cases we can report that 120 individuals are no longer with the CRA as a result of this internal review’

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OTTAWA — The Canada Revenue Agency has fired 120 of its employees for illegally claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while working for the tax authority.

That increases the number of CRA employees fired for claiming the emergency COVID-19 benefit sixfold since June 30 when the agency first announced it had fired 20 employees and was investigating a total of 600 that it suspected of “inappropriately” claiming CERB.

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“Out of the approximately 600 cases we can report that 120 individuals are no longer with the CRA as a result of this internal review. The investigations and disciplinary processes continue,” CRA spokesperson Nina Ioussoupova said in a statement Friday.

Launched within the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, CERB paid $2,000 per month to eligible recipients. One of the key eligibility requirements was that recipients had to have lost their job or main source of income because of the pandemic, making employed individuals largely ineligible unless they made less than $1,000 monthly when they applied. At the time, the agency had 45,000 employees.

Government sources told National Post in June that the 600-employee review came after pressure from then national revenue minister Diane Lebouthillier.

The CRA had said in March that it was investigating 10 employees, but Lebouthillier was said to have expressed serious skepticism to CRA commissioner Bob Hamilton about the low number and the CRA soon expanded its investigation.

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Lebouthillier was replaced as minister by Marie-Claude Bibeau in a cabinet shuffle in mid-August.

In its statement Friday, the agency said it is reviewing each of the 600 cases individually because being employed by the CRA did not necessarily imply ineligibility for CERB. So far, 30 staff who were investigated were found to have been eligible for the benefit.

“The CRA employs individuals with a variety of employment profiles such as temporary and student contracts; and, as such, individuals may have been eligible to receive the CERB at the time it was available,” reads the statement.

The Canada Revenue Agency building is seen in Ottawa, Monday, April 6, 2020. Photo by Adrian Wyld /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Since July, National Post has requested multiple times that CRA provide a list of either the job titles or occupational group of employees under investigation, without their names or identifying information. The CRA has repeatedly refused.

“The details of such internal processes are confidential. As investigations are ongoing, the CRA will not provide the employee details pertaining to each ongoing or concluded investigation. The CRA is required to protect the personal information of individuals, including employees,” Ioussoupova wrote on July 26.

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The CRA’s internal investigations are but a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of verifications it will have to conduct to recoup the billions of dollars in estimated COVID-19 benefit overpayments to Canadians.

In early 2023, the agency warned nearly one million Canadians that it was clawing back a total of $4.2 billion in overpaid COVID-19 benefits, with more to come as the CRA and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) conducted more post-payment verifications.

In a report in December, auditor general Karen Hogan also flagged $27 billion in payments her office considered as suspicious among a dozen pandemic benefits, most notably the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

The CRA has refuted those numbers, arguing the auditor general used an improper calculation method that led to a large number of CEWS payments being falsely flagged as inappropriate.

But Hogan also lambasted the CRA and ESDC for a “lack of rigour” in plans to recover inappropriate payments that she said is likely to lead to a failure in recovering “significant” amounts in overpayments.

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The CRA is not the only federal department that was tasked with doling out pandemic benefits that has since had to fire employees who  collected CERB.

In February, Mary Crescenzi, the head of ESDC integrity services, told MPs on the public accounts committee that her department had fired 49 workers who had received CERB during the pandemic.

“It was discovered that some of our employees had availed themselves … of CERB,” Crescenzi said at the time. “Those individuals that did break the trust of the employer-employee relationship … have been terminated.”

She did not specify if the department was investigating additional workers.

Crescenzi also said that the employees had applied for the benefit outside of working hours and did not do it on government devices.

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