Federal department fired 49 employees who received CERB benefit though employed

Employment and Social Development Canada was in charge of handing out COVID benefits like CERB, meant for Canadians who lost their job due to lockdowns

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OTTAWA — A federal government department charged with doling out COVID-19 financial benefits has fired 49 of its employees who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit while they were still employed.

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The head of Employment and Social Development Canada’s integrity services told a Commons committee Thursday that it had conducted internal investigations into some COVID-19 benefit applications, namely the $2,000-per-month CERB, and discovered that some of its own staff had applied and received the payment.

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CERB was designed in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 to pay $500 per week to Canadians who lost their job because of lockdowns. Canadians who lost their job and made a minimum of $5,000 in 2020 or the previous year were eligible to apply.

“It was discovered that some of our employees had availed themselves … of CERB,” ESDC assistant deputy minister Mary Crescenzi told MPs on the committee. “Those individuals that did break the trust of the employer-employee relationship … have been terminated.”

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She specified in response to questions from Conservative MP Michael Kram that the 49 employees were fired because they had misrepresented their situation when they applied for the benefit. ESDC employs more than 25,000 workers.

Kram asked top officials from the Canada Revenue Agency, the other government organization that administered CERB, if they too had discovered staff who had received the benefit.

CRA commissioner Bob Hamilton did not have numbers on hand, but noted it was likely “not very many.”

Both ESDC and CRA officials told MPs they had not referred any of the cases to police as they had dealt with them “internally.”

Top officials from both agencies, as well as Canada’s auditor general, were at the public accounts committee Thursday afternoon to speak to a recent audit of Canada’s COVID-19 benefits.

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In the report, Auditor General Karen Hogan found that a “minimum” of $27.4 billion in suspicious COVID-19 benefit payments need to be investigated because ESDC and CRA did not manage the aid programs efficiently, and they will likely fail to recover “significant” amounts in overpayments.

During the committee meeting, the CRA commissioner said compliance efforts were still at “early stages” and would continue at least until 2025.

Hamilton and the head of ESDC, Jean-François Tremblay, also argued that it would not be “cost effective” to go after every single person or business who had wrongly received COVID-19 benefits.

Hamilton said that as of Jan. 19, the agency had warned nearly one million Canadians that they were clawing back some or all of their COVID-19 benefits, for a total of $4.2 billion to date. The amount the agency will actually recover is yet to be determined.

Tremblay said ESDC found and recovered $1.68 billion in COVID-19 benefit overpayments from over 1.18 million Canadians as of Jan. 6.


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