CRA has fired 185 employees who illegally received CERB while working at tax agency

Spokesperson confirmed the agency has now gotten rid of over one quarter of the 600 employees it began investigating earlier this year

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OTTAWA – The Canada Revenue Agency has fired 185 employees for illegally claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while they worked at the tax authority.

In a statement Wednesday, CRA spokesperson Nina Ioussoupova confirmed the agency has now gotten rid of over one quarter (185) of the 600 employees it began investigating earlier this year for potentially “inappropriately” receiving the $2000-per-month emergency COVID-19 benefit while working for the agency.

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The dismissals came after the agency launched an internal review in the spring to spot all of its own staff who had illegally applied for the benefit all the while it started clawing back CERB payments from Canadians who had also inappropriately claimed and received them.

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In the statement, Ioussoupova said that all agency employees who illegally claimed the pandemic-time benefit will be required to pay it all back.

In a statement, Revenue Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the internal investigations are to ensure Canadians can remain confident in the integrity of people working at CRA.

“The confidence and trust that Canadians put in the Canada Revenue Agency is a cornerstone of Canada’s tax system. This trust is based, among other things, on the high level of ethics and integrity demonstrated by CRA employees,” she said in a statement.

“The CRA’s investigation into the employees who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is being taken very seriously and is still ongoing. The disciplinary measures imposed by the Agency demonstrate that any form of wrongdoing cannot and will not be tolerated.”

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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.

Generally speaking, that made full-time government employees, including at the CRA, automatically ineligible.

“The actions of some should in no way undermine the honesty and integrity of the thousands of CRA employees who work every day in an exemplary manner to serve Canadians,” Ioussoupova said.

CRA began looking into its own employees in earnest for potential CERB fraud after the head of the agency, Bob Hamilton, told a House committee in March that it was investigating only 10 employees on that matter.

Then Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier was said to have expressed serious skepticism to Hamilton after the hearing about the low number and the CRA soon expanded its investigation.

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

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In its statement Wednesday, 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, 116 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,” the statement read.

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 late last year, 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).

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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.

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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