The Canada Revenue Agency has let go 120 employees who took advantage of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a CRA statement issued Friday morning, an internal review launched to identify any CRA employees who inappropriately claimed the benefit while employed at the department turned up 600 suspect cases.
“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 statement said. “The investigations and disciplinary processes continue.”
Any CRA employees who improperly claimed benefits will be required to pay them back if they have not already done so, the statement said.
The department said any employees suspected of criminality could have their cases referred to police.
“When misconduct is identified, we ensure that the appropriate actions are taken to address it,” the statement said.
CERB offered benefits of $500 a week for workers who lost their jobs in the first months of the pandemic in 2020.
An Auditor General of Canada report released in December 2022 said that of the approximately $210 billion paid out in benefits during the pandemic, $4.6 billion went to ineligible individuals and an estimated $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and employers should be investigated further.
Legally, the federal government has 36 months from the time benefits are paid to verify the payment was proper, a timeframe that can be extended to 72 months if the CRA suspects recipients provided false information when applying for the benefits.
Some CRA employees qualified for CERB
The CRA said that employees of the agency were not disqualified from receiving CERB during the pandemic. Temporary employees and those on student contracts might have been eligible, depending on their employment situation.
“In this regard, roughly 30 employees that are part of this review have been found to be eligible so far,” the CRA statement said.
In a statement Friday, National Revenue Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the cases that have been uncovered should not “call into question the integrity and honesty of the more than 60,000 employees” who work for CRA.
“The CRA’s investigation into the employees who received the Canada emergency response benefit is being taken very seriously and is still ongoing,” the statement said. “The disciplinary measures imposed show that for us it is zero tolerance.”
Marc Brière, national president of the Union of Taxation Employees, said he is not happy about the situation but the employees who were let go account for just 0.2 per cent of the CRA’s workforce.
“I’m not happy to see that but there’s nothing we can do. We need to deal with the situation, unfortunately,” he told CBC News.
“It is unfortunate but it does happen … and we need to make sure that the employees respect the code of conduct in the CRA. It’s very important to keep the trust of the population.”