Prime Minister Trudeau had to field numerous questions today on a proposed government bill that will put some teeth into going after those who defraud the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The proposed legislation is looking to put into law new punishments, including jail time and fines, for Canadians who are found to be defrauding the program, according to a copy of a draft piece of legislation that has not been tabled in the House of Commons.
The government wants to impose tough new enforcement mechanisms ranging from fines to six months of jail time if someone has made a “false or misleading” benefit claim, knowingly failed to declare income for the period which they applied for the benefit, received a benefit cheque they were “knowingly” not eligible for, or aided someone in committing one of the aforementioned offences. Answering repeated reporter questions today Trudeau said the intent is not to go after people who may have applied for both CERB and the wage subsidy program, but they will have to pay back the surplus.
“We are not looking to punish these people ,” he said, “but we need to be able to go after the fraudsters.” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says new criminal penalties will hit poor and racialized people harder, and that the tax system should be used to recover funds that should not have been paid, rather than fining or jailing people during a pandemic.
Trudeau explained that the government opted to initiate the CERB plan without a lot of verification in order to get money into people’s hands; but now the time has come to tighten up the program.
Recent federal figures say 8.37 million people applied for the CERB, with $43.18 billion in payments as of June 2.