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Federal department fires 49 employees for claiming CERB while employed

The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini  The landing page for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is seen in Toronto, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Giordano Ciampini 
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A federal government department has fired 49 employees who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit while they were employed.

Employment and Social Development Canada, which oversaw the distribution of the benefit—better known as CERB— conducted an internal investigation and found that some of its employees had claimed the benefit for themselves.

"Those individuals that did break the trust of the employer-employee relationship … have been terminated," assistant deputy minister Mary Crescenzi told a House of Commons committee on Thursday. "To date, we have terminated 49 individuals."

Crescenzi and other senior officials from ESDC and the Canada Revenue Agency were testifying at the public accounts committee after an auditor general's report on the billions of dollars in COVID-19 benefits the government doled out during the pandemic.

The report found that of the $211 billion paid to Canadians and companies, at least $4.6 billion in overpayments went to those who were ineligible and another $27.4 billion merited further investigation.

CERB provided financial support to Canadians who had employment income of at least $5,000 in the 12 months prior to applying for it. Recipients were eligible to receive weekly $500 payments amounting to $2,000 over a four-week period.

Conservative MP Michael Kram also asked Bob Hamilton, the CRA commissioner, how many workers claimed CERB while employed.

Hamilton said he did not have exact numbers on hand, but said it was "not very many."

"We treat public servants as general taxpayers and if you violate the rules you suffer the compliance efforts," he said.

Neither department referred any of the cases to law enforcement, the officials said.

"We have very strong internal investigation at the CRA, and we deal with it ourselves," Hamilton said.

Crescenzi said the monies received by the 49 terminated employees have been classified as overpayments that must be repaid.

"They are being treated as any other Canadian that received benefits they were not entitled to," she said.

She also said none of the employees used ESDC's internal systems to apply for the benefits; they did so on their own time.

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