In his daily national address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau elaborated on the federal government’s plan on punishing individuals who are submitting fraudulent claims for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
A newly proposed bill that will allow the government to track down the fraudulent claims and the people issuing them is currently being worked on, and the government is trying to secure support for the bill.
Because of this bill, many Canadians who may have accidentally accepted the CERB payment may be punished as a result.
At this time, it was said that Canadians who have made fraudulent CERB claims could face a fine of up to $5,000 (a penalty that is double what the person would have received through the benefit) and potential jail time.
Additionally, those who refuse to go back to work, yet continues to claim CERB benefits may also be facing financial penalties under the new bill.
Trudeau has gone on to say that the proposed bill is not focused on punishing those who have made “honest mistakes”.
“We’re not looking at punishing people who made honest mistakes. This is a time for us to pull together as a country,” Trudeau said.
“There may be several people who mistakenly took both the CERB and the wage subsidy because they weren’t sure what they were going to do, and they were really worried, and they just took everything. Those people will simply have to pay back the one that they shouldn’t have been taking”.
Trudeau then went on to state that the government’s intention with this new bill is to ensure that “those who knowingly and wrongfully claim the CERB face consequences”.
“Unfortunately, in every situation, there are a few criminals who will deliberately try to take a moment of solidarity, a moment where we’re in crisis and we’re trying to help each other out by deliberately defrauding the system”.
The bill’s details
Under the draft for the bill, “fraudulent” claims are considered as knowingly making any false or misleading claim, such as failing to declare all income, to receive an income benefit that a person is not eligible for.
This would include any non-disclosure of facts and information and or omission of any facts that are required for eligibility to receive the benefit.
Currently, if an individual is found committing any of these fraudulent claims, they will be:
- Fined up to $5,000,
- Face up to six months if potential jail time, and
- An additional fine of “an amount of not more than double the amount of income support payment that was or would have been paid as a result of committing the offence”.
Additionally, as part of the new bill, a retroactive fine of up to triple the amount improperly claimed through CERB will be given to individuals who:
- Fail to return to work when it is reasonable for them to do so and the employer requests their return
- Fail to resume self-employment when it is reasonable to do so
- Decline a reasonable job offer when they can work
According to the current draft for the bill, the government seeks to impose new enforcement mechanisms for people who made fraudulent CERB claims and to deter people from refusing to work and stay on financial support.
If the bill is passed as it is at the moment, then people would lose CERB eligibility if they don’t return to work when they are asked back or if they refuse work opportunities to stay on the benefits.
The bill is also proposing a shift from four weeks to two weeks periods when it comes to CERB payments if they need to take time off work due to sick leave or taking care of someone with COVID-19.
The proposed changes are a result of Canada’s economy slowly reopening so that businesses can begin to bring their staff back. Trudeau has also encouraged businesses to use the 75 percent wage subsidy program, as the projections for how many businesses would use the program have not been met.
Disagreements with the bill
The bill has been met with disagreement and opposition from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh when he addressed its draft on June 8.
Singh has said that he opposes punishing or imprisoning vulnerable individuals who applied for CERB because they needed the financial aid.
Singh related his opposition to the conversation regarding people of colour being overrepresented in Canada’s criminal justice system, and how now is not the time for there to be talks about new criminal justice measures.
“What I want to see is completely removing the penalty approach. The criminal approach, putting people in jail, giving people massive fines is not the right approach. There are far better tools, particularly in a pandemic that we should be using,” Singh said.
The NDP also wants the CERB benefit window to be extended so that the aid benefits eligibility gets longer.
There has been no comment or statement coming from the Conservatives when it comes to the bill draft, but in the past, they have shown concerns about CERB fraud and the lack of people wanting to return to work.
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