CERB needed 'better words'

Calgary Sun (FINAL) by: Ryan Wolstat

NEWS | A20, Words: 338

Canada's Employment Minister admits the government could have "picked better words" to scare off would-be COVID-19 relief program cheats, according to Blacklock's Reporter.

"While I remain committed to not in any way penalizing someone who honestly commits a mistake or an error or somebody who gets an extra payment, there was a sentiment that we need more robust ways to enforce our measures at the back end," Carla Qualtrough told the Senate national finance committee.

A draft of Bill C-17, An Act Respecting Additional Covid-19 Measures, proposes penalties of six months in jail, fines of $5,000, as well as charges of up to three times the value of benefits fraudulently claimed under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

The program will pay a maximum of $8,000 - four $2,000 monthly installments - to applicants who claim to be jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The penalties piece would be retroactive to the start of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit," Qualtrough said.

She had said May 11 that Canadians caught hiding income or refusing work would merely be asked to repay the money.

"We are not penalizing anybody," Qualtrough earlier told reporters.

Conservative Sen. Larry Smith asked if it wouldn't have been easier to simply issue a fraud warning to people at the beginning of the application process.

"I hear you, Senator. Absolutely, I think in hindsight we could have picked better words," Qualtrough said. "But from the beginning, we wanted to get money into the hands of people as quickly as possible." She added that threatening jail time is necessary to discourage the likelihood of "situations where people are preying on the vulnerable and taking advantage of seniors, and we want to make sure those people are held to account".

Bill C-17 was never introduced in Parliament after New Democrat MPs took issue with the penalty provisions.

"These are elements covered under the Criminal Code already," New Democrat MP Peter Julian said. "Police can already do follow-up when it comes to systemic fraud or people misusing social insurance numbers."

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