The federal government is looking to put into law new punishments, including jail time and fines, for Canadians who are found to be defrauding the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program, according to a copy of a draft piece of legislation that has not been tabled in the House of Commons.
According to the draft bill obtained by CTV News, 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. The proposed legislative changes were first reported on by The Globe and Mail.
Under the proposed legislation, the amount of the fine could be up to three times the amount that was received or would have been received in CERB money due to the fraud.
The program offers $2,000 per month to those out of work. It was introduced in late March in an effort to help those who were out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the cross-Canada shutdown it prompted to make ends meet. As of June 7, more than 8.4 million Canadians have applied for CERB, receiving a total of $44.6 billion.
The aid program was initially set up to be something Canadians could claim for up to 16 weeks, with the requirement to re-apply every four weeks. Now, the government is looking at allowing Canadians to apply to collect the CERB “for any period of four weeks falling within the period beginning on March 15, 2020 and ending on July 2020” in addition to being able to apply to cover “any period of two weeks falling within the period beginning on July 5, 2020 and ending October 3, 2020.”
The latter offering of two weeks of pay could be a way for the federal government to offer paid sick leave to Canadians who don’t currently have that benefit through their employer and would need to stay home in case they were showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have to stay home to care for someone who is. The current public health guidance suggests two weeks in self-isolation is required for anyone who suspects they might have the virus.
The government also wants it written in law that workers would not be eligible for the income support if they:
- Fail to return to work when it is reasonable to do so and their employer asks them to;
- Fail to resume self-employment when it is reasonable to do so; or
- Declines a reasonable job offer when they are able to work.