49 Employees Fired From Federal Department for Receiving CERB Benefit While Still Working

By Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
February 3, 2023Updated: March 12, 2023

A federal department responsible for handing out financial benefits to Canadians who stopped working during the COVID-19 pandemic has fired 49 of its own staff who applied for and received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while they were still employed.

Testifying before the Commons public accounts committee on Feb. 2, Mary Crescenzi, assistant deputy minister of the Integrity Services Branch of Service Canada, a program operated by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), said an internal investigation was conducted when the department knew about employees who claimed the $2,000 per month COVID-19 benefit. 

“It was discovered that some of our employees had availed themselves as any Canadian to apply for CERB benefits on their own time,” Crescenzi said. “Those individuals that did break the trust of the employer-employee relationship as we reviewed for cause, their security clearances have been terminated.”

She was responding to Conservative MP Michael Kram who asked how many of her department’s employees were subjected to internal investigation. 

“To date, we have terminated 49 individuals,” she replied, stressing that the involved “did not use any internal systems” for their applications, and that they were fired because they had misrepresented their situation when they applied for the benefit.

She added that the department alerted its chief security officer the moment they became aware of such cases.

“How many of those cases were referred to law enforcement?” Kram asked.

“There was no referral to law enforcement as this was an internal investigation,” Crescenzi said. “And it was a review for cause in regards to breaking the Code of Conduct associated to the employees of all of our department.”

‘Don’t Have Numbers’

These revelations come on the heels of a December audit of “Specific COVID-19 Programs” by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG), which reported that both the ESDC and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had “identified employees that claimed COVID-19 benefits.”

Auditor General Karen Hogan, who also appeared as witness Thursday, confirmed the audit’s findings when asked by Kram, but said the responsibility of referring the involved employees to law enforcement lies with the ESDC and CRA.

“There was an internal investigation that kicks off first. It’s then up to the department and the agency whether they refer that case to law enforcement. But we felt that that investigation was the right first step,” Hogan said.

Kram asked Crescenzi if the monies received by the 49 individuals have been “clawed back” or were still part of the ongoing investigation.

“Those monies have been established as overpayments that must be repaid, and they are being treated as any other Canadian that received benefits they were not entitled to,” Crescenzi said.

“They must be repaid. But have they already been repaid?” Kram probed.

“They’re in the process of being repaid. I would have to confirm the numbers that have been repaid,” she said.

The same questions were directed to CRA Commissioner Bob Hamilton, who testified that the agency had also identified staff claiming COVID relief cheques but could not disclose the numbers.

“I don’t have numbers right in front of me,” Hamilton said. “Not very many, obviously, and I don’t believe any of those cases have gone into a criminal investigation.”

Conservative MP John Williamson, chair of the public accounts committee, told the commissioner that “not very many” is “not a sufficient answer.”

“Would you be able to write to this committee afterwards the number that were subjected to the internal investigation?” Williamson asked.

“Let me take that back and I’ll endeavour to get you those numbers,” Hamilton said. 

The OAG’s report found that $4.6 billion were made to ineligible individuals ever since the federal government rolled out the various COVID-19 benefit programs, and estimated that at least $27.4 billion of payments to individuals and employers “should be investigated further.”

“The department and agency did not develop rigorous and comprehensive plans to verify the eligibility of recipients,” the federal auditors wrote.

“We found that their post-payment verification plans did not include verifying payments made to all identified recipients at risk of being ineligible for all COVID-19 benefit programs.”