National Post (Latest Edition)
A CERB side-effect? Double the snitch calls
Record number of tips to Canada Revenue Agency
• Canadians flooded the Canada Revenue Agency’s snitch line during the pandemic, with the number of calls nearly doubling to over 62,000 in the first year of COVID-19 and almost all exclusively tied to alleged abuses of the $2,000-permonth Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
On average, CRA received between 32,000 and 34,000 tips annually through its National Leads Program, data obtained by National Post shows. But that all changed with the start of the pandemic and the introduction of numerous government benefits, notably CERB, which paid out $500 a week to eligible Canadians who had lost their jobs or couldn’t find one due to COVID-19.
Critics have denounced how the program, which doled out more than $74 billion before it was phased out and replaced by three different ones, initially demanded virtually no verification of eligibility and seemed rife with opportunities for fraudsters to apply on behalf of unsuspecting victims.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, CRA says it received an eye-popping 62,855 tips, a “record for the number of leads received in a single year,” according to spokesman Christopher Doody.
The wave of tips showed little sign of stopping over the following three months, with another 13,023 tips coming in between last April and June. According to the agency, nearly all of the extra tips were related to COVID-19 benefits.
“For the period from April 2020 to June 2021, the Leads Program processed over 35,000 external leads with allegations related to the COVID-19 benefits and subsidies. The large majority of these leads, over 31,000 leads, was related to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit,” Doody detailed in an email.
The government has refuted any allegations of widespread fraud within CERB, but both the federal government as well as Auditor General Karen Hogan admit recouping all COVID-19 benefit overpayments will be a monumental task.
For example, an audit of CERB published by Hogan earlier this year noted the government paid approximately $500 million in ineligible payments solely because some basic verification measures, such as blocking duplicate applications in a single month, were only introduced weeks after the program was launched.
The significant jump after COVID-19 benefits began rolling out came as no surprise to the agency, which added staff to monitor the line to ensure it could handle the influx. “CRA had considered the possibility that we would see an increase in the volume of leads submitted to the Leads Program as a result of the Benefit programs. In anticipation of a potential increase, the Leads Program temporarily added additional resources and the situation is being closely monitored to ensure leads are processed in a timely manner,” Doody said.
But why did so many Canadians snitch on their neighbours, friends or acquaintances in the midst of a public health crisis?
According to the head of the Association for Canadian Studies, Jack Jedwab, it may have to do with a “high sense of anxiety and nervousness” combined with a growing sense of wariness toward others that developed as the pandemic dragged on
“One of the fallouts of the contagion is that it’s created a bit of a climate where there’s been a breakdown in trust and, I think, an increase in suspicion,” Jedwab said.
“This is part of a broader phenomenon where, even though we were supposed to band together to fight the contagion, we’ve seen a lot of skepticism,” he added. “And I think that type of climate lends itself to this sort of mistrust that a lot of people aren’t doing the right thing.”
Reporting someone you suspect of inappropriately accessing government COVID-19 funds may have given some Canadians a sense of accomplishment.
“Acting upon our anxieties and nervousness has become more common, and so some of this is a bit of an outlet for people … with quite some consequences,” he noted.
Throughout the pandemic, many people wrote to National Post in the hopes of tattling on an acquaintance or even a family member they suspected of wrongly collecting CERB. “Is there a way to report someone if they are committing fraud and collecting the CERB benefit when they live in their parents’ basement and haven’t had a job since they were 15?” one reader wrote in an email in the early months of the pandemic.