Canadians have made more than 830,000 repayments of COVID-19 emergency aid benefits to which they were not entitled – a statistic some say reflects mass confusion over fast-tracked federal programs.
The figures provided to CBC News by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) include repayments from recipients of the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) and Canada emergency student benefit (CESB).
CRA said all of the repayments were voluntary.
“There are various reasons why voluntary repayments have been made: if applicants applied in error for a CERB payment from both Service Canada and the CRA for the same period, if an applicant later realized that they were not eligible for the benefit, or if an applicant returned to work earlier than expected,” said CRA spokesperson Christopher Doody in an email.
Conservative MP and national revenue critic Philip Lawrence said he blames the high number of repayments on the federal government failing to explain the benefit programs to Canadians.
“During the pandemic, the Liberals continuously sent mixed messages to Canadians who were applying for emergency benefits. This caused confusion for many Canadians who were unclear if they were eligible for the benefits or not,” Lawrence said.
“It was important for the Trudeau government to get the communication of these benefits right. Unfortunately, they failed to do so and left Canadians behind.”
CRA said it could not cite a dollar sum for the repayments because the money is retained in a general account, along with other unrelated payments.
Rushed programs led to confusion
Toronto-based Labour lawyer Lluc Cerda called the number of repayments “huge” — and also blamed a lack of clarity on the federal government’s part when it launched these benefits in the chaotic early days of the pandemic.
He said people often couldn’t get through to busy CRA or Service Canada call centre agents — and when they did reach an agent, they were sometimes given contradictory information.
“I think with the way the plan was rushed into place – and I mean, the times called for it – there’s definitely a lot of confusion and I think that’s a large part of why people are paying it back,” Cerda said.
Widespread uncertainty also may have led some people to apply for benefits, then “park” the money until tax time against the possibility that it would have to be repaid, he said. Cerda added that the uncertainty may have deterred some people who were actually eligible for benefits like CERB from even applying.
20,000 tips on suspected abuse
CRA also told CBC News it has received more than 20,000 confidential tips about suspected cheating related to COVID-19 emergency aid programs.
All anonymous tips are reviewed for evidence of fraud.
In June, the Liberal government proposed legislation that would have imposed fines or even jail time on people who deliberately lied on CERB applications. It backtracked after a public and political outcry.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau justified the move as a way to ensure integrity of the program, saying the government would crack down on the small minority of “deliberate fraudsters” but was not looking to penalize anyone who collected money unintentionally.
“We’re not looking to punish people who made honest mistakes,” he said.
At the time, the government was under pressure from the Conservatives to bring in stronger controls to weed out fraudulent claims and maintain an incentive for people to return to work where possible.
CRA said it will take steps to verify that claimants were eligible to receive payments. The agency keeps records showing who received the benefits and for how long; those records will be cross-checked with tax slips from employers and other relevant information to validate eligibility at tax filing time.
In cases where recipients are found to be ineligible, they will be contacted to make repayment arrangements, CRA said.
Youth-led climate change lawsuit dismissed by Federal Court – CBC.ca
A Federal Court judge ruled Tuesday that the Canadian government won’t be going on trial for contributions to climate change — striking down a lawsuit brought by 15 young Canadians who argued the government was violating their charter rights.
Federal Court Justice Michael Manson rejected a lawsuit initiated by the youths aged 10 to 19 years old. Their case called on the court to compel Ottawa to develop a science-based climate recovery plan.
But Manson ruled the claims don’t have a reasonable cause of action or prospect of success, so the case cannot proceed to trial.
The lawsuit filed in 2019 says Canada’s failure to protect against climate change is a violation of the youths’ charter rights.
On Tuesday, Manson ruled the network of government actions that contribute to climate change is too broad for the court to grapple with, and the court has no role in reviewing the country’s overall approach to climate change.
First and hardest hit
Plaintiff Haana Edenshaw, 17, of the Haida Nation, says despite her disappointment, she is refusing to get discouraged and plans to keep pushing to have the case heard, after seeing the effects of climate change in her village of Masset on Haida Gwaii off B.C.’s North Coast.
She said poverty rates and the location of communities leave Indigenous people at higher risk to the negative effects of climate change.
“Indigenous youth in Canada are often the first hit and the hardest hit,” she said.
Another plaintiff named Sophia said that it is “a big wake-up call for all Canadian and Indigenous youth. Canada has tried to silence our voice in court and block our calls for climate justice. We won’t be dissuaded.”
In September, government lawyers argued the lawsuit should be thrown out, as it was far too broad to be heard in court. In Tuesday’s ruling, Manson agreed the terms were too broad. Joe Arvay, the lead lawyer on the case, says it’s a disappointment, but he plans to push forward and appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The case, La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen, was initially filed on Oct. 25, 2019.
The lawsuit argued that the plaintiffs — 15 children and teens from across Canada — had their rights to life, liberty and security and equality violated by a government that had failed to do enough to protect against climate change.
In the government’s defence submission, federal lawyer Joseph Cheng said the drivers of climate changes are a global problem, and Canada can’t act alone to solve the issue. He also argued that the case fell beyond what courts can meaningfully adjudicate.
The statement of claim was filed the day teen climate activist Greta Thunberg visited Vancouver and led a climate strike rally attended by thousands. It says that “despite knowing for decades” that carbon emissions “cause climate change and disproportionately harm children,” the government continued to allow emissions to increase at a level “incompatible with a stable climate capable of sustaining human life and liberties.”
But there’s no explicit environmental right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And, in his decision, the justice disagreed that right is implicit, as argued in the case.
“Of course it’s disappointing, but the journey is far from over,” said Brendan Glauser of the Suzuki Foundation. Glauser said the ruling acknowledged the negative impact of climate change as something that’s significant and pointed out the justice also said the “public trust” doctrine is a legal question that the court can resolve — which, he said, offers legal ground with which the group can attempt to move forward.
“We are proud of our plaintiffs. These brave young plaintiffs know we only have a decade to turn things around, and so far, we are not on track,” said Glauser.
For more on this story, tap here to listen to the Sept. 27 episode of What on Earth with Laura Lynch.
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – CityNews Toronto
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):
Ontario is reporting 827 new cases of COVID-19 today, and four new deaths due to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says 355 cases are in Toronto, 169 in Peel Region, 89 in York Region and 58 in Ottawa.
The province has conducted 23,945 tests since the last daily report, with an additional 22,636 being processed.
In total, 312 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 75 in intensive care.
Quebec is reporting 963 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.
The Health Department said today four of the deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, 14 date back to last week and one death was from an unknown date.
The number of patients in hospital declined by 16 to 527 while the number of intensive-care patients dropped by two to 91.
Quebec has reported a total of 101,885 COVID-19 cases and 6,172 deaths linked to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nova Scotia is reporting one new case of COVID-19.
Health officials say the case is in the central health zone, which includes Halifax, and is related to travel outside the Atlantic region.
The province has six active cases of novel coronavirus.
In total, Nova Scotia has confirmed 1,102 cases, while 1,031 cases have been resolved and there have been 65 deaths.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020.
The Canadian Press
Trudeau says pandemic 'sucks' as COVID-19 compliance slips and cases spike – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he understands that Canadians are increasingly frustrated by “annoying” measures designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, but he’s urging people to stay the course as cases continue to climb in some parts of the country.
Canada is in the grips of a second pandemic wave. Some provinces — notably Alberta, B.C., Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec — are now seeing case counts larger than those reported in the spring, at the onset of the pandemic.
“This sucks, it really, really does,” Trudeau told a COVID-19 press briefing this morning. “It’s going to be a tough winter. It’s easy for us to want to throw up our hands … it’s frustrating to have to go through this situation.
“Nobody wanted 2020 to be this way, but we do get to control how bad it gets by all of us doing our part.”
Trudeau said Canadians must get this latest pandemic wave under control or risk putting their Christmas festivities in jeopardy.
“Unless we’re really, really careful, there may not be the kinds of family gatherings we want to have at Christmas,” he said.
After a summer lull, the death count in Canada has also started to climb. Hospitalizations and the number of people in intensive care units (ICUs) remain at manageable levels in most regions, despite the cresting caseload.
Some Toronto-area hospitals are nearing 100 per cent capacity as they grapple with both COVID-19 cases and other patients.
Data indicates that younger, healthier people — who are more likely to recover without medical intervention — are driving the COVID-19 spike during this round of the pandemic.
Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, said there’s no doubt that Canadians are tired of the restrictions that have upended their social and economic lives for the better part of eight months.
“What we’re seeing around the world is people are suffering from COVID fatigue,” Njoo said.
Another full lockdown is not necessary at this point, he said.
“We want to get back to as normal as possible, the functioning of society,” he said, adding Canada needs to find the “sweet spot” where new cases of COVID-19 don’t threaten to overwhelm the health care system.
Asked if governments bear any responsibility for conflicting messages from federal and provincial leaders and local public health officials about how Canadians should go about their daily lives during the pandemic, Trudeau said the situation on the ground in the provinces and territories varies greatly and does not demand national uniformity.
WATCH: Trudeau questioned about public confusion over pandemic messaging
Trudeau said Ottawa is not intent on plunging the country into another shutdown — and the country is better equipped to handle this wave than it was in March and April.
“We have a better understanding of COVID-19. We have better tools to deal with COVID-19 and we can be a little more targeted but, yeah, that means a little more complication in our messages,” Trudeau said.
“It’s frustrating to see friends at the other end of the country doing things you’d love to be able to do but you can’t.”
Trudeau said that when his six-year-old son Hadrien recently asked him if COVID-19 would with us “forever,” he assured him the pandemic would end — but its impact will depend on Canadians doing their part in the short term by wearing masks wherever possible, keeping a two-metre distance from others and avoiding large social gatherings altogether.
“We need to do the right thing, we need to lean on each other, we need to use all the tools that we can,” he said.
Trudeau sounded a positive note today, too, saying that Canada has placed orders for tens of millions of possible vaccine candidates. He said pharmaceutical companies are developing promising treatments.
“Vaccines are on the horizon. Spring and summer will come and they will be better than this winter,” he said.
All told, the federal government has secured 358 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines — an insurance policy if some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective in clinical trials.
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