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Woman mistakenly declared dead by Service Canada for almost a year demands answers – CBC.ca

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At first, Teresa Shum and her husband, Mark, thought the situation was funny. The Markham, Ont., couple received a notice in February from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that one of Mark’s tax credits was declined due to his marital status being changed to widower.

“We were really taken by surprise,” Shum said. “I was like ‘I’m not dead, I’m right here.’ “

The humour quickly dissipated when they realized the situation couldn’t be fixed immediately and Shum, who is retired, would be missing out on certain benefits. She says they filed an appeal with the CRA right away, and her status was corrected there within about a month after three phone interviews to prove she was, in fact, alive.

However, the CRA sent her a letter directing her to contact Service Canada, where they said the incorrect update that she had died in October 2021 had originated. 

So in April, Shum set out to have the Service Canada mistake corrected. It would take her another five months of calls and visits to have the record officially changed.

Service Canada told CBC News in an emailed statement earlier this month that it had removed the date of death on Shum’s account as of Aug. 31. It said this incident is not a regular occurrence. 

But the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling for better service from agencies like Service Canada, saying taxpayers like Shum have often complained of long wait times on the phone and in person. Meanwhile Shum is demanding answers about how this happened in the first place.

Long waits, passed from agent to agent

“How can anyone just change your data and tell you that you’re dead without a death certificate?” Shum wondered when she started reaching out to Service Canada. 

“Of course when you call [Service Canada], every call is a three hour wait,” she said. “No one knew what was going on so I decided to go into Service Canada.” 

Shum says when she visited a Service Canada office in Markham in April, she waited in line for hours before she was interviewed by an agent who told her to submit several forms to different departments of Service Canada including the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Social Insurance Number (SIN). 

“Then I was told it would take six to eight weeks to have the record fixed.”

But at the end of the eight weeks, the agent called Shum to inform her they had missed a form and she had to come back to Service Canada and go through the process all over again. This time, she recalled, the agent said there would be an “urgent” tag on her case so that she wouldn’t have to wait another six to eight weeks.

Every agent said the same thing, ‘Someone is taking care of it.’​​​​​– Teresa Shum, on her experience with Service Canada

When she was still unable to access her Service Canada account in July and hadn’t heard back from anybody, Shum tried calling again. She said she spoke to multiple agents throughout the month.

“Every agent said the same thing, ‘Someone is taking care of it,’ ” she said, noting that some of the agents said they had no idea what was going on with her case because they weren’t involved in previous conversations with agents.

Shum said during one of those calls, an agent told her Immigration Canada was taking care of her situation.

“I said ‘I’m a Canadian citizen.’ … She didn’t even check my account before she answered me.”

During this period of time, Shum, who is retired, was not able to apply for her CPP or Old Age Security Benefits.

She also reached out to her Member of Parliament for Markham—Stouffville, Helena Jaczek, who Shum said also tried to help her speed up the process.

Calls for better service: Canadian Taxpayers Federation

Jay Goldberg, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says they’ve seen many instances of poor service from the CRA and Service Canada including long wait times and difficulty getting answers from agents.

“These organizations need to remember we’re the taxpayers, we’re the ones in charge. They’re serving us, not the other way around,” Goldberg said.

He describes the mistake with Shum’s file as a “huge error” and says Service Canada should have been working around the clock to fix it.

Jay Goldberg, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says it’s not appropriate that the taxpayer is expected to spend their time rectifying an error like a case of mistaken death. (Submitted by Jay Goldberg)

“To hear this example where we have this poor woman who’s been declared dead who’s not, waiting hours and hours to try to get some attention from Service Canada, it’s unacceptable.”

David Rotfleisch, a Toronto tax lawyer, did not work on Shum’s case specifically, but he said there should be one person designated within the system to help deal with incidents like this.

“The simple solution is to have someone dealing with this one particular issue, somebody co-ordinating at the federal level.”

Service Canada responds 

In a statement to CBC News, Service Canada said in December 2021, a date of death was added to Shum’s file indicating her as deceased as of Oct. 15, 2021. Service Canada said after Shum’s visit in April, it took steps to remove the date of death from the system but the process was not completed correctly.

“On August 31, 2022, Service Canada completed the process correctly and removed the date of death on her account,” the statement said, adding Shum can now access her account to apply for her CPP retirement benefits. 

Service Canada also stated that this instance was unusual, and it’s still investigating how the error occurred and why the change wasn’t processed correctly back in April.

A sign reading "Service Canada."
In a statement to CBC News, Service Canada said cases like Shum’s are unusual, and that it is still investigating how the error occurred and why the change wasn’t processed correctly the first time. (Christian Milette/Radio-Canada)

The CRA said the cause of the error can vary.

“It could be human error, a miscommunication from another government department, or, most often, a mistake made when a return is filed on behalf of a deceased person with an incorrect SIN number,” the tax agency said in a statement.

For its part, the CRA said it had already implemented a number of safeguards in the system prior to Shum’s case, to lower the likelihood of this error from occurring. Those include revising forms and procedures to make it less likely that a taxpayer can make an error in their tax filing, and collaborating with other government departments to validate records.

“While the issue still occurs, the prevalence is notably reducing,” the statement read.

Shum says she deserves to know why and how this happened. She feels like her security was breached, because her data was changed without her knowing about it.

“The information was sent to every single department, fast. But when I want to correct it, it takes me almost a year to do it,” she said.

“The inconvenience, the frustration, the time and the effort, it’s not good.”

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Joly to raise abortion, sexual violence in closing UN speech

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is urging countries to uphold women’s rights and abortion access while rooting out sexual violence, as the United Nations General Assembly comes to a close.

In a speech today in New York, Joly will summarize Canada’s priorities and concerns in foreign relations.

That includes being part of “a global coalition in support of equality” that will “defend against the growing attacks on women’s rights and freedoms,” according to drafted remarks in French.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are being rolled back or denied in too many countries,” Joly’s drafted remarks say.

“Canada will always stand up for your right to choose.”

Though the drafted section on women’s rights does not mention the United States, Joly’s comments come after months of backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to ban abortions, with some seeking to prosecute those who help women end their pregnancies in other jurisdictions.

Joly’s remarks instead mention women targeted by autocratic governments, such as the Taliban preventing Afghan girls from attending school. She calls out Myanmar’s military junta imprisoning female democracy activists and sexually assaulting Rohingya women.

The speech cites Iran’s crackdown on protesters seeking accountability after the death of Mahsa Amini, when morality police arrested her for “unsuitable attire” in allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Joly also notes Ukrainian women have been subjected to sexual violence by occupying Russian forces.

Joly argues deliberate policy choices are resulting in rising violence against women, who are excluded from “the negotiating table, the boardroom, the classroom.”

The speech is likely to take place around noon local time, and will include some of the themes raised last week in New York by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His remarks surrounded climate change and international development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Military en route to assist with recovery efforts

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Residents of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec are coming to terms with the full scope of the damage left behind after post-tropical storm Fiona tore through the region over the weekend as one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts, with federal Defence Minister Anita Anand saying Sunday that about 100 troops a piece were either in place or en route to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to provide assistance with the cleanup effort.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.

However, he added that Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed for recovery from a financial perspective, especially for Canadians who have lost everything. He said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to get essential supplies to those who need them.

At Fiona’s peak on Saturday, more than 500,000 customers across Atlantic Canada were without power, but by early Monday morning that number had been lowered to less than 300,000, with the vast majority in Nova Scotia. But even as crews workaround the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be days before the power is back on for everyone.

Authorities in western Newfoundland confirmed Fiona’s first Canadian fatality on Sunday. RCMP said a 73-year-old woman’s body was recovered from the water more than 24 hours after a massive wave struck her home, tearing away part of the basement. Her name was not immediately released.

The cause of death of a second person on P.E.I. has yet to be determined, but the Island’s acting director of public safety told a news conference that preliminary findings pointed towards “generator use.” No further details were provided.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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