Canada Revenue Agency employees fired for being drunk and watching porn

Those of you who think that Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is staffed by soulless bean counters who live only to separate you from your hard-earned money could not be more wrong.

A report by QMI Agency suggests that far from being hunched over big old adding machines all day calculating your tax obligation to the last penny, some revenuers find time to amuse themselves.

According documents obtained by QMI Agency under access-to-information legislation, CRA dealt with 927 cases of misconduct over a five-year period beginning in 2006. That's almost 200 a year, though admittedly CRA has some 40,000 employees.

The transgressions range from surfing porn on the Internet to being drunk, taking peeks at the confidential tax files of relatives and fellow workers or soliciting their clients for help with side businesses.

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One staffer surfed porn sites for more than two hours and downloaded hundreds of photos. The documents also revealed 34 cases of CRA employees looking at confidential tax records, QMI reported.

According to the documents, 113 people were suspended and five fired. It's not clear if other forms of discipline were handed out in other cases or how many were proven groundless.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart told QMI she was investigating some of the abuses, concerned about the potential risk of misuse of confidential tax files.

CRA spokesman Philippe Brideau said the agency takes protection of the Canadian tax system very seriously and that if suspicions were well founded the offenders were punished.

"Incidents involving one employee or a small group of employees do not cast doubt on the honesty and professionalism of thousands of employees," Brideau told QMI via email.

A story last month in the Toronto Star said CRA ranks with Corrections Canada and Canada Border Services Agency as the departments with the most employees suspended or fired.

It noted a CRA employee in St. John's used a CRA computer to embezzle almost $700,000 by creating phoney tax refunds for dozens of taxpayers, then having the cheques sent to postal boxes he'd set up.

Another CRA employee conducting an audit of a tanning salon grabbed a worker's breasts and tried to kiss her, the Star found. Yet another trolled for bribes from three corporate clients.

The Star studied records going back a decade and found 171 CRA employees had been fired for misconduct in that period, the worst in the federal public service.

And let's not forget David Gallant, who got fired recently from his part-time job at a CRA call centre for creating a video game that made fun of his job.

CTV News reported a while back that a CRA internal report found an average of 85 employees a year were being disciplined for web surfing on the job and sending offensive emails.

"(One) employee browsed the Internet an average of three hours and 32 minutes per day," according to one investigation reported by CTV News. "He installed four unauthorized software (programs) on his workstation."

The same worker had been caught the year before web surfing almost 2 1/2 hours a day, the report said. Still, the second offence drew only lenient discipline because of his "good performance."

The agency told CTV News that it was reviewing its policy on personal use of the Internet, which was restricted to lunch time and personal breaks.

"The agency does not believe that the number of incidents ... is any larger than it would be for other organizations of similar size with a similar approach on the use of their systems, nor would the agency consider the problem as chronic," said Noel Carisse.

Fine. Let them update their Facebook pages or play Farmville as long as it doesn't result in lost productivity. But Canadians have a right to expect CRA staffers not to delve into people's confidential tax files unless it's official business.

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And there's the larger, more corrosive issue of corruption. The RCMP has been peeling back layers of a massive conspiracy involving players in Quebec's mob-connected construction industry and least one CRA employee in Montreal.

The probe, codenamed Operation Coche, resulted in the arrest of construction boss Tony Accurso last summer, as well as Adriano Furgluele, a former CRA auditor, on charges connected to tax evasion, CTV News reported.

Investigators allege Furgluele designed a 17-step plan to outwit CRA. The Mounties said more arrests are likely.

Something to think about while your preparing to file your taxes this year.