Conservatives call for audit to determine how organized crime accessed pandemic benefits

·2 min read
FINTRAC says criminals and organized crime appeared to have
FINTRAC says criminals and organized crime appeared to have

The Conservatives are calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to launch an audit to determine how organized crime groups got a piece of the federal government's pandemic benefits.

As CBC News reported late last week, individual criminals and organized crime groups appeared to have "knowingly and actively" defrauded the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) and Canada emergency business account (CEBA) program.

According to recently obtained documents, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) — the country's financial intelligence wing — observed that during the first few months of the CERB program, criminal organizations filed multiple applications using stolen identities.

Launched in March, the CERB originally paid $2,000 a month to Canadians whose income took a hit due to the pandemic. The program paid out more than $74 billion before the government transitioned to supporting Canadians through employment insurance.

In a letter to their cabinet counterparts, Conservative National Revenue critic Jake Stewart and Public Safety critic Raquel Dancho called on the government to pinpoint the cause of the fraud and implement better safeguards

"It is unacceptable that taxpayer dollars are bleeding into criminal enterprise, while at the same time, Canada's seniors and most vulnerable are still facing challenges with repayment, dual-stream confusion, and penalties from incorrect communication from your government," reads the letter.

"Canadians cannot afford for organized crime and financial fraud to continue to be an afterthought for your government."

FINTRAC said that since the start of 2020, until Oct. 31 of this year, it received 30,095 suspicious transaction reports in which COVID-related benefits were mentioned — a small percentage of the overall reports.

A FINTRAC spokesperson said it wasn't possible to provide an accurate figure for the total amount of CERB/CEBA funds that may have gone to organized crime.

A spokesperson for the minister in charge of the CRA said there have been ongoing audits of the CERB.

In March, the federal auditor general found that the government missed chances to flag fraudulent claims for emergency benefits last year.

While Auditor General Karen Hogan acknowledged the government's speed in getting aid out the door during the early months of the pandemic emergency, she flagged occasions when the CRA could have made changes to keep CERB from going to the wrong people.

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