Employment Minister Unaware When Department Employees Were Being Investigated for Falsely Claiming CERB Benefits

Canada’s employment minister testified in February that she was unaware when employees of her department were being investigated for falsely claiming pandemic benefits.

Carla Qualtrough appeared before the House of Commons standing committee on human resources on Feb. 7, as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter. She was asked a number of questions following the termination of 49 department employees fired for applying for and receiving up to $2,000 in monthly benefits from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) while still working for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

CERB was a program started in 2020 that paid $500 per week in benefits to Canadians who lost their jobs or were otherwise directly affected by COVID-19 such as due to closures or lockdowns. Any individual who earned at least $5,000 before taxes in 2020 or the previous year could apply.

Qualtrough was asked in committee by Kelowna MP Tracy Gray whether it was brought to her attention that there were employees in ESDC being investigated.

“Not at that level of detail, no,” the minister replied.

Gray asked, “When were you made aware of the results of this investigation, the discovery of fraudulent CERB claims within your department?”

Qualtrough responded that she found out the day the story “broke” in the news. She said her staff briefed her in the morning and that she did not “remember the exact name of the person.”

The minister was asked if investigations were ongoing, and if there could be more firings than the 49 announced already. The minister apologized and asked that some questions be asked of her deputy minister, Jean-François Tremblay.

‘Misrepresentation, Not Fraud’

Tremblay told the committee, “As far as I know, nobody was in a management role. We can look at it, if you like.” He said, “It was misrepresentation, not fraud.”

Qualtrough said that she has been assured that “appropriate processes were followed in the investigations” and that her involvement was restricted to “the process side,” meaning “Here’s how something is going to happen, and here are the possible outcomes.” She said she was “waiting for these processes to play out.”

According to the minister, the department has specifically “let the public service handle all investigations with respect to any kind of issue related to CERB, whether it be fraud or error, specifically making sure and maintaining political distance, if you will, making sure that there’s never any appearance of impropriety.”

She told the committee that these public servants made “poor choices.”

Mary Crescenzi, assistant deputy minister (ADM) of the Integrity Services Branch of Service Canada, a program operated by ESDC, testified at a Feb. 2 meeting of the Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts that the investigation was internal and that police were not called.

Crescenzi said the individuals broke the trust of the employer-employee relationship and their actions resulted in the termination of their security clearances.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is also investigating 10 of its employees suspected of receiving CERB benefits while employed by the agency, as reported by National Post on March 5.

Crescenzi said that the CERB benefits paid to the employees were being treated as “overpayments that must be repaid,” and that the individuals involved would be treated like “any other Canadian that received benefits they were not entitled to.”

The ADM added that the debts were “in the process of being repaid.”

Isaac Teo contributed to this report.

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