VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As millions of Canadians apply for Employment Insurance and Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s new concern that thousands of potentially dubious claims are being ignored by federal government auditors.
A memo distributed last month by Employment and Social Development Canada obtained by the National Post appears to instruct agents to continue payments, even if evidence of potential abuse of the EI system is uncovered.
“Do not impose a stop pay and so not refer the file to integrity [services branch] unless it is considered an urgent investigation,” the note reads, according to the Post.
An anonymous source also tells the paper that some 200,000 applications have been “red-flagged” because of dubious claims of past employment income and other matters. The source expressed doubts that any of the claims will ever be investigated, since each one would take days to complete.
The number of claims flagged is not necessarily an indication of the prevalence of fraud. The federal government has said its priority is getting money to Canadians as quickly as possible, and recover unwarranted payouts later.
“We will, whether it be in the upcoming weeks or at tax time next year, reconcile accounts and make sure people didn’t game the system,” Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said during a news conference last month.
However, Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Aaron Wudrick is worried now that the lack of enforcement is known, it will be “open season” on abuse.
“The concern is they’re not even trying to crack down on abuse,” he tells NEWS 1130. “I understand that, given the circumstances, they might have to get the money out first and ask questions later. But they should still be asking questions.
“There are resources in the government that can be redeployed, there are government employees that are not doing anything right now. They might need to look at reassigning some of those people to do some of the investigating,” Wudrick adds.
NEWS 1130 has reached out to Employment and Social Development Canada for comment. The authenticity of the memo obtained by the National Post has not been independently verified.