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CERB Fraud & What To Do If Charged?

Posted on December 12, 2020

Ross Lutz Barristers CERB Benefit 2020

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Canadian government created a financial assistance program called the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). CERB allowed Canadians financial support of $2000 over four weeks if they qualified for the benefit.

Due to the situation’s emergent nature, the federal government prioritized quickly in order to get the benefit money out to every individual that applied without first verifying their eligibility. This created an environment where ineligible people could apply for and receive the benefit.

Many Canadians took advantage of the program and received the benefit, even if they were ineligible. Others received CERB twice by abusing the system. Both of these are considered CERB fraud, which the government is cracking down on. We will explore CERB fraud, Bill C-17, and possible charges for those who commit fraud.

What Is CERB Fraud?

CERB fraud applies to individuals who intentionally but falsely receive the relief benefit when they do not qualify for it. It can also describe abusing CERB by purposely trying to receive it twice, not paying back mistaken double payments, or receiving another form of financial assistance on top of CERB. For example, if an individual was receiving Employment Insurance (EI) and successfully applied for CERB, this would be considered fraud.

To understand what CERB fraud is, we have to understand the eligibility requirements that the government released when launching the program. The requirements were in place so only those who needed assistance would apply. Some of the requirements were:

  • A Resident Of Canada And At Least 15 Years Old
  • Earned A Minimum Of $5,000 Either In The Year Of 2019 Or In The Last 12 Months
  • Not Currently Receiving EI Or CERB For The Same Eligibility Period
  • Not Currently Receiving EI Or CERB For The Same Eligibility Period
  • No Longer Able To Work Due To COVID-19 Or Work Hours Were Reduced
  • Not Making Over $1,000 In A Month While Receiving CERB

Anyone who violated these requirements when applying for CERB has committed fraud and can be punished under the law.

Ross Lutz Barristers CERB benefit cheques

What Is Bill C-17?

The Liberal government’s response to prevent fraud was to propose a new bill, Bill C-17, which recommended punishments for people abusing the benefit. The bill proposed retroactive fines and a potential of six months in jail for anyone found guilty. The opposition blocked Bill C-17, citing that they didn’t feel it was right to retroactively impose criminal charges. Instead, they proposed allowing individuals to voluntarily pay back the benefit to avoid future charges. Many Canadians who were ineligible did choose to return their CERB payments voluntarily.

Prime Minister Trudeau did insist he would not punish Canadians who simply made a genuine mistake when applying. Those who voluntarily paid back the benefit and did not understand the benefit’s requirements are not likely to be punished. However, those who participated in larger CERB fraud schemes, including purposely finding ways to benefit more than once, are on the line for fraud charges. The government introduced an information line for individuals to report potential CERB fraud in an attempt to lay charges.

The Liberal government has not proposed another bill to punish those committing fraud, but it doesn’t mean there are no current consequences.

Fraud Charges

Even though the proposed legislation did not pass, those that commit CERB fraud can still be charged with fraud. If an individual applied knowing they were ineligible, they have knowingly committed an act of fraud. Fraud by definition is the act of deceit, falsehood or fraudulent means that have defrauded an individual or public or property, money or services, according to the Criminal Code of Canada.

If you collected over $5,000 in CERB payments, the maximum amount of possible jail time is 14 years. You may also face additional fines and penalties for defrauding the government. If you received under $5,000 in false CERB payments, you’re potentially facing a maximum of two years in prison along with a $5,000 fine.

You must contact a lawyer immediately if you are being charged with CERB fraud. Fraud in any form is a severe charge. The consequences can change how you can live your life in the future. If you do not retain an experienced and qualified criminal defence lawyer to help defend your charges, you risk facing the maximum charges.

Contact our team at Ross Lutz Barristers today if you are currently charged with fraud related to a CERB scheme. Our legal team will defend your charges to seek the best possible outcome for your case.