Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clarified on Tuesday that punishments will not be issued to Canadians who made mistakes on government aid applications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a routine press conference, the prime minister said fines or jail time would not be given to anyone who mistakenly applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or accidentally claimed it while also receiving the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) from their employer.
“The Canada Emergency Response Benefit was put in place in a way we knew would maximize the speed with which it would reach the millions of Canadians that needed it,” said Trudeau from outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
The prime minister highlighted the fact that there were not a lot of background checks or validations upfront in an effort to get money out quickly.
“If we made things too complicated, if we ensured a lot of checks, we would never have got the cheques out in a few weeks to millions of Canadians who desperately needed the money,” said Trudeau.
Trudeau added that the government was expecting mistakes to be made from the beginning as the unfolding situation was unprecedented.
“Now there may be a number of people who mistakenly took both the CERB and the wage subsidy because they weren’t sure what they were going to do,” Trudeau continued. “Those people will simply have to pay back the one that they shouldn’t have taken.”
According to Trudeau, the Canadian government is not looking at punishing people who made honest mistakes, however, are targeting fraudsters who tried to take advantage of the aid programs for criminal benefit.
“Unfortunately, in every situation, there are a few criminals who try to take advantage of a moment of solidarity, a moment where we are in crisis and trying to help each other out, by deliberately defrauding the system,” said Trudeau.
Trudeau acknowledged there will need to be “concrete measures” for any fraudster who took advantage of the government benefits. The prime minister suggests this will be done on a case by case basis.
A draft copy of a CERB bill that has not been introduced to Parliament yet was leaked on Monday. The draft bill pointed to fines and imprisonment in reference to violations. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has since responded to the draft copy, claiming he would not be in favour of a bill that would punish Canadians who applied for financial aid during a time of national crisis and disarray.