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Ottawa tables ‘time limits’ bill, but opposition won’t fast-track without compromises

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 @ 5:47 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 10, 2020 @ 6:15 PM


As anticipated, the minority Liberal government introduced its fourth COVID-19-related legislation in the afternoon of June 10, but by early evening federal opposition parties were still refusing to fast-track the proposed law, including rejecting a last-minute Liberal proposal to split off the more contentious parts of Bill C-17 into a separate bill.

At press time, the Commons was not scheduled to reconvene until June 17 (at which time MPs must debate the government’s supplementary estimates). However, the parties were talking about reconvening earlier to pass the bill, particularly parts that would authorize a benefit payment to persons with disabilities.

The opposition parties expressed different demands for their support for the government’s bill, notably the Official Opposition Conservatives, who want the Commons to resume regular sittings to better hold the government’s spending to account, and the NDP who want the government to further expand eligibility for the proposed one-time disability payment, as well as extend the length of time jobless Canadians can collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and drop the new fines and jail time the Liberals are proposing for CERB fraud and other abuse.

Bill C-17 contains four disparate parts that are all connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the bill’s summary, Part 1 would amend the Income Tax Act to revise the eligibility criteria for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy in order to support those employers hardest hit by COVID-19.

Part 2 would enact the Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19), which addresses the need for flexibility in relation to certain time limits and other periods that are established by or under Acts of Parliament and that are difficult or impossible to meet as a result of the exceptional circumstances produced by COVID-19.

In particular, the Time Limits and Other Periods Act (COVID-19) would:
(a) suspend, for a maximum of six months, certain time limits in relation to proceedings before courts;
(b) temporarily enable cabinet ministers to suspend or extend time limits and to extend other periods in relation to specified Acts and regulations for a maximum of six months; and
(c) provide for the transparent exercise of the powers it confers and for parliamentary oversight over the exercise of those powers.

According to Bill C-17, Part 3 would amend the Income Tax Act to authorize the use by officials, or disclosure to government of Canada officials, of taxpayer information solely for the purpose of a one-time payment to persons with disabilities for reasons related to COVID-19. It would also amend the Children’s Special Allowances Act to authorize the disclosure of information for the purpose of that one-time payment.

Part 4 of the proposed Act would amend the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act to, among other things, add penalties to enhance the administration and enforcement of the Act and allow a review of decisions made under the Act, states the bill’s summary. “It also provides that a worker is not eligible for an income support payment if they do not return to work when it is reasonable to do so or decline a reasonable job offer.”

Bill C-17 states (s. 12.1(1)) that the relevant government Minister may impose on a person who made an application for an income support payment under s. 5 CERB or on another person acting for that person, a penalty for each of the following acts or omissions if the Minister becomes aware of facts that in the Minister’s opinion establish that the person or other person has:

(a) in relation to the application, made a representation that they knew was false or misleading;
(b) being required under this Act to provide information, provided information or made a representation that they knew was false or misleading;
(c) knowingly failed to declare to the Minister all or some of the person’s income for the period in respect of which they applied for the payment
(d) made an application or declaration under this Act that they knew was false or misleading because of the non-disclosure of facts;
(e) knowingly, in any manner, received an income support payment that they were not eligible to receive under this Act; or
(f) participated in, assented to or acquiesced in an act or omission mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e).

Bill C-17 says the Minister may set the amount of the penalty for each act or omission at not more than three times the amount of an income-support payment for a week that falls within the period in respect of which the application was made.

However, a penalty “must not be imposed under section 12.1 if (a) a prosecution for the act or omission has been initiated against the person who made an application for an income support payment under s. 5 or another person who acted for that person; or (b) 36 months have passed since the day on which the act or omission occurred.

The Minister may rescind the imposition of a penalty under section 12.1,or reduce the penalty, on the presentation of new facts or on being satisfied that the penalty was imposed without knowledge of, or on the basis of a mistake as to, some material fact.

The Minister may also issue a warning instead of setting the amount of a penalty for an act or omission under subsection 12.1.

Bill C-17 also would create new offences, stating that (14.1(1)) every person is guilty of an offence who:

(a) in relation to an application for an income support payment made under s. 5, makes a representation that they know to be false or misleading;
(b) being required under this Act to provide information, provides information or makes a representation that the person knows to be false or misleading;
(c) knowingly fails to declare to the Minister all or some of the person’s income for the period in respect of which the person applied for the payment;
(d) makes an application or declaration under this Act that the person knows is false or misleading because of the non-disclosure of facts;
(e) knowingly, in any manner, receives an income support payment that the person is not eligible to receive under this Act; or
(f) participates in, assents to or acquiesces in an act or omission mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e).

However the bill says no prosecution for an offence under this section may be instituted if a penalty for that conduct has been imposed under s. 12.1.

Bill C-17 states: Every person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to, as the case may be, (a) a fine of not more than $5,000, plus an amount of not more than double the amount of the income support payment that was or would have been paid as a result of committing the offence; or (b) both the fine and imprisonment for a term of not more than six months.

Bill C-17 states that ss. 7, 8(1) and (2) of the proposed Act “are deemed to have come into force on March 25, 2020.”

Its transitional provisions state that s. 8.1 of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act applies regardless of the date on which the minister’s decision was made.

Moreover the penalties and warnings provided respectively in ss. 12.1 and 12.4 of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act “apply regardless of the date on which the act or omission occurred.” Section 12.6 of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit Act also applies regardless of the date on which the debt arose.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Cristin Schmitz at Cristin.Schmitz@lexisnexis.ca or at 613-820-2794.