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Ottawa looking to ‘rapidly’ close loophole in sickness benefit

Tuesday, January 05, 2021 @ 3:54 PM | By Terry Davidson

Ottawa will be making it so Canadians returning from non-essential travel will be barred from accessing the federal government’s COVID-19 sickness benefit for their mandatory quarantine.    

On Jan. 5, in his first address to the country for the new year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will take steps to address a loophole that has allowed such travellers to claim the $500 per week Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) for the two-week self-isolation required upon their return from abroad. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The CRSB was put in place for those unable to work due to sickness or needing to self-isolate due to COVID-19, as well as for those at greater risk of contracting the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

It is given at $500 per week for up to two weeks.

Some travellers were reportedly claiming the $1,000 for their required two-week quarantine.

The CRSB, said Trudeau, is not meant for them.

“It’s not intended for travellers who are quarantining when they return from holiday,” said Trudeau. “This program was created to give people sick leave if they needed it and otherwise wouldn’t have [it] from their employer. It is not there to pay for someone’s post-vacation quarantine. … Anyone who travelled for non-essential reasons will not be able to access the sickness benefit. So many people gave up so much more than just a vacation over the holidays. There’s a reason so many Canadians made those tough … decisions. There’s a reason they did their part. It was for the people around them.”   

On Dec. 31, 2020, the federal government announced that, starting Jan. 7, air travellers returning to Canada will have to take a COVID-19 test before boarding their return flight. This, however, does not eliminate the need for them to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Those able to prove they were unable to have a test done abroad will reportedly have to spend two weeks of quarantine at a federally approved facility when they get back to Canada.

When answering reporters’ questions, Trudeau said the improper use of the CRSB was unforeseen.

“We didn’t imagine … people would use it to pay for their quarantines after having gone south for a … vacation,” said Trudeau. “That is something we are going to fix right now. We are looking at ways of doing it. I’ve asked the ministers responsible to come up with solutions rapidly to ensure that it is there to keep Canadians safe and to protect people who need this sickness benefit to stay away from work — not as a way of paying for quarantine after they get back.”

Noted was the recent spate of politicians being caught taking trips, including Liberal MPs Sameer Zuberi (Pierrefonds-Dollard) and Kamal Khera (Brampton West), who were both found to have quietly taken trips to the U.S.

(Since then, Zuberi has stepped down from his House of Commons committee roles and Khera resigned as parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development.)

Trudeau was asked about the damage this does to the messaging being put forth that Canadians need to stay put because of rapidly rising COVID-19 numbers.

“One of the things that has been really, really important … for Canadians is that we’re all in this together — that we’re looking out for each other. Because the actions of any one person can have a positive or negative [impact] on the health situation of your neighbour. … That’s why I was disappointed to find two of our caucus members … travelled, and … there were consequences in them resigning from their committee roles. And that’s why all Canadians were so disappointed to see so many examples of folks who should have known better, doing things that put us all at risk.”

As noted, Zuberi and Khera are not alone in their transgressions.  

It was recently discovered that Alberta Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled to California twice since March to reportedly deal with maintenance issues on a home he has there, while Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton was stripped of her role as a shadow critic after it was discovered she travelled to Greece to visit her sick grandmother.

In Quebec, Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand visited Barbados with his wife over the holidays, and on Dec. 31, Ontario MPP Rod Phillips stepped down from his role as that province’s finance minister after it was found he took a trip with his wife to the Caribbean over the holidays.  

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