NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan prepares for an emergency meeting of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, July 16, 2018. Kwan is accusing the Canada Revenue Agency of “going after refugees” after two Syrian refugee families in B.C. became the target of audits of their Canada Child Benefit income. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada Revenue Agency ‘going after’ refugees: NDP MP Jenny Kwan

A family of Syrian refugees in British Columbia got a tax bill for $27,000

A family of Syrian refugees in British Columbia got a tax bill for $27,000 after the Canada Revenue Agency asked the parents to prove their children live with them in Canada — by getting a letter from their school in July.

The private group that sponsored both families has raised concern about the way the tax agency dealt with these refugees, which led to one family having its benefits halted and a government demand that they repay money they’d already received.

Leona Etmanski of the refugee support committee at St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C., says the refugees were asked to prove their children were still living and attending school in Canada, but the documentation they had to produce was difficult for them to gather.

READ MORE: Syrian refugee family building new life in Greater Victoria

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) officials told them to provide a letter from their children’s school verifying the children were enrolled, but one of the families was asked for this information when school officials were off work for the summer. They were also asked for a letter from their landlords, but due to B.C.’s overheated housing market, the families had moved and tracking down their original landlords for paperwork was challenging.

When the church settlement agency, which is partially funded by the federal government, asked if its members could provide confirmation of the families’ ongoing presence in Canada instead, the CRA said no, Etmanski says.

“I think there could have been other ways for them to gather the information,” she said in an interview Monday. “Could not the settlement agency be the guarantor, because they are the settlement worker from the day they arrived in Canada?” she asked. “Or could not a letter from the sponsorship committee be sufficient to guarantee that they verify that this family has indeed stayed in Canada with their children? There must be better ways, other than gathering information from landlords and school principals, specifically in the summer months.”

Etmanski also wonders why both of the refugee families that her group has sponsored ended up with audits of their Canada Child Benefit payments and whether this means other refugee newcomers to Canada are also being audited.

“What are the odds — the two families that our committee has sponsored get the audit letter?”

READ MORE: Two years later: Most Syrian refugees settling well in B.C., report says

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan brought the issue to the floor of the House of Commons, raising concern about the CRA targeting refugees rather than focusing on “fat cat CEOs” and corporate tax-avoidance schemes.

“It’s very alarming that CRA is going after these refugee families,” she said in an interview. “The government keeps saying that they put $1 billion into going after people who evade paying their taxes and so on — is this what they’re doing with their billion dollars?”

The Canada Revenue Agency denies any suggestion it is targeting refugees with audits.

The agency promotes awareness of the Canada Child Benefit to newcomers and is part of a multi-departmental effort to provide information to refugees on tax filing and benefit entitlements when they arrive Canada, said Emilie Gagnon, press secretary for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

“Let me be clear, the CRA does not target refugees nor any other subset of the Canadian population with their benefit review process,” said Emilie Gagnon, press secretary for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier.

“The CRA works closely with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to ensure that all benefit related questions are answered and also aims to quickly resolve any problematic cases that arise.”

But Etmanski believes the tax agency should change its policies on how it deals with refugees, given their language barriers and lack of knowledge about how to handle Canadian bureaucracy.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Editorial: Make it out to the night market this summer

First Commercial Street Night Market of the summer is this Thursday, June 20

Nanaimo Ladysmith school district will seek input on strategic plan

Stated goals include reconciliation and environmental stewardship

Regional District of Nanaimo creating strategic plan for parks and trails

RDN manages more than 200 community and regional parks

Man suffers burns, dog dies in fire in Nanaimo

Structure burns down on Clifford Road property in Cedar

City of Nanaimo urging extreme caution in parks during fire season

Smoking, campfires, barbecues not allowed in city parks, users should be aware of fire hazards

Raptors announcer credited with calming massive crowd after shooting

Matt Devlin, the Raptors’ play-by-play announcer since 2008, was praised for preventing panic from spreading

Sexting teens at risk of harms including depression, substance use: study

Use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana were also found to be associated with sexting

Deadline for cabinet to decide future of Trans Mountain expansion is today

International Trade Minister Jim Carr described the decision as ‘very significant’

Mom describes finding son ‘gone’ on first day of B.C. inquest into overdose death

Resulting recommendations could change handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis

Dash-cam video in trial of accused B.C. cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

Threats charge against Surrey’s Jaspal Atwal stayed

Atwal, 64, was at centre of controversy in 2018 over his attendance at prime minister’s reception in India

Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak in Surrey

He’s keynote speaker at Surrey Environment and Business Awards luncheon by Surrey Board of Trade Sept. 17

Most Read