OTTAWA — The federal government has ordered that anyone applying for COVID-19 benefits will need to report whether they have recently travelled outside of the country — though it isn’t clear how it will catch and penalize any cheaters.
The government announced the new requirement Monday following an uproar over the possibility that some people might be applying for the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit after having engaged in non-essential travel outside the country.
The benefit pays $500 per week for up to two weeks for anyone required to quarantine because of COVID-19. The government says it was intended to help workers who may have been exposed to the illness but whose employers do not offer paid sick leave.
The new rules will apply to anyone claiming the sick-leave benefit and two other federal support programs, the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, after Jan. 3.
Canadians who have travelled will see the processing of their applications delayed until new legislation taking aim at non-essential travellers can be adopted, according to the government.
“We have heard Canadians and are tightening the eligibility criteria for our COVID recovery benefits,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said in a statement.
“We will ensure that these measures have no unintended consequences and will target individuals who travel for discretionary and non-essential purposes. This is not the time to travel abroad.”
The government did not say how it planned to identify people who have travelled but fail to tell the government when they apply for any of the benefits, nor did it reveal what penalties would apply to those who don’t self-report their travel.
Qualtrough’s office did not immediately respond to questions on Monday.
Concerns about the sick-leave benefit were first raised earlier this month by Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who said it was “absurd in most cases” that anyone able to leave the country would need government support to quarantine.
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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party pushed the Liberals to create the benefit, also weighed in, saying Canadians were “rightly upset those who can afford to go on a vacation could get $1,000 to stay home when they come back.”
The debate over what to do with the sick-leave benefit coincided with revelations that some federal and provincial politicians ignored their own government’s advice and engaged in non-essential travel abroad during the holidays.
Those included Rod Phillips, who resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after a holiday trip to the Caribbean exploded in controversy, as well as a number of Alberta MLAs and political staffers. Premier Jason Kenney initially declined to punish them, but then said he had heard from Albertans that there needed to be more consequences.
Several Liberal and Conservative members of Parliament as well as one NDP MP were also forced to give up their parliamentary duties after it was revealed they had travelled over the holidays.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2021.