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

A campaign encourages families to put down their phones and talk this Mother’s Day

OpenTable’s #DiningMode gets Okanagan restaurants on board with a no phone policy while dining

Okanagan experience for the Blue Man Group

The world tour of the Blue Man Group came to Penticton this week for two shows.

Olympian Andi Naude retires from freestyle skiing

Penticton native skied in 62 World Cup single and dual moguls events in her career

Syrup commercially produced from Summerland maple trees

Maple Roch produces 50 bottles of syrup after trees in the community were tapped

Photos: Saddle broncs and bullriders raise the dust in Similkameen

The 54th annual Chopaka Easter Jackpot Rodeo took place near Keremeos Sunday

VIDEO: Driver in bizarre hit-and-run at B.C. car dealership turns herself in

Police believe alcohol was a factor in incident causing estimated $15,000 in damages

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

B.C. woman, 76, challenges alcohol-screening laws after failing to give breath sample

Norma McLeod was unable to provide a sample because of her medical conditions

New report on 2017 wildfires calls for better coordination with B.C. First Nations

Tsilhqot’in National Government documents 2017 disaster and lists 33 calls to action

Okanagan experience for the Blue Man Group

The world tour of the Blue Man Group came to Penticton this week for two shows.

B.C. youth coach banned amid sexual harassment, bullying scandal: Water Polo Canada

Justin Mitchell can’t take part in Water Polo Canada events or clubs

Wilson-Raybould: Feds want to just ‘manage the problem’ of Indigenous Peoples

Former federal justice minister speaks at First Nations Justice Council meeting in B.C.

Okanagan College names new fundraising director

Helen Jackman will join the college as executive director of the Okanagan College Foundation and director of advancement

Most Read