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

MP Sorenson: New Year, New Beginning?

Economic outlook not so bright in coming months

Castor and District Ag. Society says it had successful 2018

Hosts Castor Fair, the Castor Rodeo, and farmers market

Snowfall adds some delay to morning commute

The QE2 and area road conditions in central Alberta were partly snow covered

Witness refuses to testify against John Savage

Preliminary hearing on Stettler man for second-degree murder halted, plea bargain made

Defending champions Team Scheidegger will fight to keep title

Stettler hosting 2019 Alberta Scotties provincial women’s bonspiel

VIDEO: Students in MAGA hats mock Native American at Indigenous Peoples March

Diocese in Kentucky says it is investigating the matter, caught on video by onlookers

WATCH: Team Alberta in Red Deer this weekend to prepare for Canada Winter Games

About 250 Team Alberta athletes toured venues and tested out facilities Saturday

CONSUMER REPORT: What to buy each month in 2019 to save money

Resolve to buy all of the things you want and need, but pay less money for them

Anxiety in Alaska as endless aftershocks rattle residents

Seismologists expect the temblors to continue for months, although the frequency has lessened

Women’s March returns across the U.S. amid shutdown and controversy

The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people

Ponoka cowboy Vernon (Bud) Butterfield passes away

The Ponoka Stampede Association announced his passing Friday

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Ponoka RCMP are looking for a missing man

Police say he may be in Drayton Valley and they are worried for his wellbeing

Dog dies saving B.C. family from burning home

Homeowners safe but one pet missing, another confirmed dead following fire

Most Read