Prime minister Justin Trudeau defended Ottawa’s rollout of COVID-related restrictions and programs on Friday, saying items such as the Canada-U.S. border closure and an expedited delivery of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program were deliberate policies that were heavily assessed before being carried out.
The response follows reports that fraudsters were targeting the CERB by making false applications and receiving funds when they do not fit the requirements for receiving federal aid. But Trudeau was unapologetic about Ottawa’s approach, noting that the alternative was a significant wait time for federal officials to get emergency funding to Canadians in need.
“In this situation, we made the deliberate choice to get the money out the door to millions of Canadians who needed it and go after – retroactively – people who may have defrauded the system,” Trudeau said.
“We had a very straight-forward choice that we had to make from the beginning: Do we get the money out as quickly as possible to everyone who needed it, and then bring in measures that go back and create consequences and get the money back from people who took it without needing it? Or do we put in place carefully a process that verifies carefully every applicant so that only those who needed it get it? The problem with the second approach was that it would have been months before delivering to the well-over 7 million Canadians who needed it the CERB.”
Trudeau did note that Ottawa will be going after those who defrauded the system in the future.
The prime minister also defended the country’s enforcement of the U.S.-Canada border-crossing ban, as reports have now surfaced that families have been forcibly separated by the border – unable to cross to reunited with loved ones who are usually living in the same household. Trudeau said that -while he feels for those who are caught in the border-crossing freeze – Ottawa needs to prioritize controlling the COVD outbreak before anything else.
“We know that Canadians are facing extremely difficult situations because of COVID-19,” he said. “We need to do what’s necessary right now to keep Canadians safe. That is our priority… to make sure that we get it under control and prevent importation from other countries. I know it’s difficult on Canadians, but if we make a wrong step in the coming weeks, everything we’ve sacrificed in the past two months would be for nothing - if we see a massive surge of COVID-19.”