Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak tonight on Motion No. 43 put forward by my colleague, which instructs the finance committee to study and report on the means of creating an enforceable duty of care.
I feel that when I come to this chamber, I come with years of experience of working with constituents who have dealt with Canada Revenue Agency issues. That is what I would like to speak to this evening, as well as sharing some of my constituents' issues and some of the settlements we have gone through in the past.
I know that the previous speakers who spoke in the first hour of this debate have discussed the motion, including files such as Irv Leroux and constituents from their own ridings. This evening, I would like to share some of the situations that occurred in my years as a constituency assistant, over the last 11 years.
When we are working as constituency assistants, we work with so many different people. Many people come in with issues, whether it is their passport, Service Canada, or not receiving their old age security, but one of the biggest files that we worked on in Elgin—Middlesex—London had to do with Revenue Canada. It is very difficult for some people to deal with the Canada Revenue Agency.
With the motion that our colleague has put forward, I believe it is very important to understand that there is a service of care and a duty of care that is necessary for the constituents. As a constituency assistant and through members of Parliament offices, we have worked many times on a variety of reviews, whether it is a review of business tax, marital status, child tax benefits, or just a regular income tax return, which can be looked at individually for up to 10 years.
I want to share a couple of particular cases that I had. One started with a good friend of mine who was a chartered accountant. First of all, this gentleman's name is Bill Graham and he has the biggest heart of gold. When one of his clients, who was a retired farmer, came to him with a $1-million debt owed to Revenue Canada, he decided it to do it pro bono. Within a few months, he asked me if I would join his team to see if we could get any movement on the Canada Revenue Agency file.
This gentleman, who was aging, had a wife who had over the previous two years become blind. Their son and a nephew had also passed away. He, himself, had many failing health issues. Due to some arbitrary audits that were done on his farm, it was found that he owed a $1 million.
I recognize that a lot of times when arbitrary audits happen to people through Canada Revenue Agency, it is because people have not provided some information or put forward some of the requests, whether it is a tax return that is necessary, such as a T2, or a corporate income tax return, or whether it was just their personal income taxes.
He was not able or capable of doing so at the time, so an arbitrary assessment had occurred. This is a gentleman who, right now, if we are talking about his income, probably brings in $25,000 to $30,000 a year. At one time, it was a very successful farm, but that was back in the eighties and nineties. Unfortunately, the situation had changed for him, and because of his deteriorating health and that of his wife, he no longer ran a very lucrative farm.
After this, he had gone to Bill Graham, as I said. This arbitrary assessment was done and he owed over $1 million. Unfortunately, he had tried many times to speak to them, show them the information, show medical notes and a variety of different things, but none of that stuff convinced Revenue Canada to change the decision.
Unfortunately, that is when our office had to get involved. That was when I was working for member of Parliament, Joe Preston. I sent in all of the information, as well as referring back to the taxpayer bill of rights.
I realize the taxpayer bill of rights is truly that; it is sort of like the 10 commandments. It is something that people should live by, but it seems not to be as enforceable as necessary. That is why when we have a motion like Motion No. 43 come through, I fully support that.
In a situation like this, a man who already had deteriorating health was told he owed $1 million. They were putting a lien on his farm. They then started taking all of his old age security that he would receive and withholding that. Any government funds that were being sent to him were being held back. We took a family that was going through a horrible time in the first place, and the Government of Canada, through the Canada Revenue Agency, just made it worse for this poor gentleman and his family.
I am very proud to say that after a number of months' work and many phone calls and all the documentation we sent in, the direction of this file did turn around, and he fortunately did receive the audit back indicating he owed about $10,000 in taxes, not $1 million. Can members imagine, when a person is going through the worst time in his life and receives a bill in the mail for over $1 million in back taxes? Those are the sort of things for which this motion is necessary.
As I was discussing earlier, I spoke to my assistant in St. Thomas. Her name is Kaylie. As I said, we have a very busy constituency office. We were told that ours is one of the busiest in the southwestern Ontario area. We have a person who just deals with our Revenue Canada cases. We deal with about 15 new cases per day, and it is not just changing of addresses. A lot of times, it is dealing with marital status reviews and a variety of things. I said to Kaylie that I needed to know what has happened this week. It is really unfortunate when my assistant can pull from her memory bank something that just happened yesterday because it is that common that we are finding these issues.
I want to share an email that Kaylie sent me today when I asked her to share with me one simple situation. She shared this with me:
A constituent came in the office and had to provide proof of her marital status (her husband was living in the US) so she had to provide proof that the children were living with her and her marital status was single. She provided all the necessary documentation and received back payment for the months of CCTB that she missed. 2 months later, she came into the office with a letter from CRA indicating that she has been selected for a random review to provide proof that she is the primary caregiver for her children.
CRA would not accept the documentation that they had received previously. We have a situation here where a single mother is going through a review, which is very common. It is important to have reviews; fraud happens in the Canada Revenue Agency. However, we are looking at one simple case where the woman had already proven that she had primary care of her children. The next thing we knew, a random review occurred. Random reviews occur where the agency is just doing an arbitrary review of somebody. Once again, the woman needed to submit all documentation proving that she was a primary caregiver, that her children were in school, and a variety of things. At that time, her child tax benefit and any benefits that came from the Canada Revenue Agency such as the Ontario trillium benefit and the GST benefit for families all ceased. The woman was advised that she could not provide the same information that she had provided two months previous, which makes it extremely difficult for families. Luckily, the successful and very good staff that I have, who know they have to go after everything, are working on this.
Imagine people living in a community who do not know to go to their member of Parliament and who have other troubles. Unfortunately, many people walk into our office with a brown envelope. When they see that it is from the Canada Revenue Agency, due to the issues that have happened to them in the past, they bring their unopened mail to us. This is, unfortunately, not uncommon. We have many people who show up and say they are scared to open a letter.
I have dealt with many cases where we see families for months and months who have had their child tax benefit cut off and who owe enormous amounts of money because of past debts. A lot of times it might be something as simple as a T slip that was duplicated and the Canada Revenue Agency thought the people had received more money than they actually did. Sometimes it is about proving that someone stole their social insurance number. That too has happened. We have a case of fraud. I understand, when we are dealing with these things, that it is very important that we recognize that fraud occurs.
In this motion, the member has asked that there be a duty of care. We recognize that the civil term, which I would call customer service of the Government of Canada, needs to be used in situations like this. We are in some cases removing food from people's table, making it so they cannot pay rent, and a variety of different things; and it is because there has either been an error by the agent, or an audit that did not look at all of the correct information.
I fully support this motion. I hope that everyone in this chamber will also support this motion because it is a right step forward for Canadians. We must continue to protect Canadians and do what is best for them.