Published;December 8, 2021
Gangs collecting CERB money and using it to fund their illegal activities — from drugs to prostitution to guns — isn’t a matter of speculation any longer. It’s public record, and it needs to be investigated.
We first reported such activity in the Toronto Sun in October 2020, and now, news out of Montreal has Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives calling for an investigation by the federal government.
A ruling issued at the end of November by Justice Yvan Poulin rejected attempts by several Montreal residents, some with alleged ties to a street gang, to recoup more than $118,000 seized by police in June 2020. Poulin rejected the attempt based on testimony and evidence, including from the mobile device of Mouad Rasmi.
In his ruling, Poulin found that the device “contains many of the elements supporting his participation in a fraudulent scheme related to the CERB, including personal data and profiles of several third parties.” The claim was that the personal data pointed to a plot where gang members would coordinate false applications to obtain weekly payments of $500 per week from the federal program.
The case was first reported on by Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, which linked several people associated with the court ruling to STL, a street gang operating in that city’s east end Saint-Leonard neighbourhood. While there’s nothing in the ruling stating that firearms were purchased with the money, La Presse cites multiple sources over several months showing that gangs across Montreal were engaged in using CERB money to purchase guns.
It’s similar to what the Sun reported in October 2020 in a story that cited sources pointing to the new purchases leading to a spike in gun crime in the Toronto area during the pandemic.
“We have learned of dozens across the GTA who are doing this. This enables them to buy more handguns, ‘dirty weapons’ (previously used in crimes) for between $400 and $800, and new Glocks, which are reliable and have strong stopping power, for $3,000,” a source said at the time.
On Parliament Hill, the Conservatives are calling the Liberal government on the carpet.
“Were you aware this was taking place? If so, how long were you aware? If you were aware, why did you not take action on this issue sooner?” a joint letter from MPs Raquel Dancho, Pierre Paul-Hus and Stephanie Kusie states.
“It is unacceptable that under your watch, illegal firearms were purchased with taxpayer money in the form of CERB,” the trio state.
The Conservatives are calling on the government, “to launch a complete and thorough audit of the taxpayer dollars your government provided to criminals in the form of pandemic benefits.”
In the past, the idea that CERB or any other emergency benefits were received by anyone but hardworking, angelic Canadians has been dismissed with disdain. The reality is, that criminals will always find weaknesses in the system to exploit; it is what they do.
The government can even be forgiven for attempting to get money out the door so fast to Canadians who needed it that mistakes were made in the moment. Knowing about allegations like this, that street gangs — and likely other criminal elements — used the system requires action.
Ashley Michnowski, spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, said the government has zero-tolerance for fraud.
“We have and will continue to work with all appropriate jurisdictions and authorities to ensure that these individuals and others who committed fraud are held accountable,” Michnowski said.
The $118,000 seized from the men in this case was done so under Sec. 490 of the Criminal Code, a fact that was backed up by a court ruling citing claims of a “fraudulent scheme” aimed at the CERB system. Based on this alone, an investigation should ensue, charges should be laid.
A failure to act is to accept and approve of what has happened.