Twenty-four-year old Marica Peel says she's spent the last six months trying to prove to the Canada Revenue Agency that she has been separated from her former partner, and the father of her son, for the past three and a half years.
But she said despite doing everything the agency has asked of her, she's been told she still owes $4,500 — and her child benefit payments have stopped.
"I am such a small person going against the government, the CRA," she said in an interview with CBC News. "How do I do that, how does a person do that?"
The CRA has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks, with critics saying that it targets ordinary Canadians — people with diabetes being refused disability tax credits or retail employees threatened with losing their staff discounts.
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Canada's auditor general issued his own scathing report last week, finding that more than half of the 53 million calls the agency received ended with either a busy signal or a pre-recorded message.
The report also found that when auditors placed calls to the agency, they got incorrect information from CRA agents 30 per cent of the time.
Proof of separation
Peel said she got a letter from the CRA last spring telling her she was being audited and that the agency wanted proof of her separation to confirm that the child benefit she had been receiving was the right amount. But Peel didn't have utility bills dating back to the date of separation, nor did her ex-partner.
Peel said she explained this and the agency told her there was another option: get an official separation agreement, spelling out all the pertinent dates.
"We got that signed by both me and my ex, and by two different lawyers," Peel said, adding she spent $700 on legal fees. "The CRA told me that that would be enough and then a month later they told me it wasn't going to work."
NDP MP Charlie Angus said the CRA is dealing with a worsening reputation.
"They can't find the billions that are being hid offshore, and yet they'll go after single moms and deny their kids basic benefits at Christmas time?"
The northern Ontario MP said he recently heard from a single mom with three children who, for the third year in a row, had her child benefits stopped because the CRA wants her to prove — again — that she has three children.
Peel, who lives in Battleford, Sask., is expecting a baby any day now with her new partner, although they do not live together.
She said she doesn't know what to do next.
"They told me this is what I needed to do to get it fixed. I did everything they asked me to and in the end it still wasn't enough," she said.
"Everything that I worked for in the last three-and-a-half years feels like I'm so close to losing it all and going back to where I started."
Peel also said she spent hours on the phone trying to get answers from the CRA, but would often just get a busy signal or automated message, just like the auditor general highlighted last week.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said it is false that the CRA goes after ordinary Canadians but leaves the "big fish" alone.
"The agency is focusing its efforts on cracking down on complex individual and corporate cases," said the statement, adding that nearly $1 billion has been invested to target tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
"The minister of national revenue is wholeheartedly committed to ensuring that Canadians receive the credits to which they are entitled."