Nova Scotia

CRA says this Nova Scotia man is dead: he insists he's very much alive

Reg Kane, of Howie Centre in Cape Breton, N.S., was reeling last month after opening a letter Canada Revenue Agency. It told him he was dead.

Reg Kane worries 'mind-boggling' mistake could cut off his Old Age Security and CPP income

Reg Kane looks over paperwork from the Canada Revenue Agency declaring he's dead. (CBC)

When Reg Kane, of Howie Centre in Cape Breton, N.S., opened a letter last month from the Canada Revenue Agency, it left him reeling.

It didn't say he owed taxes. It didn't say he would be audited.

It told him he was dead.

Now the 69-year-old widower is dealing with what he calls a "mind-boggling" mistake by tax authorities, one he worries could mean he'll be cut off from the Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan income he depends on.

"I didn't know what to do. I was in state of panic," he said in an interview, one he did with CBC News in an attempt to prove to the CRA that yes, indeed, he is actually alive.

Kane's wife, Sarah, passed away in January 2017. When he later called the CRA and asked what he should do, he said he was told he should apply for her death benefits and file his wife's 2017 income tax as well as his own.

He did that earlier this year.

Kane's wife, Sarah, died in January 2017. (CBC)

But somewhere along the way, wires were crossed. Kane was stunned to receive a benefits cheque from the CRA in mid-March that was not addressed to his wife's estate, but to his.

"It was addressed to the estate of the late Reginald Kane, so they basically said at that point that I was deceased," Kane said.

His son, Philip, had died the previous day, and Kane said he was shocked by correspondence from the CRA and didn't know what to do.

The cheque was accompanied by a notice of assessment that included incorrect income information.

Kane called the CRA. He was told they put "an override correction in the system." He also notified Service Canada and said he thought at that point the mistake was corrected with both agencies.

Now he's not so sure. That's because in a subsequent phone call with a Service Canada representative two weeks ago Kane said he was told he was still listed as deceased.

That has Kane worried, because he relies on Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan income. His payments should be deposited at the end of this month, but he's "petrified what's going to happen."

"My understanding is it's the month after you're deceased that you're cut off," Kane said.

Kane received his March payments but fears subsequent ones have been cancelled because the government considers him dead.

Kane received a benefits cheque from the CRA in mid-March. It was addressed to his 'estate.' (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

Kane has not received an explanation about how this happened. He wonders if, in his stressed state, he put his own social insurance number on his wife's death benefit application, but questions why there was no due diligence to ensure he really was dead.

"They could have cross-referenced the material. They could have looked to see if there's a death certificate for me," Kane said, adding he was required to submit a death certificate for both his wife and his son.

"So you absolutely have to do that," he said.

He said he asked a CRA representative whether they had a death certificate for him and was told no.

"I said, 'When you sent this information to Service Canada to put all this into motion, didn't you bother to even check that there was death certificate for me?"' He said he was told they didn't.

He doesn't want to be critical of civil servants who may be overworked. And yet, "it's almost like they don't care, or they don't have the empathy, or they think it's not important, and it hurts, it hurts me greatly, to be treated with a degree of indifference. I just don't think that's right."

He is asking the CRA to send him written confirmation that they've rectified the problem. That would relieve him of stress and give him peace of mind that his retirement income will continue.

"If I've learned one thing from the death of my son and the death of my wife, life requires us to be strong and to get on with the business of living," he said.

CRA says if there is any indication information on file is incorrect, 'immediate steps are taken to correct our records.' (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In an email to CBC News, CRA spokesperson Patrick Samson said the agency is committed to providing the best possible service to Canadians and is taking steps to do just that.

"Despite safeguards to ensure accuracy of our files, occasionally information we receive is incorrect or misinterpreted, or human error can occur during the processing of a taxpayer's information," Samson said.

He said the agency will update an individual's account when confirmation of the death has been received from other government departments, lawyers, executors, representatives, beneficiaries, or family members.

Samson said if there is any indication the information on file is incorrect, "immediate steps are taken to correct our records." That includes ensuring that affected individuals receive all benefits and credits to which they are entitled.

The CRA will not discuss individual cases, but Kane hopes to hear from them.

"Please, if you declare somebody deceased make sure that person is really deceased," he said. "Put the effort into it. Go that extra mile."

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.