More than 1,000 CRA employees disciplined for misconduct over past 4 years
Top reason for disciplinary action is failure to protect taxpayers' information
The Canada Revenue Agency has disciplined more than 1,000 employees for professional misconduct over the past four years — on average one case every working day.
According to numbers obtained by CBC News, some tabled in Parliament and others provided by the agency, there were 550 cases of misconduct between April 1, 2016 and March 27, 2018. There were another 521 cases between April 2014 and March 2016 for a total of 1,071.
A breakdown of the cases between 2016 and 2018 reveals that failure to protect the agency's — and taxpayers' — information was the top reason employees were suspended, reprimanded or even fired. That accounted for 222 incidents or 40 per cent of misconduct identified by the agency.
The second most common offence fell into the category of "failure to protect CRA's reputation." That can include anything from being in a conflict of interest or committing a crime to tweeting out the wrong thing or yelling at a taxpayer, according to the agency's code of integrity and professional conduct.
Between 2016 and 2018, 139 incidents or 25 per cent of the cases of misconduct fell into that category.
"Failure to foster a healthy and respectful workplace," which includes a wide range of behaviour from harassment and discrimination to doing drugs at work or smoking in restricted areas, was the third most common infraction with 81 incidents (14.7 per cent).
There were 58 cases of "Failure to protect and manage public funds," which includes mismanagement, fraud, bribery and using insider knowledge and 50 cases of "failing to protect CRA's assets and property."
The penalty, in many cases, was steep.
Over the course of the four years, 301 employees (28 per cent) were handed the most severe category of punishment ranging from a 20-day suspension to losing their jobs.
The punishment for 255 employees (23.8 per cent) ranged from a written reprimand to a suspension of up to 10 days. Another 218 employees (20.3 per cent) got the minimum punishment of an oral reprimand up to a five-day suspension while 221 employees (20.6 per cent) received suspensions ranging between five and 30 days.
CRA getting tougher on misconduct, union says
Marc Brière, president of the 25,000-member Union of Taxation Employees, said the CRA has gotten tougher on misconduct in recent years.
"If you talk about unauthorized access, the big chances are that people are losing their jobs or minimum a huge, a very large suspension — even if it's a minor unauthorized access."
Brière said employees could also be investigated by the RCMP and end up in jail.
Despite the fact the union regularly reminds members that they could face serious penalties for misconduct, Brière said there have been cases of members of his union being fired.
"It does happen. When you've got (more than) 40,000 employees in an organization there's always people who are making mistakes and they're paying the price."
However, he said cases of serious misconduct — such as accessing taxpayer files without authorization — have been going down among the members of his union.
CRA using new technology to flag activities
CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram said the agency takes cases of employee misconduct seriously and it has stepped up its internal controls in recent years. In addition to making the rules clearer to employees and improving its ability to investigate allegations of misconduct in a timely way, the CRA has strengthened its monitoring and detection technology "which enables it to proactively flag activities that appear inconsistent with employees assigned workloads and duties."
While there have been 1,071 cases of misconduct over four years, agency officials point out that with 44,000 employees, it worked out to less than one per cent of its workforce each year.
Conservative revenue critic Pat Kelly said the number of employees disciplined was higher than he expected. He would like a parliamentary committee to take a closer look at the incidents of misconduct.
"It would be beneficial, I think, to have officials explain that and break that down and give us better answers," he said.
Kelly, who had asked for the information tabled in Parliament, said he was disappointed the CRA didn't provide more information about the case of the B.C couple Tony and Helen Samaroo.
A court found the couple was maliciously prosecuted by CRA employees and awarded them $1.7 million. The CRA is appealing.
NDP revenue critic Pierre-Luc Dusseault said the numbers show the system appears to be catching cases of misconduct, but he is concerned that there are so many cases.
"It is very disturbing to know that so much discipline has to take place at the Canada Revenue Agency," he said, adding he hoped the number of cases would drop over time.
Dusseault said it is also disturbing to learn that so many of the cases involve the privacy of taxpayers' confidential information.
- Top CRA executives pocket up to $35,000 a year in performance pay
- Canadians' confidential tax info to be shared with police abroad
- Tax agency appeals $1.7 million ruling for malicious prosecution
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at email@example.com