More time will be needed for the trial of a Chatham-area man accused of fraudulently obtaining more than $60,000 in child-tax benefits by claiming dozens of fictitious children.
And there’s a good chance not all of the evidence the Crown plans to introduce in its case against Michael Hulme, 39, will be admissible.
A voir dire – a mini-trial within a trial – took up the bulk of Tuesday and Wednesday as the Crown and defence argued, among other things, whether Barbara McCrea, a benefits examination officer with the Canada Revenue Agency, should be considered a person of authority and whether Hulme voluntarily gave information when contacted by her.
If deemed a person of authority, the evidence presented by McCrea will not be admissible.
Noting Crown attorney Paul Bailey described McCrea’s evidence as critical to his case, Marley said the judge will have to disregard her testimony and decide the case on the other evidence if McCrea is deemed a person of authority.
“I think it was worthwhile from the defence perspective if that evidence is ultimately determined to be inadmissible,” Marley said.
The Crown, though, argued McCrea was not in a position of authority.
If a police officer or a jail guard asks questions, Bailey noted they are obliged to tell a suspect they have no obligation to answer before they’re asked.
“And if you do, your answers may be used against you as evidence,” Bailey said.
That’s not the case for people who aren’t in positions of authority, he said.
“Then we get into a grey area,” Bailey said. “What if the person is a government employee who is determining whether or not you are cheating on your income tax, for instance?
“Are they a person in authority? Should they be telling you in advance, ‘You don’t have to be answering these questions.’ Or are they just doing their job as investigators if they’re not involved in a criminal investigation, so they don’t have to tell you those things.”
Ontario court Justice Lucy Glenn, who allowed Bailey to reopen the hearing Wednesday, reserved judgment on McCrea’s status.
The length of this mini-hearing also means the trial will be longer than the five days initially set aside. While Nov. 22 was originally slated as the final day, up to three new trial dates will now have to be scheduled.
Hulme has pleaded not guilty to four counts of tax fraud under the Income Tax Act for allegedly claiming child-tax benefits in 2014 and 2015. The court previously heard benefit claims were made for both boys and girls, many born just days apart in the same month and year, and often sharing the same names.
McCrea testified Tuesday she called Hulme in April 2015 to leave a voice message regarding a child-tax credit claim for 26 children.
When Hulme called the next day, she informed him “proof of care,” such as doctor’s note, was needed to prove he was the caregiver, McCrea said.
McCrea testified Hulme asked for an extension, promising he would send information, including birth certificates for the children, by May 1, 2015.
However, she testified she “ended the eligibility for the children” when a response wasn’t received by May 4, 2015, adding a letter was sent to Hulme informing him he owed the CRA money for these undocumented children.
The matter was passed on to a CRA resource officer, McCrea said. She also clarified she didn’t participate in a joint investigation with the CRA’s criminal investigations division.
Hulme’s defence lawyer Ken Marley questioned McCrea on her efforts to determine if his client was the Micheal Hulme who made the benefit claims via the CRA’s online application program.
McCrea said she asked for Hulme’s social insurance number and address to ensure it matched what was in the CRA’s database.
But Marley confirmed McCrea did not conduct an “independent investigation or inquiry to confirm the information.”
Bailey pointed out McCrea described her phone conversation with Hulme as “friendly,” adding she didn’t try to trick Hulme into giving her any information.
When Rebecca Shen, the CRA investigator who eventually filed charges against Hulme, took the stand Wednesday, Marley also questioned how she verified the information it was Hulme who had made the claims.
Shen revealed she has limited access to taxpayers’ information due to strict CRA policies, despite her role as an investigator. She acknowledged she couldn’t go to the online account where the child-tax benefits were filed to verify if it was Hulme’s account.
Some gaps in the CRA system were also revealed during Shen’s testimony.
The court heard the original investigation was for 26 children, but the online account under Hulme’s name was reactivated for five days to gather information. During that time, child-tax benefit claims were made on that account for another 15 children.
Bailey told the judge the defence didn’t produce “one whit of evidence it could be someone other than Mr. Hulme.”
The Crown also questioned why someone would go to all the trouble to obtain Hulme’s personal information to make benefit claims when the money was deposited directly into Hulme’s bank account.