Editorial: Applause for action on anonymity in B.C.

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Because Canada is notoriously complacent when it comes to dealing with corporate corruption, word that B.C.’s NDP government plans to shine some light in one area of that dark corner of bent business is heartening.

The province’s finance minister recently introduced “world-leading” legislation to allow greater public scrutiny of the backroom options corporations and individuals use to hide wealth, evade taxes and launder money. This is welcome news for anti-corruption advocates, especially in light of Peter German & Associates’ report findings, which included revelations that no federal commercial crime RCMP members are allocated to investigating money laundering in B.C.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said via press release that B.C.’s new landowner transparency act “will make information about the true owners of B.C. real estate publicly available and help crack down on illegal activities.” Good, because anonymity predominates among owners of many of Metro Vancouver’s most expensive properties. It’s also accelerating the corrosion of democratic institutions worldwide.

As Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) notes, the “continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world.” Canada’s CPI ranking is relatively good, but its reputation as a weak jurisdiction for combatting money laundering and other corporate corruption makes it a top destination for dirty money.

The NDP’s initiative to establish a public registry of beneficial owners of property in B.C. is therefore a good first step in helping stem B.C.’s incoming tide of corrupt cash. But the penalty for failing to disclose that information under the transparency act is far too low: $100,000 or 15% of assessed property value will merely be considered the price of doing business in money-laundering circles.

Transparency without tough consequences for violating transparency requirements is a half measure at best.