Editorial: The benefits of beneficial ownership transparency

There have been few examples of leadership from the United States worth adopting during the last four years, but New Year’s Day provided one. The Corporate Transparency Act, which became law in the U.S. on January 1, is, according to Transparency International, “the most significant anti-corruption reform in a generation.”

It is aimed at drawing back the curtain on anonymous shell companies that hide the names of their principals and protect the identities of the architects of money-laundering, kickbacks and other corruption that is hollowing out democracy’s foundations and eroding confidence in public institutions all over the world. Considering the regime that has been in charge of the United States since 2017, passage of the Corporate Transparency Act into law is all the more heartening. The question for Canadians, however, is what is their country doing to fight corruption? The answer – aside from B.C., which is at least in the process of establishing a registry of corporate beneficial ownership – is not much. Canada’s access to information commitment and corporate transparency rules remain notoriously weak. Little wonder that it has become a preferred destination for money-laundering, which in Canada is better known as “snow-washing.” It’s long past time to change that narrative and with it the damage it’s doing to Canada’s integrity and trust in the country’s public institutions, which are the bedrock of democratic systems. To that end, Transparency International Canada is pushing for a publicly accessible pan-Canadian beneficial ownership registry. The national initiative would help ensure that the bright light of public scrutiny shines into the dark corners of shell companies, anonymous property ownership and other safe havens for the proceeds of crime. It would be a key weapon in the war against the twin cancers of greed and corruption. Continued inaction on this front is an abdication of government’s duty to its electorate.