Douglas Todd: People are dying – Canada must speak out against dirty money now

Analysis: With Russia’s attack on Ukraine, there is more pressure on Canadian politicians to finally hunt down the corrupt people who have long used Canada as the easiest democracy to store illicit wealth .

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In authoritarian countries, Canada has a reputation for having the weakest anti-money laundering laws in the democratic West.

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So with the recent crackdown on Russian oligarchs backing Vladimir Putin, experts say there is an urgent need for Canada to finally and quickly track transnational corporations secretly shipping ill-gotten money to this country through a process dubbed “the snow”. -washing.”

Corporate lawyer Kevin Comeau, an expert in money laundering, says “it’s great” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced an agreement with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to speed up the deadline for a registry accessible to the public in order to identify the real owners of the companies, in particular those invested in real estate.

Three years ago, Trudeau promised for the first time a national registry of business ownership, which would be searchable by name. The Liberals expected it to be operational by 2025. Now, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the promise is that the registry will be active by next year.

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Although Comeau thinks a national property registry, loosely modeled on the one recently launched in British Columbia, could in fact be in place by the end of this year, he hopes the federal government will meet its 2023 – because “people are dying. There is a lot of political pressure on them.

Such records, which reveal the true owners of companies, trusts and assets, are the only way for Western governments to deliver on their high-profile promises to punish corrupt billionaires and others who profit from being cronies. ruthless strong men.

A functional property registry that can identify and lead to the seizure of assets held illegally in Canada — which should have been in place years ago to prevent dirty money from flowing into the country’s real estate — will put pressure on the oligarchs and, in turn, pressure on Putin to stop this war,” Comeau said.

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“There’s a huge incentive for people in authoritarian regimes to take their money out and send it to a Western liberal democracy that has the rule of law, that protects against arbitrary confiscation” by unstable rulers, Comeau said, who produced money laundering reports for the CD Howe Institute, Transparency International and other organizations.

“Why do they choose Canada? Among the major Western liberal democracies, we have the weakest anti-money laundering rules. Britain, the United States and countries in the European Union are far ahead in monitoring and sometimes targeting the real owners of laundered assets.

The Economist magazine found that Russia, which invaded Ukraine last month, has the most billionaire oligarchs who are cronies of autocratic rulers. Russia is followed by China, which has a greater presence in Canada through trade, international education and immigration. Saudi Arabia, Iran and many other regimes also have wealthy citizens who seek refuge abroad to hide their sullied money.

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Property registries should have been operational much earlier in Canada, Comeau said. But somehow, many Canadians have believed that money laundering and tax evasion on a global scale is a “victimless crime” and that it is useful that foreign money , even the proceeds of corruption, flow into an economy.

Slowly, however, more and more Canadians are realizing that this is “a horrible thing,” especially for housing affordability.

“Why do they choose Canada?  Among the major western liberal democracies, we have the weakest anti-money laundering rules,” says corporate lawyer Kevin Comeau.
“Why do they choose Canada? Among the major western liberal democracies, we have the weakest anti-money laundering rules,” says corporate lawyer Kevin Comeau. Photo by Document by subject /.jpg

“Over the past few years, people have become aware that there is a real problem with laundered money from all over the world entering our real estate market. This drove up prices for Canadians, so many people couldn’t afford to buy a home in the towns and villages where they grew up,” Comeau said. “This is the first time in Canadian history that middle-class people, as a group, cannot buy homes in their own towns and cities.

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And taxpayers need not worry about the cost of setting up federal and provincial registries that will expose shady owners of corporations and properties. On the contrary.

A public property registry creates a ‘massive weapon’ against oligarchs, kleptocrats, human traffickers and tax evaders because it’s the key to seizing their assets, including property they may have hold for decades.

“It’s a huge source of revenue for the Canadian government and the provinces. This can bring in many, many billions of dollars. You talk about millions of dollars to establish a registry. You will probably earn a hundred times more by having a registry in place. Just by (grabbing) 20 houses, you paid multiple times for a registry.

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Since Comeau is among those calling for a “pan-Canadian” registry system that includes the provinces, which have jurisdiction over real estate, he commends the BC NDP for leading the way in creating the last a register of beneficial housing ownership.

Although the B.C. registry has some weaknesses, Comeau said they are fixable.

With a little more spending, he said, B.C. could remove the $5 paywall for every search, provide a line for tipsters, require third-party identity verification and ensure that foreign passports written in non-Latin scripts, such as Russian, Chinese and Arabic alphabets, are translated into English.

Additionally, Comeau said, those found to make fraudulent entries in any Canadian registry should be subject to not only fines — “which are often just the cost of doing business” — but also possible prison sentences.

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With such reforms, Canada and the provinces would no longer be known to the world as a “snowwashing” capital.

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