Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about Bill C-42, an act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, to create a beneficial ownership registry to combat money laundering.
I have the honour today of sharing my time with my friend and colleague, the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap.
Canada has a big problem with money laundering, and nowhere is that more evident than in metro Vancouver where my community of Langley—Aldergrove is located. Now, this is well known around the world. People have given Canada's very accessible money laundering streams a special name. They call it “snow washing”.
Generally speaking, Canada is known to have a stable government and economy, and to be a safe place to invest, so honest people make assumptions that money coming from or going to Canadian-registered corporations must be legitimate, but sadly that is not always the case. We need to work hard to maintain that favourable impression that the world has of us. It is easy to ruin one's reputation. That is sadly what is happening.
According to a 2017 analysis by Transparency International, Canada is tied with South Korea for the weakest corporate transparency rules among G20 nations. That is why I welcome this legislation, Bill C-42, which is going to create a beneficial shareholder register so that crooks cannot hide behind a veil of secrecy, complexity and confusion. We want things to be transparent. We want to know who owns what.
B.C. has been taking the lead in building transparency rules to combat money laundering. In March 2019, in a report entitled “Combatting Money Laundering in BC Real Estate”, an expert panel appointed by the B.C. government had this to say about the problem of money laundering. It focuses on British Columbia, but of course it applies right across the country. It reads:
Money laundering significantly damages our society and causes ongoing harm, not limited to the real estate sector or other economic sectors. Money laundering is a contagious, corrupting influence on society...It facilitates other criminal activities, contributing in particular to drug trafficking and the violent crime and opioid deaths that result, as is sadly so evident in [British Columbia].
The report goes on to say that, given the secret nature of money laundering, it is very difficult to estimate how much damage it is doing to our economy, but they do estimate that somewhere around $50 billion in dirty money is pumped into our national economy every year. This activity is estimated at 5% of real estate prices in British Columbia, feeding into the housing unaffordability crisis.
The expert panel recommended several anti-money laundering tools, starting with implementing a land ownership transparency register, which is in effect at the moment in British Columbia. They were of the opinion that transparency in real estate would be the single most effective tool in the anti-money laundering arsenal, but they also acknowledge that money laundering touches on more than just real estate transactions.
I think it is informative to understand what money laundering is. It is effectively the process of making illegally gained proceeds appear to be legitimate. These proceeds can come from monstrous activities like fentanyl trafficking, for example, but sometimes it is much less nefarious than that. For example, it could be legally earned and obtained money which has been brought illegally into Canada by evading the originating country's arbitrary capital controls.
All of this activity is illegal. Actors become very creative in hiding their trails by creating layers of complexity, but it all follows the same basic process. It is usually done in three phases: first of all, placement; second, layering and third, integration.
Placement is the introduction of cash into the legitimate payment system. Layering is conducting multiple levels of complexity for no purpose other than to hide the paper trail. Integration is working the money back into the legal system. Money properly laundered, and I use the term loosely, can be very difficult to trace.
One of the layering tools that professionals like to use is secret trusts. This is where somebody owns something, but that is the front person. They are the registered owner, but they are not the real owner. They are holding it in trust for somebody who is working in the shadows. The real owner is invisible to law enforcement agencies.
Today we are talking about amendments to the Canada Business Corporations Act to create a share ownership transparency register to eliminate this layering tool that professionals like to use. How can this be beneficial? Let us take a look at what some provinces have done.
British Columbia is really taking the lead. It bears to note that every province in Canada has its own corporate registry, as there is a federal registry, so it is very important that the provinces and the federal government work together. There needs to be a pan-Canadian approach. Otherwise, we would be encouraging forum shopping among professional crooks. They are going to go to the province with the most relaxed and most permissive laws. I am happy to say that Bill C-42 at least attempts to tackle that.
British Columbia has implemented a requirement that all British Columbia-registered companies keep a beneficial owners register at their corporate records office. This is an early version of a beneficial shareholder register and it is a good start, but it is not enough, and that is recognized. It is not a very useful tool for law enforcement because it does not allow law enforcement agencies to work undercover. The register is not free. It is not publicly accessible. It is not centralized, and it is too bureaucratic. It is also too difficult for law enforcement agencies to use and therefore it needs to be amended.
I am happy to say that is in the works. By 2025, there should be a centralized register in British Columbia that is readily searchable by law enforcement agents without the police coming to the registered office and saying they want to see their corporate records, which gives too much notice to the crooks. Quebec and Ontario are following a trajectory similar to British Columbia's.
The United Kingdom is really taking the lead with its people with significant control register for all registered companies in that country. It is free, and it is publicly accessible, but so far it is presenting only mixed results in being an effective tool for law enforcement. Bill C-42 needs to go past second reading to go to committee, where it needs to be studied in detail. I hope that we would have witnesses coming from United Kingdom to tell us what is good about their system and what is lacking so we can learn from their successes and their mistakes.
Bill C-42 is the federal government's attempt to tackle money laundering, tax evasion and other illegal activity. The minister, in his speech when he introduced this legislation, said, “Simply put, increasing beneficial ownership transparency will enhance Canada's good international reputation as a safe, fair and competitive place to do business and provide even greater legitimacy to law-abiding Canadian businesses.” Those are all very laudable objectives, which I support.
This bill should go to committee where it could be studied in detail. I will be looking there for efficiencies and effectiveness, and how adaptable it would be so that provinces can adopt it as well. As I said, the solution needs to be pan-Canadian.