B.C. Budget: ‘Publicly accessible registry to reveal hidden owners of companies is missing’

CANADIANS For Tax Fairness, Publish What You Pay Canada, and Transparency International Canada said on Tuesday they welcome commitments made by the B.C. Government to require that information on the true owners of B.C. properties be collected and be made public by the land registry; however, a publicly accessible registry to reveal hidden owners of companies is missing.

A public corporate registry of beneficial owners is critical for tackling money laundering, tax evasion, and other criminal activities within the province. B.C. is certainly taking a bold step to prevent misuse of real estate by money launderers, and the commitment within the 2018 provincial budget to include beneficial ownership information within its property transfer tax form and to make it publicly accessible is much needed, they noted.

“It sets an important precedent for other provinces to follow,” said Dennis Howlett, Executive Director at Canadians For Tax Fairness, “Yet, the lack of a similar measure for B.C. corporations means that criminals can still hide money by setting up shell companies which is a very easy thing to do in Canada.”

Transparency of beneficial owners can help to combat money laundering of the proceeds of crime, terrorist financing and tax evasion. It will also help to reduce the amount of ‘dirty money’ finding its way into Canada attempting to be ‘snow washed’. In 2009, the RCMP estimated that up to 15 billion dollars is laundered through Canada each year.

“Canada is known as an international destination for snow washing illicit funds, and this label is hurting our international reputation,” said James Cohen, Director of Policy and Programs at Transparency International Canada. “Canada’s international partners are taking the lead while we fall behind.”

The UK was among the first countries to announce that it would be creating a publicly accessible, searchable registry listing beneficial owners of corporations. Furthermore, this past December, all 28-member states in the EU have committed to a public registry of beneficial owners and trusts owning companies.

The new BC budget also says it will require companies to hold beneficial ownership information within their own records that will be available to only law enforcement, tax and other authorities.

“However, this won’t be much help to banks, financial intelligence, law enforcement, civil society, and journalists to deter would-be money launders because disclosure information will not be very accessible,” said Sasha Caldera, Beneficial Ownership Program Manager at Canadians For Tax Fairness,”

The advocacy groups said they met with Finance Minister Carole James in December 2017 to discuss B.C. taking the lead for a public, searchable, database for beneficial owners of companies and properties.