The British Columbia (B.C.) provincial government has launched a consultation on the implementation of a public registry of corporate beneficial ownership in what would be a "game changer" given the widespread concerns of dirty money flowing into the province.
Legislation is already under way in various provinces to compel private corporations incorporated under the Canada Business Corporation Act to maintain closed registers.
Now, Finance minister Carole James is starting a process to make at least some of that information public, which would align B.C. with a similar nationwide process and one that's already been enacted this month by 31 European Union nations.
Canada has a problem where it is easy to set up an anonymous company and ownership is hidden"
James said the move is part of the "push for greater transparency of corporate entities across the globe," adding that it would support government agencies in the fight against tax fraud and money laundering.
In Canada, three anti-corruption and transparency advocacy groups (Canadians for Tax Fairness, Publish What You Pay Canada and Transparency International Canada) have formed a coalition campaign to lobby senior governments for these changes.
Campaign manager Sasha Caldera told local news outlet Western Investor that a beneficial ownership registry for B.C. companies would be a "game changer" given the widespread concerns of dirty money flowing into the province.
"B.C. has been rocked by money laundering and illicit cash flows linked to crime and the fentanyl trade. At the same time, we've seen money laundering play a role in artificially increasing the price of real estate," said Caldera.
"One problem experts point out is this cash is flowing through anonymous shell companies. Canada has a problem where it is easy to set up an anonymous company and ownership is hidden," she added.
The consultation takes into account issues around the impact such a register would have on corporate operations; how personal information would be shared; how the government would ensure beneficial ownership information is correctly reported; how compliance would be ensured; and what penalties would be appropriate for non-compliance.