Canadian real estate data is more opaque than tax havens: Anti-Corruption Org

Canada is known around the world as a place with strong institutions and low levels of corruption. Apparently, this claim is made with little data, as few people have ever seen it. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) described its recent experience in a blog post. They were hoping the BC money laundering reports could provide a good start to delve into real estate data. Instead, they discovered that Canada competes with notorious tax havens for transparency.

Canadian real estate data isn’t easy to find without deep pockets

The first hurdle these journalists face is seeing data. In 2019, Dirty Money 2: Turning the Tide – An Independent Review of Money Laundering in BC. Real estate, sale of luxury vehicles and horse racing was released by the Government of British Columbia. It was an independent analysis of money laundering in British Columbia, conducted by former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German. OCCRP reporters thought the data in the report would be a good place to start.

The data is available, but there are prohibitive barriers large enough that they are not. Initially, the OCCRP said the government was “impatient” to release the information. At one point, BC realized that it needed a version of BC Assessment to do this. Although this is government data, the state cadastre controls it.

The British Columbia government therefore referred them to BC Assessment (BCA) to request release. BCA told reporters Jared Ferrie and Katarina Sabados that they could have it for $ 93,000. A prohibitive amount for a for-profit entity to pay for a data set, let alone reporters for a story.

Those unfamiliar with Canada might think this sounds like creative incompetence on the part of politicians. It’s the process where everyone says they can’t provide help, but never does. Having had the opportunity to help with Dirty Money 2 and a similar report from Transparency International, this is not the case. Canadian real estate data is notoriously difficult to access. When you get access, you have to stick to the analysis that has been agreed upon. All information out of reach must die with you. RIP Secrets on Canada’s Money Launderers.

Canadian real estate data has few quality checks

Even if you can get the data, don’t expect to find dirt on anyone other than the bravest of criminals. The absence in Canada of a register of beneficial owners means that it does not know who owns anything. Disclosure of corporate ownership is completely voluntary, like any dubious tax haven.

Canadian companies only require disclosure of one director. This manager may have a relationship with the company, but you might as well turn to a lawyer. Sometimes it’s just an appointed director, paid to be the director. The OCCRP highlights this point as problematic for obvious reasons. This is also a very good reason not to drop $ 93,000 on data of questionable quality.

Lack of transparency in ownership is a well-known problem in Canada. Organizations like Transparency International have pushed the country in the right direction. The problem is that most measures are watered down until they are ineffective, OCCRP found.

Canadian real estate data has few quality checks

For example, the Land Owner Transparency Registry in British Columbia was created to eliminate anonymous owners. OCCRP research revealed that none of the data is ever verified for the beneficial owner. No ID is collected, which experts say can mean anything can be entered. Fortunately, criminals never lie, or that could have been a problem.

Caught lying about the register of beneficial owners? The OCCRP has found that the sanctions are unlikely to be a deterrent. Those arrested do not face criminal charges, but just a financial penalty. Since it is money laundering, fines are the cost of doing business. I’m sure Deutsche Bank can tell you all about it.

“If organized crime created a country, it would look a lot like Canada,” one crime expert told them.

Foreign buyers, taxes on vacant homes, money laundering – it all depends on the same opaque system. It is only available for analysis to those with deep pockets, which makes it faith-based. Of course, the problem will be solved with more registers of questionable data quality.

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