Saskatchewan set to introduce amendments to protect against money laundering

The Saskatchewan government is set to introduce amendments to protect against criminal acts like money laundering— even if it's a bit late. 

Money laundering is estimated to be worth $6.5 billion across Saskatchewan and Manitoba alone, according to a report from former B.C. attorney general and Simon Fraser University professor, Maureen Maloney. Across Canada, Maloney estimates $46.7 billion was laundered in 2018. 

To confront the problem, finance ministers across Canada agreed in principle in December, 2017, on safeguards to prevent the misuse of corporations and other legal entities "for tax evasion, and other criminal purposes, such as money laundering, corruption and the financing of terrorist activities."

As a result, Canada's Department of Finance introduced six amendments to the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA), outlined in Bill C-86.

The measures include increasing transparency around who has significant ownership of a corporation, known as "beneficial ownership" and a newly mandated register of said owners.

CFSEU-BC

Provinces were supposed to make "best efforts" to implement the changes to their Business Corporation Acts (CBA) by July 1, 2019, but Saskatchewan didn't make the deadline.

"The Ministry of Justice included these changes on the legislative list for the fall of 2018, but had to withdraw them from the list because information was not received from the federal government in time for the amendments to be prepared for the fall legislative session," explained a set of key messages prepared for Justice Minister Don Morgan in January of 2019.

"It is anticipated that these amendments will be introduced at the next opportunity in the fall of 2019."

The document was obtained via a Freedom of Information request.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Catherine Benning, who is director of Saskatchewan's office of public registry administration, said the reason the amendments weren't made in Saskatchewan was a matter of timing. The federal amendments only arrived on November 8, 2018.

"Legislation that is not budget related, such as this, is always introduced in the fall legislative session and Nov. 8th is really quite late in the fall legislative session to have a bill prepared and introduced prior to the close of the session before Christmas," she said. 

However, in B.C. where the issue of money laundering has been identified as a major concern and in Manitoba, Saskatchewan's neighbour to the east, the amendments are already in place.

Benning said the issue is a concern in Saskatchewan, and the new amendments introduced in the fall will make it easier to identify the beneficial owners of corporations in the province.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

She said its important provinces had a chance to review the federal amendments to ensure consistency across the board so "no jurisdiction becomes a safe haven for money laundering in Canada."

In a statement, the Government of Canada's Department of Finance said it has made "significant progress" on ensuring corporate entities are not misused for money laundering and terrorist activities with the help of its provincial and territorial partners.

The Canadian Press

"We are currently working with provincial and territorial counterparts to harmonize and strengthen the beneficial ownership transparency requirements across Canadian jurisdictions to ensure corporations hold accurate and up to date information on beneficial owners that will be available to law enforcement and tax authorities," its statement said.

Prior to the amendments, Canada had no legal mechanism in place requiring Canadian corporations to gather or maintain information about people who are "ultimately exercising control over them."

A statement from the Ministry of Finance explained that "broadly speaking" the potential changes to Saskatchewan's CBA will be modelled after the federal bill and be aimed at "identifying the beneficiary owners of private companies."

The fall session of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly is set to start on Oct. 23, 2019.