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British Columbia opens consultation on beneficial ownership public registry

Tuesday, 21 January, 2020

The British Columbia (BC) provincial government has launched a consultation on the implementation of a public registry of corporate beneficial ownership. Legislation is already under way in various provinces to compel private corporations incorporated under the Canada Business Corporation Act to maintain closed registers.

In May 2019, the BC government passed the Business Corporations Amendment Act, 2019 with the view of eliminating bearer shares and requiring corporations in the province to maintain a list of beneficial owners within their corporate records office. These lists would be available to tax authorities, law enforcement agencies and other regulators.

Carole James, Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier in BC, has now launched the consultation into public registers as 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.

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.

The consultation has been welcomed by three anti-corruption and transparency groups in Canada: Canadians for Tax Fairness, Publish What You Pay Canada and Transparency International Canada. The three have formed a coalition to lobby for changes to beneficial ownership transparency and have called it a “game-changer” in combatting money laundering.

The consultation, which opened on January 17, will run until 4pm (PST) on March 13, 2020. According to a December 2019 statement from the federal Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, similar consultations can be expected across various Canadian provinces in 2020.