Canada has long been saddled with the image as a haven for fraudsters, where feeble market enforcement allows misconduct to flourish largely unchecked. But that view is looking increasingly outdated.
Ever since the now defunct Vancouver Stock Exchange became known as the “scam capital of the world” in the late 1980s, Canada’s securities regulators have been struggling against the perception that they are weak and ineffectual. Yet, the reputation deserves to change. Regulators have been making progress recently with often indifferent policy-makers, enabling regulators to upgrade their enforcement arsenals.
Over the past couple of years, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) has persuaded several provincial governments to give that self-regulatory organization the authority to enforce its disciplinary decisions through the courts. With the recent addition of these powers in British Columbia and Ontario, IIROC now has this capability in all of Canada’s provinces in which the securities industry is a major player – along with some smaller ones.
This new authority improves IIROC’s ability to collect unpaid fines from investment advisors who previously could have avoided their penalties by simply leaving the industry. More important, the prospect of more meaningful disciplinary consequences should, in the long run, serve as a greater deterrent to future misconduct.
At the same time, the Alberta Securities Commission now is following the Ontario Securities Commission’s (OSC) lead by introducing “no contest” settlements – a step that enabled the OSC to secure major settlements quickly with several big financial services institutions, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars being returned to investors.
To be sure, Canadian authorities are likely never going to look as tough on white-collar crime as their counterparts in the U.S., where high- profile “perp walks” and lengthy prison sentences are part of that country’s approach to justice. But thanks to some recent momentum in the right direction in both enforcement policy and results, the notion that Canada is a safe harbour for securities fraudsters should die out as well.