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B.C. Securities Commission under fire as half a billion in penalties remains unenforced

by Greg Klein | November 21, 2017

Although some small cap companies seem to consider regulators the bane of their existence, big-time scammers might take a more benign view. A Postmedia investigation has revealed that the British Columbia Securities Commission—with 234 staffers and a $46.6-million budget—has collected less than 2% of $510 million in fines and payback orders issued over the last decade. The collection rate manages to fall even farther, to less than 0.1%, for 29 such orders of $1 million or more that total $458 million.

B.C. Securities Commission under fire as half a billion in penalties remains unenforced

Although the BCSC responds that the con artists may have hidden their assets or disappeared, journalist Gordon Hoekstra reports, “Postmedia tracked down $31 million in potential assets linked to the fraudsters,” including homes in affluent B.C. suburbs, Las Vegas and Hawaii.

Among available enforcement strategies, the BCSC “can file any of its decisions in B.C. Supreme Court, a simple administrative exercise, which automatically makes the penalties an order of the court,” Hoekstra points out. “If a property has been transferred to someone else, for example, a spouse, to escape a penalty, that may also be considered fraud.”

Regulators in other provinces do somewhat better, according to the study. Securities commissions in Ontario and Alberta achieved 18% collection rates over the last decade, while Quebec reached about 20% over the past four years. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hit nearly 60% during the past five years.

The exposé seems to have taken both of B.C.’s main political parties by surprise. In a written statement NDP Finance Minister Carole James noted the commission operates at arms-length from the government. “We would encourage any proposals from the BCSC on any new mechanisms they may need to collect the fines,” she stated.

“No details were released by James, who ministry officials said was unavailable for an interview, on how the provincial government would follow up or monitor any proposals,” Hoekstra added.

As for the opposition party that had been government during most of the 10-year period, the BC Liberals “said in an e-mail that ‘unfortunately’ no MLAs were available for comment. The Liberals have 41 sitting MLAs, including two finance critics, Shirley Bond and Tracy Redies.”

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