In Vancouver, a haven for money laundering, some people use ‘bags of cash’ to pay their property taxes

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VANCOUVER—A councillor’s chance encounter with a taxpayer in the parking lot of city hall toting “bags of cash” to pay his property taxes has sparked a renewed focus on whether B.C. cities are doing enough to fight money laundering.

Counc. Melissa De Genova drafted a motion to council last week after a man carrying a bag of cash approached her outside of city hall and asked her where to go to pay his taxes.

The City of Vancouver accepted 19 cash payments in excess of $10,000 in 2018, and has received about 15 a year over the past six years, usually to pay property taxes, according to the city’s finance department.

After De Genova’s motion passed asking city staff to examine whether they should investigate the source of large cash payments for property taxes and business licences, the city said it would no longer accept cash payments over $10,000.

Vancouver has a reputation for being a haven for money laundering, said Christine Duhaime, a lawyer who specializes in financial crime. Under the direction of Attorney General David Eby, the province is currently investigating the extent of money laundering in B.C.’s real-estate sector.

Duhaime said De Genova’s worry about cash payments is probably misplaced, because it’s not an area that has been flagged as high-risk by international anti-money laundering bodies, and Duhaime said many people who now live in Canada come from countries where corruption is common and are averse to using the banking system.

But based on what she sees regularly in her practice, Duhaime said the public is right to be concerned about money laundering in British Columbia and there are things cities could do to help deter the practice.

“I have files I’m working on right now where people from China defrauded a bank over there, left China, somehow get immigration status here, and buy a bunch of houses in Richmond (a suburb of Vancouver), and then the banks in China trace them here,” said Duhaime. “And we’re not talking $10,000. It’s more like $10 million.”

One of her current files involves someone who was on a wanted list.

“I just shake my head,” Duhaime said. “How did he get a bank account? How did he get a mortgage? How come all these banks in China want him, but we can’t figure out that he’s on a wanted list?”

She said Metro Vancouver cities could work proactively on money-laundering risk in three areas that do fall under their jurisdiction: casinos, real estate and policing.

For instance, cities could make casinos sign agreements that require operators to report on what they are doing “to ensure our cities are not safe havens for money laundering.”

Cities could ask developers who apply for rezoning to provide their anti-money laundering policy, setting out how, for example, they can reassure the city that the proceeds of crime won’t be used to purchase unit in a new highrise.

Like casinos and banks, real-estate developers are subject to federal proceeds-of-crime legislation.

On policing, municipal governments set the mandate and budget for city police forces, Duhaime said. The motion passed by Vancouver city council includes working with the Vancouver Police Department to explore ways the city can implement a bylaw to require all people or companies involved in property transactions to provide “specific information to the city in the interests of deterring money laundering and the business of organized crime.”

The motion also directs city staff to work with the VPD to see whether the city could legally require information from property owners and business-licence applicants to help it prevent money laundering.

Jen St. Denis is a Vancouver-based reporter covering affordability and city hall. Follow her on Twitter: @jenstden

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Ford government to overhaul autism services, give cash directly to families

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The Ford government is planning to overhaul children’s autism services by taking money away from regional agencies and putting funding directly into the hands of families to choose the care they want, the Star has learned.

Major autism service providers have already been informed of the changes that will also address the massive wait-list of 23,000 children and target money and services to those under the age of 6, which research has shown to be the most crucial time for treatment.

Funding will not be cut, but redistributed, sources told the Star.

An announcement is expected in the coming days.

“I would applaud them — early intervention is really important,” said one service provider. “These kids get on a wait list, and they miss a key window.”

“Everyone in the sector would be happy to support something that improves the wait list,” the provider said. “But we are not sure how they are going to change the wait list.”

Senior government sources told the Star the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services is going to focus on the wait lists — for diagnosis, funding and treatment — as well as providing more equitable services and better oversight of therapy providers.

“The scope of the problem we inherited — this was a significant problem,” said one source, noting three of four children are currently not receiving the autism supports they need, calling the wait lists “unconscionable.”

“Those are valuable days, weeks, months, and the one piece of science we know in this area … is that having behavioural intervention below the age of 6 is when you make the biggest impact and have the most likelihood to make a difference,” said the government source.

Many parents like the idea of choosing where the funding is spent, rather than having to deal with service providers who can be in a conflict-of-interest when they control the funding. The current system is a mix of the two, with agencies controlling the wait lists and who gets the money.

But rumours the Ford government is planning to move back to funding based on age have struck fear in both clinicians and families, said Tracie Lindblad, clinical director at Monarch House, an Oakville clinic that offers services for children with developmental disabilities, including applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism.

Lindblad says Monarch House, which also has clinics in Waterloo and Ottawa, as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan, has experience working with families in B.C. where the government imposes arbitrary funding caps based on a child’s age. And, she says, the approach is failing.

(In B.C., children under 6 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder receive $22,000 a year for autism services while those between the ages of 6 and 18 get $5,000, regardless of their needs.)

“We know it’s not working there. Why would the Ford government want to bring it here?” she asked.

Lindblad said the previous Liberal government was “on the right track” when it increased funding and extended eligibility for ABA beyond age 5, and allowed parents to choose between agency-based therapy or privately purchased services.

Milton mom Maria Garito doesn’t like the current system — she does not believe service providers spend money efficiently — but nor does she think moving to a direct-funding model for parents is the answer.

Her 4-year-old son Max has been on a wait list for more than two years and right now her family can’t afford the behavioural therapy he needs, so she takes time off work to care for him and they pay out-of-pocket for speech therapy and other programs.

A direct-funding system means “some children get many hours of service, and many children get none,” said Garito, who believes it is open to abuse. She also doesn’t think there are enough services as is for families to spend any money they receive.

“The worst part of this model is that many of the private centres sign off on unnecessary services, because they (stand) to make profits knowing full well the government” will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, she added, wondering if money would be better spent on more staffing and programs — and better oversight — of government-funded regional centres.

New Democrat MPP Monique Taylor, her party’s children services critic, said direct funding is not an option for everyone. “In Northern Ontario — the services just would not be available … they have nowhere to spend (the money). That’s a real issue in smaller communities in the north.”

And she said stressed families don’t have the time, knowledge “or the energy to be an employer,” which is what the direct-funding option would essentially entail. “For a lot of reasons, a lot of families just won’t be able to manage. It’s very concerning.”

Lindblad said the new Ontario Autism Program, introduced by the former Liberal government, while successful in some areas, failed to provide government regulation of autism professionals, no quality assurance oversight or peer review of outcomes.

But those are things that could have been fixed, Lindblad said.

“I am concerned we’re going to go from one mistake to another mistake and not achieve our goal of ensuring all individuals achieve their best outcome,” she said.

A PC government source said oversight of professionals will be part of the coming changes. “There’s no list that says where you should go for service” as there is in other jurisdictions like B.C.

In 2016, the Liberals had pledged $533 million over five years for autism.

Minister Lisa MacLeod announced $100 million in emergency funding after the PCs took office, to keep the system going, which government sources describe as “verging on the brink of bankruptcy.”

“The most responsible way to use publicly funded dollars is to consider each child’s need,” said Nancy Marchese, a psychologist and ABA therapist in Richmond Hill, adding that a “rate card” for services would protect families and ensure public funds are spent responsibly.

The parent-led Ontario Autism Coalition stormed the Legislature in 2016 under the previous Liberal government over age-based funding caps, and coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh, said her group will fight any provincial move to the B.C. model.

PC MPP Amy Fee, in an opinion piece for the Star, said “early diagnosis will be one of our key areas of focus.”

“We need to respect families. We need to work to clear these wait-lists and put the decision-making back in the hands of parents. We need to get the youngest children into autism services as soon as possible.

Fee — who has two children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder — is the parliamentary assistant to MacLeod and has spoken to parents across the province about services.

“We’re going to put families in control, and bring equity to a broken system,” she wrote.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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Edmonton senior transportation service could get cash boost from city – Edmonton

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A transportation service for seniors could soon receive a cash infusion from the City of Edmonton if a motion for funding passes at city council this week.

Drive Happiness serves between 700 and 800 seniors in the Edmonton area and has about 75 volunteer drivers.

Connie Van Dyk, 70, is blind and has depended on the service for about a year.

“For me, it means independence,” Van Dyk told Global News. “It means I can go to the things I like to go to. I can go to work and back home again.”

Despite strong demand, the non-profit is in need of more funding to avoid service reductions.

This week, a motion by Coun. Andrew Knack aims to inject $180,000 into the service for 2019 and look at how to keep it sustainable for the long term.

The service operates alongside the city’s Disabled Adult Transit Service (DATS).

“If they’re not around, what we’ve often heard is a lot of people would have to use DATS service, which is already fairly constrained,” Knack said. “We heard a lot during budget about the need to really enhance that service.”


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Van Dyk uses Drive Happiness in conjunction with DATS. She believes further funding is essential.

“Please, please give them the money so that people like myself — no matter what the disability and the age — we can get out there and be the independent people we want to be and live life to the fullest, really,” Van Dyk said.

The motion is set to go to Edmonton city council on Tuesday.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Millions of piracy notices coming to Canadians can no longer demand cash

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Close to four years after its piracy-notice system took effect, the federal government has amended the rules to clarify that the notices can’t demand cash from Canadians.

Implemented in 2015, Canada’s notice system enables copyright holders to send warning emails to people suspected of illegally downloading content such as movies or music.

Since its inception, critics have loudly complained that some notices crossed a line by threatening legal action if the recipient didn’t pay a settlement fee — often hundreds of dollars.

Recipients of such notices also loudly complained, including 89-year-old grandmother Christine McMillan in Toronto. In 2016, she received a notice demanding money for something she says she never did — illegally download a shoot ’em up video game. 

« I was really angry, » she said. « This is a scam that’s being perpetrated by the government. »

Christine McMillan received a piracy notice accusing her of illegally downloading a video game and asking for a settlement fee. (CBC)

The government has now clarified the rules with new amendments to Canada’s Copyright Act. They state that piracy notices can’t ask for personal information or a payment including a settlement fee.

« Our amendments to the regime will protect consumers, » Hans Parmar, spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, said in an email.

However, some internet service providers (ISPs) claim the amendments don’t go far enough.

Rights holders don’t know their suspect’s actual identity, only the IP address linked to the illegal download. While ISPs won’t disclose the identity of a customer behind the IP address, they’re obligated by law to forward that customer any piracy notices.

To cope with the flood of notices they must pass on, ISPs largely rely on automated systems, which means ones demanding cash could still slip through.

« The immediate onus is on ISPs to either search for or find some way to filter for these settlement demands, which is, I think, not really possible, » said Andy Kaplan-Myrth, vice-president of regulatory and carrier affairs for internet provider TekSavvy. 

Some have paid up

Canada’s notice system was created to discourage piracy, not collect cash. But that didn’t stop some content creators from sending notices demanding money plus a link to a website where people could pay by credit card.

A compliant recipient not only paid a fine they weren’t obligated to pay, but also exposed their identity.

« It’s just not good for customers to be getting misleading information and misleading links and we don’t want any part of it, » said Kaplan-Myrth.

McMillan watches a video trailer for Metro 2033, an apocalyptic first-person shooter video game she is accused of illegally downloading. (CBC)

In McMillan’s case, she was told if she didn’t pay a fee, she could face legal fines of up to $5,000. She chose to ignore her notice.

But others have complied, including a 60-year-old woman who claimed she was falsely accused of illegally downloading porn and, out of fear, paid a settlement fee of $257.40.  

Her notice, along with McMillan’s, were sent by Canadian anti-piracy company Canipre on behalf of rights holders.

Canipre says it didn’t break any rules by asking for fees and that its goal was simply to educate abusers and deter them from reoffending.

« When you have to pay something out of your pocket, it hurts, » said Barry Logan, Canipre’s managing director. « It’s a deterrent. »

Logan said his company wasn’t out to make money or collect personal data from alleged pirates.

« There was a myth out there, that, ‘Don’t contact them, they track you.’ No. Come on. This isn’t the KGB. »

Logan declined to say how much money Canipre has collected in fees and said the company stopped sending these types of notices in early 2018, due to concerns expressed by the government.

He said he’s not disappointed by the new amendments because Canipre’s notices requesting fees achieved its goal by educating people about the repercussions of piracy.

« We got through to a few people. I know we did. »

‘Millions of notices’

Canipre said it has stopped sending requests for cash, but some major ISPs fear the new amendments may not be enough to stop a company that defies the rules.

In a recent submission to the government’s standing committee on industry, science and technology, a group involving six major ISPs including Bell, Rogers and Telus, asked for additional amendments to toughen up the government’s rules.

The group, which calls itself Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright (BCBC), said internet providers now must weed out settlement fee notices — an imperfect plan considering they deal with « millions of notices per month. »

BCBC recommends the government also mandate a standardized piracy notice that senders must adhere to, which would help eliminate the risk of non-compliant notices slipping through.

Andy Kaplan-Myrth with TekSavvy voiced his concerns about notices requesting settlement fees before a government committee in September. (Canadian Government)

TekSavvy isn’t a member of BCBC, but agrees with the plan.

« The change that should have come sort of hand in hand with this new addition is some kind of standard form, » said Kaplan-Myrth.

Even Canipre’s Logan said he’s fine with a standardized notice format — as long as it can still contain information about the legal ramifications for illegally downloading content.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said that the concerns raised by ISPs will be explored during the government’s current review of the Copyright Act.

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