NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for ban on “bearer shares” that hide stock ownership


OTTAWA—With the Toronto Stock Exchange as his backdrop, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will trumpet a suite of proposals Friday to crack down on tax dodgers and stop the rich from hiding their money.

In an interview with the Star, Singh said an NDP government would do what the Liberal government hasn’t: ban the controversial “bearer shares” singled out in the massive Panama Papers leak as a way to hide stock ownership and obscure the movement of wealth.

Jagmeet Singh says said an NDP government would ban the controversial “bearer shares” singled out in the massive Panama Papers leak as a way to hide stock ownership and obscure the movement of wealth.
Jagmeet Singh says said an NDP government would ban the controversial “bearer shares” singled out in the massive Panama Papers leak as a way to hide stock ownership and obscure the movement of wealth.  (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

Singh also underscored his commitment to close the stock option “loophole,” which allows corporate executives to avoid income taxes by receiving portions of their compensation in company shares instead of through their regular paycheques. The NDP is also promoting a bill in Parliament, sponsored by Victoria MP Murray Rankin, that strives to prevent companies from transferring money to other countries to avoid paying corporate taxes in Canada.

“Why is it that the ultra wealthy and the rich have access all these loopholes that mean they’re not actually paying their fair share? That’s a problem,” Singh said.

“Liberals maybe don’t have the conviction to follow through on these ideas because they might upset their friends,” he added, suggesting the Trudeau government is “too closely aligned with those folks who are the elite” to take action after three years in power.

“It’s definitely past due that we do something about it,” he said.

Singh’s proposal to ban bearer shares comes after years of international pressure to restrict their use as a shadowy instrument of global finance. Bearer shares are anonymous certificates of ownership. Just like cash, whoever holds the physical certificate owns the stock or share of a company it represents.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has pressured governments around the world to eliminate bearer shares, arguing the anonymity they afford “makes them vulnerable to misuse.”

In May, the Trudeau government passed Bill C-25, a new law that banned the issuance of new bearer shares. That followed a statement from Finance Minister Bill Morneau in December 2017, in which Morneau and his provincial counterparts agreed “to pursue” amendments to laws and regulations that would eliminate bearer shares in Canada and replace them with more transparent alternatives. This is part of an effort to crack down on “money laundering, corruption and the financing of terrorist activities,” the joint statement said.

Morneau’s office directed queries about bearer shares to Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, whose spokespeople did not answer questions about the 2017 commitment on Thursday.

Singh, meanwhile, pointed to other countries like the Netherlands, where a deadline was imposed to switch bearer shares into more transparent forms of ownership. According to the OECD, dozens tax havens have done away with bearer shares since 2009, while financial accountability advocates like Publish What You Pay Canada and Transparency International have also called on Ottawa to restrict their use.

The NDP leader said Canada needs to eliminate them because of their attractiveness to criminals, as well as their potential as a means to hide money from the taxman.

“These are untraceable, they are unregistered. They are a massive problem, because we can’t actually then ensure there is proper taxation that applies from their use,” he said.

“(They’re) something that criminals will find useful, money launderers will find useful, and folks like the bad guys from action movies. You might recall Die Hard, where it was used — the bearer bonds. But it’s certainly not in the best interests of people, so we’re asking that to end once and for all.”

The use of bearer shares was also highlighted in the Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents that cast a spotlight on tools used by the super-wealthy to dodge taxes and hide money. Former British prime minister David Cameron’s father, for example, started a fund for investors that kept 2 million bearer shares in a bank safe, with no record of who owned them. The papers also showed a Panamanian company owned by anonymous holders of bearer shares bought a condo from a Donald Trump-branded skyscraper in 1991.

The Canada Revenue Agency estimates Canadians with hidden offshore accounts evade up to $3 billion per year in taxes by hiding between $75.9 billion and $240.5 billion in tax havens.

With files from Marco Chown Oved

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga


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Tech expert resigns from advisory panel on Sidewalk Toronto over data ownership concerns


A member of an expert panel guiding Waterfront Toronto on Sidewalk Labs’ “smart city” proposal has resigned in large part because she wants to see the city, rather than a private company, control potentially valuable data linked to the project.

On Thursday, tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar became the second member to recently resign from the advisory panel, formed in late April to assist Waterfront Toronto with how best to deal with data privacy issues, digital systems, as well as ethical and safety issues around the use of technology in its Sidewalk Toronto plan — a partnership with Manhattan-based Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation firm and sister company of Google.

Muzaffar, a founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub promoting women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), resigned her position on the panel amid her concerns that financial benefits stemming from the project will all go to a U.S. company — Sidewalk Labs — rather than local innovators or the general public.

In her resignation letter, she blasted Waterfront Toronto, a corporation representing the city, province and federal governments, for showing “apathy and an utter lack of leadership” on the Sidewalk Toronto project.

“The most recent public roundtable in August displayed a blatant disregard for resident concerns about data and digital infrastructure,” she said in her letter. Muzaffar said she wants to see the data around Sidewalk Toronto end up in the hands of the City of Toronto.

“There is nothing innovative about city-building that disenfranchises its residents in insidious ways and robs valuable earnings out of public budgets,” she said in the letter.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Muzaffar said she feels that Waterfront Toronto’s responsibility to the public as guardian in the Sidewalk plan is being undermined by Sidewalk Labs, whose duty is to their shareholders and profits.

“Sidewalk is a vendor. You can’t design public policy with a vendor,” she told the Star.

Muzaffar, a “tech activist” and co-founder of Tech Reset, a “pro-growth, pro-innovation group” that monitors how urban data is collected and turned into a commodity, is the second member to step down from the advisory panel, which originally included 15 leading experts in Canada on digital technology, privacy and governance.

Two members of Waterfront Toronto’s senior leadership also resigned recently amid tensions surrounding Sidewalk Toronto.

Muzaffar said when she first came on the panel she was “open minded” about the process, but has since been turned off by Waterfront Toronto’s “anti-democratic” public engagement process regarding Sidewalk Toronto.

Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for Sidewalk Labs, said Thursday that the “panel is independent from (Sidewalk) and the resignation of a long-standing critic of the project is not a surprise. But we take seriously questions about data and expect in the months ahead to present and consult with the public on a comprehensive plan for data collection, use, and governance.”

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he is Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law, said the panel’s work will continue.

“We are committed to helping shape the future of data and digital policy in Canada, and I will be working with Waterfront Toronto and my fellow panel members to make sure that (the panel) can achieve what it set out to do, namely to provide expert advice on emerging issues related to privacy and data ownership,” Geist said in a statement.

Added Michael Nobrega, acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto: “we are unwavering in our commitment to serving the public interest and look forward to receiving the advice of the panel.”

He went on to say, “we are also well supported by external privacy and legal experts.”

In May, Sidewalk Labs released a responsible data use policy framework, including a promise to make data collected as part of the project “open and accessible” without breaching privacy.

In terms of data stewardship, Sidewalk says it continues to explore “conventional approaches to data ownership in cities, the responsibilities that come with “owning” data, the technological and economic advantages of storing data in Canada, and innovative models of governing urban data, such as establishing a non-profit data trust.

Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent


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