B.C. government will reveal owners of shell companies that hold real estate, but what about other assets?

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      It appears as though the provincial government is going to end the corporate secrecy around who owns land in B.C.

      Section 49 of the Business Corporations Act lays out strict legal requirements under which shareholder lists can be obtained from companies.

      This law was proclaimed shortly after Gordon Campbell became premier in 2001. It prevents the media from visiting a corporate registered records office to find out who owns a company.

      This has provided a convenient shield for owners of shell companies that buy real estate in B.C.

      In 2016 corporate secrecy in B.C. was flagged as a serious issue by Transparency International Canada.

      “Individuals can use shell companies, trusts and nominees to hide their beneficial interest in Canadian real estate," TI Canada executive director Alesia Nahirny said in a news release. "This makes property attractive for money laundering, deprives the government of tax revenue, and hinders data collection, making it difficult to analyze the impacts these ownership structures have on the real estate market.”

      However, these shields could soon be taken down, according to one of the NDP caucus's most prolific Twitter users.

      North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP MLA Bowinn Ma has declared: "This fall we'll be introducing legislation to give transparency over the individuals behind property-owning shell companies and trusts."

      The tweet came after Finance Minister Carole James announced that she'll require more information on property-transfer-tax returns when they're completed through a corporation or trust.

      Starting September 17, these transactions must disclose the beneficial owner's name, date of birth, citizenship information, contact details, and tax information.

      A government news release states that the province is also "consulting on legislation to establish a new, publicly accessible registry of who owns real estate in B.C."

      There will also be a new law "to track pre-sale condominium contract assignments, and prevent tax evasion".

      James oversees corporate-disclosure rules and Attorney General David Eby's ministry reviews legislation brought forward by the government.

      So far, there's been no comment from James or Eby on whether they're prepared to amend Section 49 of the Business Corporations Act.

      Addressing this law would not only end the secrecy around property ownership, but it would also spread sunshine across the entire B.C. economy.

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