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B.C. introduces 'unexplained wealth orders' to target money laundering, organized crime

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British Columbia has expanded legislation to crack down on organized crime assets, through a tool called unexplained wealth orders.

At a news conference Thursday, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said if there is suspicion of unlawful activity, these orders will require people to explain how they acquired their assets.

He added the orders are a tool that will assist the province with investigating common money laundering techniques, such as hiding assets with family members.

“Too many people are recruited into organized crime with dreams of exotic cars, fancy homes, and a glamorous lifestyle. It is anything but,” Farnworth said.

The amendment was made to the Civil Forfeiture Act, which became law in 2006. Other amendments include making it easier to access information from public bodies and organizations such as real estate boards, targeting the illegal cannabis market, eliminating the limitation period on forfeiture proceedings, and making it easier to target financed vehicles.

Farnworth said these amendments will make it more difficult “for criminals to bank on their illicit assets.”

According to the province, in order to get an unexplained wealth order, the court must agree there is reason to suspect the person or organization is engaged in unlawful activity, or is a politically exposed foreign person.

The person must also hold assets in B.C. worth at least $75,000, that can not be explained by lawfu lemployment or activity.

The amendments are based on recommendations from the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, which released its recommendations in June 2022.

“It is heartening to hear that this is being done. I believe (these orders) will prove a powerful and effective tool in combating and deterring money laundering and financial crime,” said Brock Martland, senior counsel to the Cullen Commission in a news release Thursday.

The changes are expected to come into effect in 2025.
Alexandra Wrage is the President and founder of TRACE, a non-profit, anti-bribery business association. She told CTV News she supports unexplained wealth orders but with safeguards in place.

"There are privacy and due process considerations, but we can’t simply acknowledge that dirty money is winning and we’re helpless to do anything about it," she wrote in a statement.

"A number of other countries are already hopeful that UWOs will slow the abuse of their markets to launder criminal funds and, if we join them, we can ensure that we don’t become part of a race to the bottom for money-launderers."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association goes further. Ligation director Viber Jack told CTV News, the orders essentially flip our justice system on its head.

"It's creating a situation where British Columbians are going to have to go to court to prove that they are not criminals, and that's just unconstitutional," Jack added.

Another issue raised was that that the orders extend to family members -- that's something Farnworth made no apologies for.

"Just because the mob boss' spouse isn't involved in it, doesn’t' mean they get to keep the house," Farnworth added.

At an unrelated event, federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland noted Ottawa is also taking action on money laundering and organized crime.

"We introduced measures to criminalize unregulated money lending services, and will ensure the federal government responds to all the recommendations in the Cullen commission," Freeland explained.

Yet critics say the criminal law and police resources are no match for increasingly sophisticated crime rings.

The changes are expected to come into effect in 2025.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Regan Hasegawa, Bhinder Sajan and The Canadian Press

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