In a quest to find a country that is still outward-looking and welcoming, I am going to have a look at Canada this summer. Although I will still be keeping a weather eye on all things AML, please note that for the next month this blog will feature only one post a week, on Wednesdays. Normal service will resume in September.
Despite its socially liberal tendencies, generous immigration policy and media-friendly PM, all is not perfect in what its inhabitants like to call the Great White North. In May 2017, a Vancouver lawyer called Donald Gurney was found guilty of professional misconduct by the disciplinary panel of the Law Society of British Columbia. The panel determined that Mr Gurney had ignored “a sea of red flags” by allowing C$25,845,489.87 [about £15.7 million] of offshore cash to pass through his trust account between May and November 2013, while he made no enquiries at all about who the lenders were, the source of the funds or the client’s intended use of the money. He did however recognise “the risk involved”, and so he charged a tenth of one per cent as his fee but did no legal work for the client. The panel was not impressed with the lawyer’s attitude: “He was evasive in that he would not answer questions put to him and was self-serving with regard to his knowledge of the Law Society accounting rules.”
You might think that this sort of behaviour would embarrass Canada’s legal fraternity, but far from it. In its most recent mutual evaluation of Canada – published in September 2016 – the FATF observed that “all high-risk areas are covered by AML/CFT measures, except legal counsels, legal firms and Quebec notaries – this constitutes a significant loophole in Canada’s AML/CFT framework”. And the situation has yet to be rectified, not least – in fact, in main – because of opposition from the legal sector itself. Ironically, a decade ago Canada was one of the first countries to propose legislation pulling accountants and lawyers into the AML family. Accountants acceded graciously, but the very Law Society of British Columbia that has chastised Mr Gurney has also successfully fought all proposals to include lawyers in AML requirements. On 13 February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada found that the wording of the latest draft legislation breached the constitutional right to attorney-client privilege – and no new provisions have been submitted since then. Frankly, it is an embarrassment for Canada (a dangerous embarrassment), and I shall give a special Paddington hard stare to any local lawyers that I encounter on my travels.