Guide to Doing Business in Canada: White collar crime/corruption

9 minute read
15 October 2021

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White collar crime/corruption

In Canada, as in other parts of the world, regulators and enforcement agencies are taking a progressively more serious stance against improper and unethical business practices.

To ensure compliance with the complex framework of laws, regulations and governance requirements, and to detect and prevent potential violations, businesses should consult a team of legal professionals with national and international capabilities and experience.

  1. Foreign corruption
  2. Antitrust/competition law
  3. Securities prosecutions
  4. Fraud
  5. Corporate criminal liability
  6. Regulatory prosecutions
  7. Anti-money laundering and terrorist financing

1. Foreign corruption

Canada's answer to the United States' Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) was the enactment of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA) in 1998. Like the FCPA, the CFPOA criminalizes the act of offering or giving a reward, advantage or benefit of any kind to a foreign public official in exchange for an act or an omission to act in connection with the performance of that official's duties, or to induce the official to use his or her position to influence acts or decisions of the foreign state.

Canada's jurisdiction over foreign bribery is broad. The CFPOA captures acts committed anywhere in the world by:

  • A Canadian citizen
  • A permanent resident of Canada
  • A corporation, company, firm or partnership that is incorporated, formed or otherwise organized under the laws of Canada or a province

Unlike the FCPA, Canada's CFPOA is purely a criminal statute - there is no civil component. The potential penalties for corporations include unlimited fines, corporate probation, debarment from government contracting and forfeiture of criminal proceeds.

For individuals, the potential penalties include up to 14 years of imprisonment, unlimited fines, probation and debarment from government contracting.

While Canada was slow to enforce the CFPOA, since 2011 there has been an increase in enforcement. In 2011, Niko Resources Ltd. pleaded guilty under the Act and was sentenced to a $9.5-million fine and three years of corporate probation. In 2013, Griffiths Energy - a Canadian oil company operating in Chad, Africa - was sentenced to a $10.25-million fine under the Act. Also, in 2013, Nazir Karigar was convicted after trial for bribes paid to the Indian minister of civil aviation and employees of Air India to influence the sale of facial recognition software. Karigar was the first individual to be convicted under CFPOA - he was sentenced to three years in jail. In July 2017, Karigar's conviction was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. In late 2018, two individuals, Robert Barra and Shailesh Govindia, were convicted of agreeing to bribe a foreign public official, contrary to the CFPOA. In March 2019, the two were sentenced, each receiving a 30-month custodial sentence. In 2020, Sami Bebawi, former vice-president of an international corporation was found guilty on 5 counts relating to fraud, corruption of foreign officials and laundering proceeds of crime and sentenced to 8.6 years. These prosecutions appear to be showing a trend towards the prosecution of individuals involved in corporate corruption abroad.

Companies operating in the extractive sector in Canada are required to comply with the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act, which came into force in June 2015. The Act requires that certain payments made to governments (in Canada and abroad) be tracked and reported. Failure to comply with the Act can result in fines of up to $250,000. This process could also be used as a conduit to investigate payments made to foreign officials and potentially lead to an investigation under the CFPOA, the FCPA, or both.

2. Antitrust/competition law

Antitrust in Canada is governed by the Competition Act, which is a central and established feature of Canadian economic policy. The purpose of the Act is to eliminate activities that reduce competition in the marketplace. As a whole, the Act embodies a complex scheme of economic regulation, and identifies and defines anti-competitive conduct. It provides an extensive range of criminal and administrative redress against companies engaging in behaviour that tends to reduce competition.

The key pillars of the Act's criminal provisions are sections 45 and 47, which prohibit anti-competitive conduct in the form of price fixing and bid-rigging, respectively. Following amendments to the Act in 2009, penalties for those criminal offences can now be up to 14 years of imprisonment and/or up to $25 million in fines. Recent case law suggests that courts may use the amendments to harshly penalize certain anti-competitive conduct to "communicate the Court's recognition of the very serious nature of such illegal conduct, its substantial adverse impact on the economy, and society's abhorrence of the crime."

3. Securities prosecutions

In Canada, unlike most other jurisdictions, securities regulation is not done at the federal level, but is instead regulated by the provinces and territories. Each of the provincial securities statutes include quasi-criminal provisions - such as prohibitions on insider trading and tipping - in addition to securities and accounting fraud provisions. Penalties for quasi-criminal securities prosecutions include jail sentences and fines. There are also overlapping Criminal Code provisions related to securities offences, such as insider trading, but they are rarely utilized.

4. Fraud

By virtue of its broad interpretation in case law, criminal fraud is one of the more commonly prosecuted offences in the Canadian corporate context. The offence can be committed by or against a corporation.

Criminal fraud occurs when, through deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, a person intentionally defrauds the public or another person of any property, money, valuable security or any service. Where the subject-matter of the fraud exceeds $5,000, the offence is punishable by a maximum of 14 years of imprisonment. Where the value of the subject-matter of the fraud exceeds $1 million, there is a minimum sentence of two years imprisonment.

5. Corporate criminal liability

Canada's Supreme Court has long held that the corporate vehicle occupies such a large portion of the industrial, commercial and sociological sectors, that amenability to our criminal law is as essential for the corporation as it is for the natural person.

The Criminal Code allows for corporate criminal liability where a senior officer - a representative who plays an important role in the establishment of the organization's policies, or who is responsible for managing an important aspect of the organization's activities - is implicated in the crime. To establish criminal liability, the senior officer must have intent, at least in part, to provide some benefit to the organization.

The senior officer can attract corporate criminal liability on the following grounds:

  • Acting within the scope of their authority, the senior officer becomes a party to the offence
  • Directing others to commit the offence
  • Failing to take all reasonable measures to stop a representative of the organization from committing the offence

6. Regulatory prosecutions

There are numerous regulatory regimes in Canada that have criminal or quasi-criminal powers. These regulatory regimes include occupational health and safety legislation, environmental legislation and a wide variety of economic legislation.

7. Anti-money laundering and terrorist financing

Taking steps to eliminate the financing available to criminal and terrorist groups is becoming an increasingly important part of the global fight against such threats. For its part, Canada enacted the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act in June 2000. The Act is intended to detect, and ultimately deter, the processing of funds that have been tainted by crime, or the transfer of funds for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities. It accomplishes this goal by imposing a number of (sometimes onerous) obligations on certain categories of businesses. It also bestows investigative powers on the authorities for the purpose of implementing the Act. Failure to comply with the provisions of this Act can result in significant financial penalties and/or imprisonment.

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