The federal government has pledged to tackle “snow washing”—the process by which Canadian real estate is used to launder money.
“This issue was identified as a real priority—it has become a priority for my government,” Bill Blair, Canada’s federal minister for organized crime reduction, told Bloomberg. “We recognize and acknowledge the impact that this criminal activity—money laundering—has had on British Columbia, on the affordability of housing, and on the integrity of our financial institutions.”
Last month, a study by Transparency International Canada, Canadians for Tax Fairness and Publish What You Pay Canada revealed that, since 2008, $28.4 billion worth of housing in Toronto alone was purchased anonymously through private entities, $9.8b of which in cash. The study drew upon 1.4 million homes to reach its conclusion.
“Canada’s lack of beneficial ownership transparency makes our entire country an attractive destination for money laundering,” read the report.
The scale of Canadian real estate’s money laundering problem does not surprise Erica Mary Smith, broker of record and co-founder of Stomp Realty in Toronto. She first noticed it about a decade ago when she worked in-house for a builder.
“It was around 2008 or 2009 that it started to take off,” she said. “We would have foreign buyers all the time who would try to buy under a different name. You’d never meet them. Sometimes the money would just come through and we’d have the feeling that it isn’t being done the proper way, but it’s hard to prove. They try to use certain IDs or are evasive when it comes to supplying certain things. Builders went through this a long time ago with black market money coming from overseas for the purpose of being cleaned through properties. That’s why RECO brought in the forms.”
However, measures introduced, like Receipt of Funds and Individual Identification Forms, have done little to curb untoward activity in the real estate market. Smith noted that a hot market like Toronto’s, where there are frequently multiple offers on properties, is the perfect way to launder large sums of money.
“Million dollar condos sell every day and if people are laundering money, all they have to do is find a multiple offer scenario,” she said. “A bully offer will come in but everyone is none the wiser because there are eight offers on the property and they just think the buyer really wants the property. The higher the offer, the more money they clean.”