Centre eyes artificial intelligence to modernize the federal hunt for dirty cash

By Jim Bronskill

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ The federal anti-money laundering centre is exploring artificial intelligence and machine learning to help sort through a deluge of data in the hunt for hidden dirty cash.

In its annual report made public Wednesday, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, known as Fintrac, says rapid change in the global financial system, spurred by quickly evolving technology, is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Fintrac says technology can help money launderers but also create more efficient and effective ways of doing business for enforcement agencies.

The federal centre tries to pinpoint cash linked to money laundering and terrorism by sifting through millions of pieces of information annually from banks, insurance companies, securities dealers, money service businesses, real estate brokers, casinos and others.

Overall, the centre disclosed 2,276 pieces of financial intelligence to police and security agencies such as the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service last year.

Of these, 1,702 were related to money laundering, 373 to terrorism financing and threats to the security of Canada, and 201 to a combination of these.

Fraud, drugs and tax evasion were the most common offences linked to the disclosures. Many of the drug-related ones involved the movement of money related to deadly fentanyl.

The top three recipients of information were the RCMP, municipal police forces and CSIS.

In December, Fintrac warned casinos to scrutinize customers who pay for their gaming with bank drafts _ the latest method of choice for criminals trying to disguise tainted money.

The agency published the alert as part of Project Athena, an RCMP-led public-private partnership aimed at disrupting money-laundering activity in British Columbia and across Canada. The initiative was modelled on previous efforts targeting the fentanyl trade, romance fraud and human trafficking.

B.C. launched a public inquiry into money laundering in May after a series of independent reviews revealed that billions of dollars were being laundered through the province’s casinos, real estate market and other sectors.

B.C. was second only to Ontario among provinces in the number of financial intelligence disclosure packages received from Fintrac in 2018-19.

The federal centre depends on sophisticated technology to receive, store and secure over 25 million new financial transaction reports every year.

Filtering and analyzing the information to generate useful intelligence is only possible with modern systems that can manage the high volume of data, make the connections and produce the needed results, all in real-time or close to it, the report says.

“Over the past year, the centre engaged in research and consultation aimed at better understanding how to take advantage of new and evolving technology, particularly in relation to machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

Fintrac has begun a comprehensive review of its modernization effort to ensure “full and timely use” of its data.

Slip and Fall Lawsuit Against City Dismissed Based on Policy Defence

The guest post is written by ERIK MAGRAKEN

When sued for negligence and Occupier’s Liability Act claims public bodies enjoy a defense that private citizens and businesses do not, namely the policy defense.   Actions taken pursuant to a good faith policy decision can shield a public body from liability in circumstances where a private defendant would be held liable.  Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Victoria Registry, discussing and applying this principle.

In today’s case (Lowe v. Sidney (Town of)) the Plaintiff slipped and fell on black ice on a parking lot owned by the Defendant.  The Plaintiff argued the Defendant was negligent in failing to inspect and address this ice before the incident.  The Court disagreed and dismissed the claim.  In doing so Mr. Justice G.C. Weatherill made the following comments in applying the policy defence:

[23]         Public authorities do not owe a duty of care in tort if it is established that their actions were based upon a policy decision, unless the decision was made in bad faith or was so irrational as not to be a proper exercise of discretion.  However, public authorities can be liable for operational decisions provided the plaintiff proves the required elements of liability: Just v. British Columbia, [1989] 2 S.C.R. 1228 at 1245; Binette v. Salmon Arm (City), 2017 BCSC 302, aff’d 2018 BCCA 150, at paras. 10–14; Marchi v. Nelson (City of), 2020 BCCA 1 at paras. 14–16.

[24]         As a general rule, decisions concerning budgetary allotments for departments are classified as policy decisions, because they are an attempt by the public authority to strike a balance between efficiency and thrift, in the context of planning and predetermining the boundaries of its undertaking and of their actual performance.  True policy decisions will usually be dictated by financial, economic, social, and political factors or constraints: Brown v. British Columbia (Minister of Transportation and Highways), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 420 at 441; Binette at para. 12.

[25]         Operational decisions are those concerning the implementation and performance of the formulated policies and are usually made on the basis of administrative direction, expert or professional opinion, technical standards or general standards of reasonableness: Brown, at p. 441; Binette at para. 12.

[29]         The defendant submits that it is exempt from owing a duty of care to the plaintiff because its actions were in keeping with the Policy, which was put in place bona fide and in good faith based on, among other things, the availability of manpower, equipment, and budgetary constraints. 

[30]         The plaintiff submits that the classification of the Lot as a low priority area was not a bona fide policy because the Lot was along the defendant’s priority routes and could easily have been inspected with little to no extra effort.

[31]         I am satisfied on the evidence presented by the defendant that the Policy was dictated by financial, economic, and budgetary constraints.  It was a proper exercise of discretion.  Included in the Policy was the determination that the defendant’s six public parking lots were areas of low priority for snow and ice inspection and control, in the absence of a particular complaint or extreme weather event.  This was a resource allocation decision and, thus, an unassailable policy decision.

[32]         I also find the policy decision to be reasonable.  It is one thing for priority areas to be inspected and sanded.  To require as a matter of policy that those involved in the inspection of priority areas, at the same time, divert their attention to and engage in an inspection of areas considered low priority is illogical and inconsistent with reasonable resource allocation and prudent policy-making.  In my view, the Policy was bona fide.

bc injury law, Lowe v. Sidney, Mr. Justice G.C. Weatherill, Occupier’s Liability, Policy defence

Tough insurance market conditions driving premiums through the roof

The cost of catastrophes, construction, claims and reinsurance has pushed insurance premiums on many British Columbia condominiums through the roof.

While petitions and critics call for government intervention, industry experts say it’s a complex market issue with no easy fix. And for some, it’s about to get worse.

“We saw half of the stratas get hit on December 31, and the other half are going to get hit on April 30,” said Mike Alavi, senior property manager with Korecki Real Estate Services Inc.

The company manages 7,500 strata units across dozens of buildings in the Lower Mainland. Of the strata corporations that have recently renewed their insurance, Alavi said, around 90% saw premium increases of between 50% and 100%.

“I think what we’ve seen is a correction in the market,” Gioventu said. “It’s not like it’s exponentially incorrect, but it’s just that it’s happened all at once.”

CHOA reviewed B.C. insurance premiums dating back to the 1980s and 1990s and found that they are not far off from where they were before industry players began adjusting their rates this past year. Gioventu called it a “bit of a revelation.”

He said on a low-risk building with a good insurance history, an insurance company charges between $0.13 and $0.15 per $100 of insured property. High-risk buildings – ones that are old and poorly maintained – might cost $0.22 per $100 of property.

At that rate, insuring a high-risk property with a replacement value exceeding half a billion dollars – which exists in B.C. – might cost $1.1 million annually. In the event of a total loss, an insurer would be paying out roughly 455 times what it collected in premiums in a given year, meaning – all else equal – the insurer would have had to collect 455 years of insurance premiums to break even on the claim.

Gioventu believes market competition is partly responsible for keeping insurance premiums relatively stagnant over the past several years, despite the fact that buildings have kept aging while property values have increased and risk has grown.

The number of residential strata claims and what they cost has also risen. According to insurance broker BFL Canada, one in three stratas will submit a claim this year. Average losses now cost more than $50,000, and 54% of losses claimed are worth more than $100,000.

READ FULL ARTICLE HERE AT BUSINESS IN VANCOUVER

Insurers are warning you many have to cover your own hospital costs if you ignore CDN travel advisories

Insurers are warning you many have to cover your own hospital costs if you ignore CDN travel advisories

Vancouver Sun | Randy Shore

If you are tempted to take advantage of a cheap flight to COVID-19 hot spots such as Italy or China, you could be paying your own hospital bills if you get sick.

Pacific Blue Cross is warning its clients that that will not be covered for medical expenses related to infectious disease if a travel advisory or health warning for your destination is issued by the Canadian government and publicized before your departure date.

The company advises members to check for government health advisories for their destination.

“If you have or want to purchase travel medical or trip protection insurance or if you are covered under a group travel medical plan, you should be aware of your coverage before you travel,” the company said in a statement.

Canada has issued Level 3 travel advisories for China, Iran and northern Italy to “avoid non-essential travel.” Travelling to a country under a Level 3 or 4 warning typically voids your coverage for medical expenses.

In practice, that means that your medical claims will be honoured as long as there is no Level 3 or 4 advisory for your destination on the effective date of your medical coverage, travel industry insiders say.

A Level 1 travel advisory means exercise normal security precautions, Level 2 advises a high degree of caution. Level 3 advises avoiding non-essential travel, while Level 4 advises Canadians to avoid all travel to the affected region.

Level 1 health notices have been issued for Singapore and Hong Kong, and Level 2 notices are in force for South Korea and Japan.

Confirm the exact terms of your health care and travel coverage with your insurer, as there is considerable variability among companies and policies are changing almost daily in response to the growing crisis.

Canada Life Financial “will continue to assess” claims related to COVID-19, including those that occur during travel to a country with a travel advisory warning.

The company has expedited disability claims related to COVID-19 and is also considering claims from people under quarantine at the direction of a physician, a company official said.

BCAA also will not provide trip cancellation or trip interruption coverage on claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased after March 5. TuGo will not provide coverage for claims related to COVID-19 on policies purchased on or after March 4.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, have also recommended that people “avoid all cruise ship travel.”

Canadians who take a cruise against that advice may not be able to return home on a government-organized repatriation flight, or may have to pay the cost of returning should they become ensnared in a quarantine, the agency said.

If the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is detected on your ship, you could be subject to quarantine aboard the ship or in a foreign country under local rules. Your access to consular services may also be limited by local authorities.

Ports in India, Malaysia, Doha, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates have banned cruise ships outright, while many other countries have banned passengers from China, Iran, Italy and Korea from disembarking.

The cruise warning is not a Level 3 advisory, so there are no insurance implications, yet. It’s effect has been devastating, nonetheless.

“That advisory is the single biggest blow to the industry since this virus became headline news,” said travel agent Claire Newell. “I was surprised because there are hundreds and hundreds of ships in regions that haven’t been affected.”

The onslaught of holiday cancellations has triggered an overhaul of the insurance products being offered to travellers, many of them temporary offers.

“A lot of package tour operators are offering worry-free clauses in their cancellation policies,” she said.  “The industry has been hit very hard and they are trying to spur bookings because people are afraid.”

However, the cancellation windows vary from 30 days before departure to as little as 48 hours. Most allow you to rebook free, but do not offer refunds.

Discounts of up to 75 per cent are available for people willing to book a cruise.

“That’s what is going to get people over their fear, a hell of a good deal,” she said, adding that more than 90 per cent of people who are booking a holiday also buy cancel-for-any-reason insurance.

The COVID-19 epidemic is fuelling demand for “self-driving” holidays and Canadian destinations such as Niagara and the Gaspé, as well as destinations such as Iceland, Scotland and South America, where only a handful of cases are confirmed.

“There is a lot of interest in Peru, which is a great bucket list destination,” said Newell.

Federal government to announce supports for people, businesses hit by COVID-19

PM says Ottawa expecting ‘significant economic impacts’ from COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce on Wednesday supports for people and businesses affected by COVID-19 — the first part of a federal package designed to help workers who are forced to stay home from their jobs as the virus spreads and disrupts the economy.

Trudeau will announce supports for those facing “immediate pressures,” with more aid for other sectors to be announced in the coming days.

Sources have told CBC News that the measures Trudeau will announce include waiving the one-week waiting period for Employment Insurance benefits for people who have to self-isolate because of the outbreak.

The package also will include a boost to research funding to combat the virus, over and above the $27 million announced in Montreal last week.

Ottawa is also leading a pan-Canadian effort to bulk-buy certain medical devices, and the federal government says it will be ready to support provinces needing further assistance to shore up their health care systems as the number of confirmed cases rises.

Trudeau met with top ministers this afternoon, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu, as part of the government’s response to a virus that has sickened dozens across Canada and killed one person in B.C.

“We recognize that there are going to be significant economic impacts for Canadians, for workers, for businesses, and that’s why we’re going to be talking very soon about measures that Canada is going to put forward to support people on the economic side,” Trudeau told reporters on his way into question period.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Ottawa is considering stimulus spending in the upcoming federal budget.

Beyond Wednesday’s planned announcement, Duclos said the federal government will spend more to help people “go through the crisis” and help “workers, families and businesses thrive and sustain themselves.”

“We have the fiscal room and the fiscal power to intervene and provide the stimulus that the economy will demand,” Duclos said in an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics. “We have the will and the ability to make a difference. We will use our considerable fiscal room and power to invest.”

While the debt-to-GDP ratio has been falling in recent years, Ottawa is running a federal budget deficit of $26.6 billion for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

READ MORE HERE AT CBC NEWS

Canada Life lays off 85 employees in Winnipeg, Montreal & London, Ont

Insurance giant to replace staff by outsourcing services from Winnipeg-based telemarketing company

Dana Hatherly · CBC News Manitoba

Canadian insurance giant Canada Life is laying off dozens of employees working in three provinces.

In an emailed statement to CBC, the company confirmed Tuesday it is laying off 85 employees in its Winnipeg, Montreal and London, Ont., offices.

The insurance company cited shifting demographics and changing the way it engages with customers in its decision.

Canada Life says it’s partnering with 24-7 Intouch Solutions — a multinational telemarketing company based in Winnipeg — to offer bilingual services and longer hours.

“24-7 has the tools and infrastructure to provide longer service hours for our customers,” vice-president Diane Bezdikian said in the statement.

She added the change “will provide greater flexibility in servicing our customers in both official languages.”

When asked by CBC, a company spokesperson would not say how many employees would be laid off in each of the three affected cities.

Three life insurance companies recently came together under the Canada Life banner when Great-West Life Assurance in Winnipeg, London Life Insurance and Canada Life Assurance consolidated as part of a restructuring process.

No jobs were cut as a result of that announcement last spring.

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