Tool to collect fines from advisers limited

TORONTO — New legislation in Ontario is expected to improve financial service regulators’ ability to collect fines levied against unscrupulous advisers, but an investor advocacy group says the majority of rule-breaking advisers will still likely never pay.

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced Friday that self-regulating bodies in the investment industry — such as the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada — would be allowed to file their fine decisions with a court, making them immediately enforceable.

By enabling regulators to better collect fines, that will “deter potential offenders from wrongdoing in the first place” and “strengthen investor protection,” Sousa said in a speech.

But Marian Passmore, director of policy for FAIR Canada, says the new legislation only represents a small step toward deterring unethical behaviour by advisers, such as embezzlement and pushing unsuitable investments.

“There’s significantly better collection rates amongst the provincial jurisdictions that have this ability, but there still is a low collection rate against individuals,” Passmore says.

“Depending on the fine and what kind of assets they have, there’s a cost-benefit ratio involved in pursuing collections. So it’s not a silver bullet, but it’s helpful.”

According to senior advocacy organization CARP, the success rate for collecting fines in Ontario is approximately 12 per cent, while provinces with the ability to enforce fines such as Alberta, Quebec and P.E.I. have collections rates roughly three times higher. But that still leaves the majority of penalties uncollected.

Passmore says FAIR Canada supports the new legislation, but the advocacy group would also like to see fine enforcement action brought against the actual firms who employ rule-breaking advisers.

“If they were responsible for the actions of their employees then we’d have much greater fine collections and deterrents,” she said.

IIROC, which is owed nearly $20 million in outstanding fines in Ontario dating back to 2008, applauded the change.

“As a public interest regulator, this new enforcement tool will enable us to provide stronger protection to the investing public and collect fines from wrongdoers who have previously evaded paying the penalty for their misconduct,” IIROC CEO Andrew Kriegler said in a release.

CARP, which advocated for the changes following months of campaigning, said fines are a critical tool to discourage unethical behaviour, as a fine that cannot be collected is “meaningless.”

“Now there’s teeth,” said CARP chief operating officer Wanda Morris. “There is more to be done, but today’s announcement is a critical first step.”

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