Canada to see secret Swiss bank accounts

The Canadian government will finally be able to peek into those impenetrable Swiss bank accounts after sealing a new agreement to exchange information.

KEHRSATZ, Switzerland — The Canadian government will finally be able to peek into those impenetrable Swiss bank accounts after sealing a new agreement to exchange information.

But the deal, signed Friday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Swiss President Doris Leuthard, won’t help Canada get to the bottom of thousands of accounts at the UBS and HSBC banks it found out about over the past year.

The new measures, part of an update to an existing tax treaty, would allow the Canada Revenue Agency to ask Switzerland for information about Canadian taxpayers when it suspects a citizen of hiding income.

“Switzerland’s been very co-operative with us in that regard,” Harper said at a joint news conference.

“The double-taxation agreement we’re signing today will further enhance co-operation and obviously we’ll use the information we gain through this to ensure that Canadians respect Canadian tax laws.”

For decades, Switzerland had balked at changing the long-cherished confidentiality of its banking system. But pressure from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and then more directly by the United States this year, finally drove Switzerland to make a change.

“Switzerland was reticent, but things were moving in that direction,” said Luc Thevenoz, director of the University of Geneva’s banking and finance centre.