Financial crime watchdog’s budget trimmed

OTTAWA — Canada’s financial transactions watchdog says its services are in greater demand than ever — even as the federal government withdraws millions of dollars in special funding from its budget.

OTTAWA — Canada’s financial transactions watchdog says its services are in greater demand than ever — even as the federal government withdraws millions of dollars in special funding from its budget.

The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FinTRAC) referred 556 cases to domestic or foreign police and other agencies in 2008-09.

In tabling the centre’s annual report in Parliament on Tuesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty cited the devastating effects of white-collar crime and lauded the centre’s role in “strengthening the integrity of Canada’s financial sector.”

The centre’s director, Jeanne Flemming, said FinTRAC is able to produce “more financial intelligence, more quickly” than ever in the face of growing demand.

However, the Harper government, which has made anti-crime legislation a centrepiece of its agenda, reduced the centre’s 2009-2010 budget to $48 million from $54.9 million in 2007-08.

A Flaherty spokesman said the reduction is not a budget cut.

“In fact, (the budget has) been increased by about 50 per cent since we formed government in 2006, when it was around $32 million,” Chisholm Pothier said in an email.

“The extra money that brought it up to $54 million was temporary funding announced in 2006 to implement specific amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. That funding is no longer required.”

Flemming said the move was not unexpected and will not affect operations. However, the annual report says FinTRAC conducted a resource review aimed at tailoring its operations to the depleted resources.

“As part of the review, resources were allocated to the strategic priorities of the organization, multi-year budgets were allocated across FinTRAC, and resource management practices were reviewed and improved,” it said.

“An accommodation strategy was also developed that allowed the agency to reduce its space holdings by 8.5 per cent.”

The little-known centre, with a staff of 295, analyzes financial transaction reports and discloses financial intelligence to domestic and foreign agencies.