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What's going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not on the improve and we're going to get it fixed. But we've got the guy to do it, to start, to help.
CONNIE WALKER: Gord Downie shining a spotlight on the condition of Indigenous people in Canada and calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be the leader to finally make things right. Today it's time for our report card on the Trudeau Liberals’ progress on this challenging but critically important front. We'll hear from some prominent and plugged in voices from First Nations communities but also from the Minister Responsible for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett. That's first up today. Then—
The pursuit of happiness and valuing happiness and the way our culture encourages us to do can actually make you feel unhappy and lonely.
CW: Could it be that happy is overrated? It's the provocative thesis of a new book that just might change the way you think about life. We'll tell you what's better than being happy in half an hour. And finally, why Canada is becoming a global tax haven for the rich and shady.
They're doing what I call snow washing. You've got this entity that's in Canada. Banks are going to presume that it's legitimate because it's Canadian, because it's pure as the driven snow.
CW: The surprising story of snow washing in an hour. I'm Connie Walker and this is The Current.Back To Top »
Indigenous leaders give Trudeau government failing grade on delivering promises
Guests: Cindy Blackstock, Hayden King, Carolyn Bennett
VOICE 1: It is time for a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations people. One that understands that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but a sacred obligation.
[Sound: Crowd applause]
VOICE 2: What is needed is fundamental and foundational change. It's about writing historical wrongs. It's about shedding our colonial past. It's about writing the next chapter together as partners. We now need all Canadians to embark on the journey of reconciliation.
CW: It's been one year today since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's historic finding that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children on reserves. But despite lofty pronouncements like these from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, many see too little progress being made in the past year. Indeed, according to reports, an internal report card from the Privy Council Office has given the Trudeau government a failing grade for its delivery on its promises to Indigenous Canadians. We're going to be joined by the minister herself in just a few minutes, but first we have two guests standing by. Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University. She's in our Winnipeg's studio. And Hayden King is an assistant professor at the School of Public Policy at Carleton University. He is in Ottawa. Hello to you both.
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Good morning.
HAYDEN KING: Good morning.
CW: Cindy, it's been one year since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling. Have Indigenous and Inuit communities seen results, seen the promises that were made by the Trudeau government to right this wrong?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: It's not only a matter of promises. This was a legally binding ruling where the Canadian government was found to be racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children and they were ordered to immediately stop. They didn't do it. And the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has been so unsatisfied with Canada's response that it's issued two noncompliance orders against the Canadian government. And in fact in March of this year, we're going back to the tribunal for further hearings on noncompliance.
CW: What more would you have expected the government to achieve in this time?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: I would have expected them first of all to comply with the orders. Now what that means is that an immediate investment of a minimum of $155 million for child welfare to give these kids a fighting chance to grow up in their families. A second piece is they have to fully implement something called Jordan's Principle, which is to ensure that all First Nations children can access government services on the same terms as other kids. Right now, their current definition says well no, we're going to expand it but it is only children with short-term critical illnesses and disabilities that can access equitable services if you’re First Nations, not other kids. They make claims that they've implemented it as recently as yesterday when they filed their affidavits for the tribunal. But I think we saw that tragic case of those two deaths by suicide of two young girls in northern Ontario. In that case, the government in January was ordered to end that discrimination. They didn't do it. They said they'd only discuss it. The community sends in a funding proposal to Health Canada saying this is urgent. We have children in need who are having a suicide pact. They don't respond. The children die tragically.
CW: Two girls died by suicide in that community.
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: In that community needlessly. And then a private donor has to come up with the money to get the kids some mental health treatment because Canada is moving too slowly. That's completely unacceptable.
CW: Hayden, it's not just child welfare. Many promises have been made over the last year to Indigenous leaders in communities on housing, health care, education. What grade would you give the Trudeau government?
HAYDEN KING: If Justin Trudeau was one of my students, I think he would be at the bottom of the class. Every Canadian government that has come and gone on Indian policy, I don't think there's been—I don't think any have earned a passing grade—but I think this government is particularly exceptional for showing up to class but just failing to do any of the work. The list of commitments that have been made and not undertaken or even begun is extremely long. There's the child welfare issues—in the fall, the Auditor-General noted the lack of progress on specific land claim implementation, continued institutional discrimination against corrections. There's a Privy Council document that came out last week. Also last week a judge had to extend the government's deadline to end discrimination in the Indian Act and gender discrimination in the Indian Act.
CW: Are there any areas where the federal government has moved beyond gestures and statements in your view?
HAYDEN KING: I think that in education, some communities are starting to see resources get into the community. The delay is unacceptable but in terms of concrete resources, there's some action there. You have to give credit to Justin Trudeau for showing up and meeting with the First Nation leadership as often as he does. The bar was pretty low set by the previous prime minister but he does come to meetings and have conversations with First Nation, Metis and Inuit leadership. And he did strike the missing and murdered Indigenous women's inquiry which though appears to be stalled at the moment, was also a positive step. But aside from that—you know I can continue on with the list—whether it's the TRC calls to action, the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, the so-called decolonization process, all of these commitments are languishing.
CW: Cindy, the Trudeau government always points to their historic $8.4 billion investment in Indigenous communities. Will that result in the significant changes needed for First Nations?
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Well, I think we need to focus on what actually went out the door. And in a case of child welfare, what went out the door this year was $71 million, which falls far short of what the Conservatives estimated what was required in 2012. And I should note: this budget 2016 for child welfare was developed by the government's own admission under the previous government. This is a Conservative plan. And it falls far short. And 54 per cent of the money allocated for child welfare in that budget—in that big 6.84 figure, a billion dollar figure—doesn't happen until the year of the next election or the year after. Same in education—50 per cent of the money will not be seen by these children until the year of the next election or assuming they get back in the year after. So Canadians need to pay a lot of attention to what is actually going out the door. So it's not having the same kind of impact and one of the things that is troubling to me is I will see the government make statements and they talk. It's almost like they want to pat themselves on the back for everything they're doing versus really keeping focused on what their requirement, their legal duty to comply with these orders and make it possible for community members to implement child welfare reform. That's not the job of the government. The job of the government is to make sure the resources and flexibility is there so those solutions can be implemented.
CW: Hayden, the Trudeau government always seems to want to give the impression that they're different from the previous governments on First Nations issues. How different are they in your view?
HAYDEN KING: I think, as I sort of mentioned before, they're different in their ability to manipulate symbols. They're really good—as Cindy was alluding to—at saying great things, at showing up at meetings, at appropriating Indigenous symbols, using language like decolonization, changing the name of the ministry to Indigenous. They're really good at using those symbols to make it seem as though real change is happening. But in reality—and you'll hear the prime minister and you'll hear the minister increasingly talk about incremental change—you know that these things are really hard and they take time, which is 180 degrees from the language they used to get elected, which was real transformative change. And so I think that the previous government—I sort of respected the previous government because they were blunt. They were honest.
CW: Has there been any evidence of foundational change that Minister Bennett talked about?
HAYDEN KING: I haven't seen it.
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: No, neither have I and I think one of the key pieces we were looking for is the department needs to reform itself. This is the longest standing colonial department and when Hayden raises that very important note about incremental change—just to give the listening public an understanding— it was 110 years ago that the alarm went out that federal inequalities in health care was resulting in the deaths of First Nations children and it was an urgent call to stop that. That's 110 years ago. We have to stop being patient with the government because children's childhoods don't get put on hold while they get their act together. The department needs to reform it the way it thinks and acts in order to engage effectively in reconciliation and achieve the TRC and the promise of [unintelligible].
CW: Alright. Well, thank you both very much for joining me this morning.
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: Thank you.
HAYDEN KING: Thanks.
CW: Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University. She was in our Winnipeg studio. And Hayden King is an assistant professor who teaches in the School of Public Policy at Carleton University. He was in Ottawa. Joining me now in our Toronto studio to respond to what we've just heard is Carolyn Bennett, Canada's minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Good morning.
CAROLYN BENNETT: Good morning, Connie.
CW: So we heard a clip from you promising foundational change but our previous guests say that you have not delivered. What is your government doing to fulfill the many promises it made to Indigenous people?
CAROLYN BENNETT: Well, I think that the foundational change is adversaries know more. It means that everything we do has to be done in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Metis. This is a different way of going about things and sometimes that's a little slower, but it's genuine and authentic that this partnership is real as we are seriously trying to decolonize. That means more and more communities trying to get out from under the Indian Act with our help.
CW: How do you respond to the allegation that that is all talk and no action?
CAROLYN BENNETT: Well, I think that the meetings that Hayden King referred to are genuine. I think if you talk to the people who are in those meetings and then having to act on changing the financial relationship between the government of Canada and First Nations, that's a real committee making real changes. It isn't there yet but—
CW: You mean there is not resulting in changes on the ground for First Nations people yet?
CAROLYN BENNETT: Well, at the moment the funding still goes in grants and contributions and is a sort of red light, green light and where we as the government of Canada determine what is funded, what’s not. We want to see eventually community planning and the kinds of transfers that allow communities to make their own decisions about these things. And in the meantime, I think that we are seeing tremendous change in terms of as the money flows out, it has never got out of government faster, to be able to see the kinds of changes in communities knowing the housing is coming, the water projects are coming, the changes in education. The funding for language and culture, Connie, you know is so important, in terms of kids growing up to feel proud to be Indigenous kids.
CW: Language is important for sure but also obviously access to housing and child welfare. As Cindy was talking about, it's been a year since the Human Rights Tribunal found that the government is discriminating against Indigenous children. What action has been taken in response to that ruling?
CAROLYN BENNETT: Well, thank you so much for the question and we are really proud of the work that we're doing on the complete overhaul of the system. The system right now has perverse incentives where honestly there's more money to agencies, the more children that are apprehended. We have almost 50 per cent of the kids in care in Canada, Indigenous children, when it's four per cent of the population. This has to change and this is the kind of work we're doing on the ground to make those changes.
CW: What specific action has been taken in response to that ruling?
CAROLYN BENNETT: So the first thing—there's two parts to the ruling—one is the care of children with disabilities in Health Canada and Minister Philpott being able to change the definition of Jordan's Principle meaning that it doesn't have to be multiple disabilities and multiple agencies. That means since July 1st, 1,500 more kids are getting the kind of care they need. On the child welfare piece, it means that we've been able to get out with the ministerial special representative to talk to agencies and find out what do they need in terms—because the tribunal said it had to be needs-based funding. We have to listen to see what are their needs and how do we change it? But also how do they build the language and culture programs? How do we get those kids really feeling good about themselves? But the ultimate indicator will be will communities be able to look after these kids without having them apprehended out of their communities where we know they do terribly? And that too many kids are dying and too many kids are getting into trouble because their family has been disrupted and they have lost their secure personal cultural identity that has them do well.
CW: So last November, the Liberals—all parliament—passed a motion, an NDP motion on child welfare that called for an immediate injection of $155 million to ensure that the government complies with this human rights tribunal ruling. When will that money start flowing to communities?
CAROLYN BENNETT: The money is already flowing. So in this year, we believe that it's almost you know—
CW: The $151 million—
CAROLYN BENNETT: Yeah. Because we've got the extra money for Jordan's Principle with that is allowing 1,500 more kids in care. But we've also put money out to each of the agencies to develop their needs, develop their cultural programs. We've also increased the dollars to the agencies for their maintenance and those kinds of things.
CW: How much of that money has gone out?
CAROLYN BENNETT: So it’s almost $200 million.
CW: As a result of the human rights tribunal.
CAROLYN BENNETT: As a result of the plan that was put in place and almost another $100 million comes out March 31st. So this is the reform that we know needs to happen. Connie, Grand Chief Ed John keeps saying that when you've got hundreds of lawyers in British Columbia being paid retainers to apprehend children from their family, that isn't where the money needs to go. The money needs to go to communities. And that's what we're going to do.
CW: I've also talked to people who work in these child welfare agencies who say that they don't actually have money to buy beds for children sometimes. So some of these people have criticized the government for the incremental funding that's been provided to child welfare agencies.
CAROLYN BENNETT: But I think that also if you talk to the Grand Chief Derek Nepinak that the kind of problems that happen when you send money to a province and it gets clawed back to the province. That's why we have to do this fundamental change. But this is about the kids and this is about them growing up in a secure personal cultural identity.
CW: So I want to talk about what happened in Wapekeka First Nation. Two young girls died by suicide there earlier this month after applying for money to deal with what they felt was a suicide pact in the community that didn't arrive. Why didn't your government find a way to provide that funding for that community?
CAROLYN BENNETT: I think that that money should have gone. And when it got turned down, I wish that they knew that Dr. Philpott and myself, we would have been able to do that. Each of these decisions is made in a region and I think that was a mistake and I know Dr. Phillpott’s working to right that mistake right now.
CW: I mean the tragedy in Wapekeka is just the latest example. There were six girls in northern Saskatchewan who committed suicide late last year. Sheridan Hookimaw from Attawapiskat. What is the timeline? Like when do you expect conditions on reserves to improve so that this is something that gets dealt with?
CAROLYN BENNETT: As you know, Connie, it has to be in a two-pronged approach. One is getting the kind of mental health supports into those communities. But as you know, the scourge of intergenerational trauma of residential schools, the issue of child abuse. Wapekeka was one of the real centers of Ralph Rowe and the abuse of over 500 boys in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba. We know the link between child abuse and suicide is almost direct and that we actually have to—and that's what's so inspiring about the young people. They are talking to me about child abuse. They know that they are able to, that this has to stop and they want safe places and they want their families healed because this legacy of residential schools is killing people.
CW: But it’s not only access to mental health. Many Indigenous communities struggle with inadequate housing, water quality, access to education. Can we expect to see more than a two to three per cent funding increase for basic services on reserves in the next budget?
CAROLYN BENNETT: Oh, absolutely and we're way beyond the two per cent.
CW: What will it be?
CAROLYN BENNETT: And so as we go—so already 3,100 new housing units, 14 boiled water advisories are going—
CW: Thirty-one hundred new housing units for the whole country? For 630 communities?
CAROLYN BENNETT: But this is what's happened this year in terms of the proposals we have. But it's exciting to see the comprehensive community planning going on in these communities where they now know what—and that's what we're trying to do—what they will get year after year after year. So it's not playing red light, green light with my department. You get funding for this but not funding for that. We want to be able to see these communities plan for the future and know that there will stable, predictable adequate funding which is that conversation happening right now at the committee of the FN.
CW: Just quickly, is that the foundational, fundamental change that you promised?
CAROLYN BENNETT: I think the fundamental foundational change is firstly to change the funding formula so it's not paternalism. And the second is to get more and more communities out from under the Indian Act. So we've got 40 exploratory tables representing well over 100 communities that are willing to begin that conversation. How do they get jurisdiction over their fishery? How do they get jurisdiction over child welfare? The exciting new Manitoba education system where they will be able to develop their own curriculum, their own school year, language and culture for their kids. These are fundamental changes.
CW: Okay. Well, I wish we had more time to discuss this. But thank you very much for joining me.
CAROLYN BENNETT: Thank you.
CW: Carolyn Bennett is Canada's minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and she is in our Toronto studio. The CBC News is next. Then what could be better than feeling happy? We've got that answer in our next half hour. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current.
[Music: Sting]Back To Top »
Search for meaning not happiness, says author
Guests: Emily Esfahani Smith
CW: Hello. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current.
CW: Still to come, when you think of offshore tax havens for the wealthy, the Bahamas or the British Virgin Islands might come to mind, but it seems you can add the Great White North to that list. A joint CBC News and Toronto Star investigation reveals how Canada is being marketed around the world as a tax haven. More on that in half an hour. But first, the pursuit of happiness and the meaning of it all.
[Music: “Happy” – Pharrell Williams]
CW: If that song doesn't put a smile on your face, then I don't know what will. That's Pharrell Williams with his ode to feeling happy and it's no surprise it was a hit. Happiness is supposedly the goal we're all meant to be questing after in this world—the holy happy grail. But what if that pursuit of happiness instead leads to emptiness? That's the idea behind a new book that says we need to get past our obsession with just feeling good and focus on the search for meaning. Emily Esfahani Smith is a journalist who writes about culture and psychology. Her book is called The Power of Meaning and she's with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Hi. Thanks for having me here.
CW: Thanks for joining us. So is the quest for happiness something we should really be striving for?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: You know I think when you look around our culture, there's so much emphasis on being happy and why you should be happy and that if you're happy, you'll be you know more attractive and better liked and more successful. But I think that the happiness frenzy has distracted us from what really matters, which is leading a meaningful life regardless of how happy we might feel at the end of the day. And in fact, there's some social science research suggesting that the pursuit of happiness and valuing happiness the way our culture encourages us to do can actually make you feel unhappy and lonely.
CW: How is the search for meaning then, different?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: I think with the search for meaning, meaning is defined as kind of connecting and contributing to something that lies beyond the self. So when you ask people what makes their lives meaningful, they talk about serving others or their loving relationships or having a job that in some way contributes to society. And so I think that the sources of meaning are all around us and when we set meaning as our goal and pursue that, you're also left with a deeper sense of well-being. So you're not expecting to be happy. That's not the point of the search for meaning. You're trying to you know make the world better in some way, trying to do your part and that what comes out is kind of all these well-being benefits and even some physical health benefits.
CW: That there’s fulfilment in that in some way. You grew up in Montreal.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: That's right.
CW: The quest for meaning was a bit of an everyday thing, wasn't it?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: It sure was. I grew up in a Sufi meeting house and Sufism is a school of mysticism that's associated with Islam. So growing up in the meeting house meant that twice a week, Sufis, the seekers basically, would come over to our home and sit on the floor and meditate for several hours. And the point of their practice was to kind of grow closer to God or this ultimate reality that they were yearning to be connected with. So meditation was one way that they tried to get there and also practising love and kindness, service to all. So I was kind of surrounded by people who were leading very meaningful lives. And I think that that must've helped set these questions in my head from a young age.
CW: Did you understand, I mean as a child, what they were doing or what they were searching for at that point?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: I think I did and I certainly was able to absorb their loving, kindness and their sense of joy. I just remember being surrounded by love and warmth and the meditation too seemed to be something important. And I had this sense that these were people who were doing important things with their lives and who were putting others first and that this was a good thing.
CW: What happened when you finished high school and went to study in university? In philosophy. You were studying philosophy looking for more meaning, right?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: That's right. That's right. So you know eventually my family and I, we moved out of the Sufi meeting house and we came to the United States which is where I currently live. And all of those things that made life so meaningful as a child were no longer a part of everyday life for me. And I started getting more wrapped up in just kind of day-to-day school and success and how to be a good student. And yet this search for meaning kind of remained with me and I started to wonder, can you lead a meaningful life outside of a spiritual or religious system, you know without those kind of clear answers to where meaning lies? And so when I got to college, I decided to study philosophy as a way into that. But then it turned out that philosophy isn't really discussing the question of meaning anymore. It used to be that philosophy was the place for thousands of years where people talked about what a good life is and how can I lead a good life? What does it mean to be a good person? But today academic philosophy is much more occupied with esoteric subjects, like you know one of the classes at my school was the philosophy of computers. And so I felt this dissatisfaction and kept searching after that and eventually found my way to a field called positive psychology, where these questions are kind of still being studied.
CW: In your book, you look at Albert Camus’ essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, for its lessons about finding meaning without religion. What did it teach you?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: So Camus wanted to know whether it's possible to find meaning outside of any kind of transcendent assumptions about the world. So outside of faith, outside of God. And he ended up turning to Sisyphus, this character from ancient Greek myth, as an inspiration.
CW: Remind us of the story.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Yeah. So Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill forever. But every time he would get to the top of the hill, he would roll back down right before. And yet, he had to go back up again and then he'd roll back down. This kind of endless cycle which to most of us seems futile and meaningless, but Camus—
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Torturous even. Exactly. Camus thought differently though. He thought that Sisyphus was engaged with life. That every time he rolled back down the mountain, he faced a choice: to get up again and to do it again and that there was meaning in that. And the reason was because he was kind of approaching life with defiance, with a sense of rebellion and embracing his freedom to live. He could have just stayed you know stayed down on the ground every time he rolled back down. But he didn't. He got up again. And for Camus, meaning is all about living life to the fullest and figuring out what your unique thing is, what your unique purpose is and embracing it. For Sisyphus, it was the rock, the boulder. For us, it's something different. It's whatever our purpose might be.
CW: But embracing the challenges and the adversity that inevitably everyone faces.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Exactly, that's right. And unlike a happy life where you feel good all the time and we're striving to feel good all the time, a meaningful life is full of challenges and adversity. It has to be that way. If you're trying to make the world better in some way, if you have some purpose that you're striving towards, it's going to be stressful and effortful, and yet you do it because you think it's going to make your life count.
CW: You talk about a study in the book about cleaning staff at a hospital. What did that study reveal about how the belonging but also the sense of meaning—builds a sense of meaning—I guess the belonging and the feeling like you're a part of something builds this sense of meaning?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: So in my book, I talk about four pillars or building blocks of a meaningful life and a sense of belonging is one of them. And it's really important to know with belonging that it exists in moments and that every time we’re interacting with somebody, we can invite them along and build up their sense of meaning or we can you know brush them off, ignore them, not pay attention to them. And this actually, research shows, makes both their lives feel less meaningful and them to rate life in general as less meaningful. And it makes sense because when you are treated like you matter and are valued, you conclude that your life matters. So with the hospital study, this was a study of cleaners and their interactions with hospital staff. And what the researchers found was that these small moments of belonging or rejection had a really profound influence on how they rated themselves and the meaning of their work. So for example, some of the hospital cleaners talked about how the doctors would ignore them. That they would kind of be standing in their way while they were trying to clean and would do this every day. And the cleaner said that this made them feel like they weren't valued, like they were invisible and even like they didn't exist. So small moments of rejection can have profound consequences on how we evaluate our own lives. Whereas if, you know one cleaner told a story of how he was feeling sick one day and a doctor came up to him and asked him how he was doing. Is everything okay? And that subsequently, the doctor still like days later, checked on him and asked you know are you still feeling better? And the cleaner said that this made me feel elevated and dignified and validated. And when the cleaners felt validated, when they felt a sense of belonging—whether it was a doctor acknowledging them or even a patient saying good morning and hello—that they felt like their jobs were more meaningful. They felt more like they were part of this team, this hospital team whose mission was to heal their patients.
CW: You also tell the story of a New Yorker and the man that he bought his newspaper from. What happened there?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: So I love this story because I think it shows how these small interactions can be such powerful builders of meaning. So this New Yorker has a morning routine. Every day he goes and buys a newspaper from the same vendor on a busy street corner in New York City. And over the years, the vendor and this New Yorker—his name is Jonathan—have developed a bit of a relationship with one another.
CW: As you do.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Yeah, as you do when you see someone every single day. So they have a conversation and they ask each other how their children are doing. They ask about their families. And for Jonathan, this is a really meaningful part of his day. It's this small moment where two people slow down and are treating each other as human beings. They’re not just conducting a transaction. They're taking a moment to communicate to one another that they value and that they matter. Well, one day Jonathan realized that he didn't have small change to buy the newspaper and the vendor told him oh, don't worry about it. This time it's on me or pay me next time, I think he said. But Jonathan really insisted on paying him. So he went out of his way to a nearby store to buy something that he didn't need and came back and gave the vendor the money and said you know here you go, just so I don't forget. And as Jonathan describes it, in this moment their interaction kind of changed. The vendor drew back and it was clear that he was hurt and you know it's obvious why in retrospect. The vendor was trying to do something kind for Jonathan. He was trying to even raise their relationship up a level in intimacy and trust and yet Jonathan rejected that bid for affection. And both of them ended up leaving that interaction feeling diminished, feeling a little lesser. And so—
CW: Why did Jonathan? Because he felt the vendor’s—
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Like he had hurt the vendor. Exactly. And it's funny. Research shows that when you reject someone, it's not only they that feel like their lives are less meaningful, but you too feel like your life is less meaningful. So belonging works both ways. It's kind of this arrow with two sides on it. I think we've all experienced these moments of rejection. And I think we were probably responsible for them ourselves. And so we have to be aware that how we treat others can have a profound consequence in how meaningful they evaluate their lives to be. The good news is that Jonathan and the vendor were able to restore their relationship. I think the next day Jonathan came and brought him a cup of tea and they continue to share this moment of belonging each morning. So the lesson is you know belonging can be built easily in the moment but it can also be turned down. But you can also repair it.
CW: So the resilience, I guess, of their interaction and their relationship. So another component that you talk about is finding purpose in life. What do you mean by purpose as it relates to finding meaning?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Purpose and meaning are terms that sometimes get used interchangeably but I define purpose as a component of meaning, as one building block of a meaningful life along with belonging and two other pillars: storytelling and transcendence. Purpose is a goal that kind of organizes all of your other goals or most of your other goals. It’s a top level goal that somehow involves making a contribution to others and to the world. And purpose sounds big, like curing cancer big or eradicating poverty big, but purpose comes in all shapes and sizes. So one person's purpose could be indeed you know working on a cure for cancer. Another person’s purpose could be more local, like being a good parent to their child or being a good friend, being a good colleague at work. So it comes in all shapes and sizes and we can find purpose in places we might not expect. You know I talk about one study of adolescence that shows that those who do chores around the house, who help their parents out, report a stronger sense of purpose. And I think it makes sense because they're contributing to something that's bigger than they are, to creating a home with their parents. And so I think it's important to understand that we can find purpose in the big things but also in the little things.
CW: What about if that's not self-directed? If they're being imposed upon to do the chores? Do they still find the same purpose?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: I think they do. I mean it's always better of course if it's voluntary and that you’re not coercing them. But I think that even when parents kind of encourage them or tell them this is your chore and you should do it, that they do feel a sense of purpose because they're contributing in some way.
CW: In the book you tell a story about a drug dealer in New York's Lower East Side and his search, his dream really, and how that becomes a search for purpose. Can you tell us a bit about that story?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Yes. So this man, his name is Coss Marte and he grew up on the Lower East Side when it was still a rough part of New York City. And he ended up becoming a drug dealer and running a very busy and lucrative corner on the Lower East Side. And he talks about how when that happened, he was kind of living his dream. He was making, I think, two million dollars a year at the height of it. He had multiple apartments across New York. He was wealthy. He had grown up as a poor kid and he didn't want to be poor anymore so now he was wealthy and he had all the things that he thought he wanted. And yet, living your dream he realized, is not the same thing as finding purpose. He ended up in jail for his drug activities and after a kerfuffle with a police officer, actually ended up in solitary confinement for a period of time. And that was a turning point for him. So while he was in prison, one of the things that he ended up doing was helping some of the other inmates get more fit by teaching them exercises and things like that. And he slowly realized that this was a really gratifying thing to do. He liked helping others. He had this skill of fitness that he could share with others. And one of the inmates, Coss told me, even cried because Coss had helped him get back in shape. And this inmate had always been called like one of the fat kids. And Coss was helping him. So fast forward to solitary confinement. Coss realized in solitary, as he was reflecting on his life, that his life as a drug dealer wasn't a purposeful life because it wasn't helping his community and lifting it up. In fact, he was ruining the lives of people. And yet here he was in prison helping people get more fit and this he realized, that's his true purpose. He has this gift for helping people and that's what he wants to do. So he created a business plan, started working on one in solitary confinement and then when he was released from prison, he put it into action and started a fitness center called Coss Athletics. Now, I mean when I first spoke to him, he had several dozen clients. Now he has hundreds of them and he has a shop on the Lower East Side in the exact same community where he was dealing drugs, but now he's affecting those people in a very different way.
CW: So he's successful but also fulfilling this purpose by helping others.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: That’s right.
CW: Do these realizations about meaning and how it will impact your life or the lessons in meaning, do they always come from kind of this adversity or conflict?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: I don't think they always have to. But I think that definitely adversity is a crucible for reflection because when you're knocked down, you really start taking stock of your life and reflecting on who you are and on your values. And a big part of purpose is figuring out what you're good at so you can contribute it to the world. And that takes reflection and introspection. That said, you don't have to experience adversity to get there but I think adversity probably forces you to be more reflective.
CW: When you talk about purpose, most of us spend a lot of time at work. Do we have to truly love our jobs or to have found our calling to find purpose in our work?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: No and this is one of the more inspiring takeaways from my book as I was researching it. I think that we put so much pressure on ourselves to find a meaningful career, to find purpose at work. But when you look at the people who rate their jobs as the most meaningful, they all share something in common, which is they see their work as an opportunity to serve others and all of us can reframe our work in that way. You know I write about a study of these coupon sorters in Mexico and the ones who understand their job as supporting their family, as helping their family, ultimately are more effective and more purposeful than the ones who just see it as a way to make money. So they tie it to this contribution to others. There's a story I tell, which I love from the book, about John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1962. So President Kennedy was walking the halls of you know the space exploration program and he ran into a janitor and he asked the janitor what do you do here? And the janitor said Mr. President, I'm helping to put a man on the moon. And so you know we all can find purpose by just connecting to something bigger.
CW: Wow, that’s great. How does storytelling help shape the meaning of our lives?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: So when psychologists ask people what makes their lives meaningful, people who rate their lives as meaningful have three features in common. One is that they think their lives matter and are significant. The second is that they're driven by a sense of purpose. And finally they think that their lives are coherent and comprehensible. So storytelling really plays into the coherence part of meaning. It's the act of taking our disparate and various experiences and weaving them into a narrative that explains who we are and where we came from.
CW: Like a narrative to be shared with others or is it an internal?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: It doesn't have to be shared with others and that's the power of storytelling. So much of it is just making sense of your own life for yourself. And I think we've all had kind of experiences that we’re trying to process. A lot of the times the ones that stick with us most are adverse experiences and we're trying to make sense of them. Storytelling is the act of sense making. And when you finally come to like a sense of resolution about the story, you're able to move forward in a healthy way and lead a more meaningful life because you integrate that experience into your narrative.
CW: We've talked a little bit about adversity in conflict, but what role does trauma or what role can trauma play or overcoming trauma in helping to find meaning and growth?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Absolutely. So you know we all are going to experience suffering in our lives. And some people are going to experience major forms of suffering, like traumatic experiences. And the important thing to understand is that there's this narrative, I think, in our culture that trauma breaks you. There's a good likelihood that you'll experience post-traumatic stress disorder or the symptoms of it after you have a traumatic experience. But the truth is, most people grow after trauma than experience PTSD. And the way that they grow is by relying on the pillars of meaning that I talk about and by further building them up in their lives afterwards. So I can give you an example. I interviewed this Vietnam War veteran who after the war experienced severe PTSD, became an alcoholic. And one day when he was driving drunk, killed a man. And it's horrible, of course. And Bill the veteran, just was at the bottom. Like his life couldn't get any worse. He’d killed somebody. He'd lost his family. He was in prison. And he started to reflect though and say you know I tried to kill myself. That didn't work. What can I do that makes sense given what has happened? And the thing that he decided to do was to help other veterans not make the same mistake he did. So he started a company called Dryhootch, which is a coffee shop for veterans. So it gives them a place to go that's safe, it gives them community, but without the kind of lure of alcohol and temptations that might inflame some of their negative experiences. So for Bill, he was able to cope with his traumatic experience by finding a newfound sense of purpose.
CW: Well, there's a lot of these really you know great incredibly dramatic transformative stories in your book about people finding that kind of meaning. Does everyone have the capacity though to find this kind of meaning in their lives?
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Absolutely. I think that we all do. I think the pillars of meaning are all around us and we can build them up in our lives. So you can find belonging by having a quick conversation with the person checking you out at the cash register. You can find purpose by doing random acts of kindness or bringing in snacks for your colleagues because it'll lift their days up. You can tell a story about your life just by reflecting on a pivotal experience. You can find transcendence by looking up at the stars at night and marvelling at the beauty of the world and its grandness and how small you are. So these pillars are everywhere and human beings have a need for meaning. We're creatures that make meaning and seek meaning and yearn for meaning. And I think it's time to retire the idea that meaning is this big and esoteric pursuit because in reality, meaning is all around us to find.
CW: Well, thank you very much for joining us today and for sharing your book with us.
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH: Thanks for having me. This has been wonderful.
CW: Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters and she was in our Toronto studio. We'd love to hear how you make your life meaningful. Where do you find meaning or happiness?You can find us on Facebook or tweet us @thecurrentCBC or e-mail us through our website. Go to www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. Coming up next, we're going to some of your many letters about the pressure to breastfeed. Plus Canada's surprising new status as a global tax haven. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current.
CW: I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current. Yesterday on the program we tackled an emotional issue—whether breastfeeding advocates are being too aggressive in pushing the practice on new moms. Sonya Kerr is a mother of four who struggled with breastfeeding her last child but says she got very little sympathy.
That “Breast is Best” message is everywhere. Saying breast is best, it just sets up a mom to feel like if she's not providing in that way, that she's already failed.
CW: The story was produced by The Current’s Ines Colabrese and Willow Smith. They've been reading through your feedback.
INES COLABRESE: Hello. I’m Ines.
WILLOW SMITH: And I’m Willow. And we got a lot of mail on this. The most we've had in one issue in a long time. [Unintelligible] of Calgary, Alberta writes: “I had my baby almost a year ago and soon I realized breastfeeding was not working. Seeing my baby cry and cry and cry out of hunger broke my heart. And very early on, this journey I thought would be the most amazing one of my life, became one of the darkest. Soon the questions came from nurses to friends and uninvited advice on how to do it, why to do it. I work in public health. I'm fully aware of all the benefits and wanted to breastfeed with all my heart but just couldn't. No one except my husband who saw my pain understood or supported me or gave me the benefit of the doubt. I have hurt for months and while listening to your show for the first time, I felt I wasn't alone. Share the benefits but stop the condescending and shaming approach.”
INES COLABRESE: Others felt there needed to be more support for mothers who choose to breastfeed. Meghan Hapgood from Halifax writes: “Currently in my 11th month of nursing my second child. I am passionate about breastfeeding but very frustrated by how my province and our country work to promote it and to support mothers. I think we aren't doing a good job of supporting new moms when it comes to breastfeeding because A) a lot of information and help provided publicly comes before birth, not after when a mother is actually experiencing breastfeeding for the first time. And B) we have failed to clearly communicate realistic expectations about breastfeeding.”
WILLOW SMITH: Kate Miller of Lethbridge, Alberta said she struggled with breastfeeding but was glad she stuck with it. She writes: “I struggled immensely with breastfeeding and suffered from postpartum depression that I believe was due to the difficulties I had. However, I desperately wanted to breastfeed and I did eventually overcome all of our troubles and breastfed for 16 months. I did not appreciate my family doctor telling me at eight weeks that I had “done enough, more than most mums would.” I only wanted professionals and family to continue to support me on my journey. I did not feel shamed. I felt supported and encouraged by the amazing midwives, breastfeeding doctors and family that helped make it happen.”
INES COLABRESE: Lucy Brant from Ottawa writes: “I'm a mental health professional and have all of the skills necessary to deal with stress and intense emotions. Breastfeeding both of my children was difficult for me and even with the help from lactation consultants, it was necessary for me to supplement with formula. Wanting to offer my babies the best and not being able to do so exclusively was one of the most heartbreaking and shame-inducing experiences of my life. I support all initiatives that seek to bring compassion and balance to what has become a shame inducing and rigid ideology.” That was just a small sampling of your mail. If you have any thoughts on this or any other story, we'd love to hear them. We're on Facebook and on Twitter @thecurrentCBC and you can always send us an e-mail. Our website is www.cbc.ca/thecurrent and you can click on the contact link to email us. And while you're there, you can listen to the story if you missed it.
WILLOW SMITH: And of course you can always listen on the CBC Radio app.
CW: Ines Colabrese and Willow Smith are producers at The Current.
CW: Next, more fallout from the Panama Papers.Back To Top »
Canada marketed as global tax haven, experts say
Guests: Robert Cribb, Peter Dent
VOICE 1: The largest-ever document leak is giving us an unprecedented look inside offshore tax havens.
VOICE 2: An enormous leak of files from this company. Mossack Fonseca shows the reality of offshore.
VOICE 3: The so-called Panama Papers paint a picture of widespread corruption and tax evasion by wealthy and famous people from a number of countries.
CW: When the Panama Papers were released last May, investigative journalists from around the world dug in, combing through the massive document dump from a Panamanian law firm to see who was hiding what and where in tax avoiding offshore accounts. In Canada, journalists revealed the names of a number of Canadians who were sheltering their money in havens such as the Bahamas. But more digging has shown something even more surprising. Canada may be turning into quite the tax haven itself. The CBC investigative unit working with the Toronto Star has been looking into this. Rob Cribb is a senior investigative reporter at the Toronto Star and he's here to tell us about the latest findings. Hello.
ROBERT CRIBB: Hey. Good to be here.
CW: So Rob, this is a complicated story. Walk me through your investigation. What did you find in the Panama Papers that led you to investigate how Canada is being marketed as a tax shelter state?
ROBERT CRIBB: So in the course of this year-long investigation where we've been working with CBC journalists, we've been focusing on global stories, effectively these tentacles of tax evasion and avoidance that go around the world involving Canadians. But in the process of that, there was this really interesting thread that kept coming up, which was that Canada itself was being marketed by Mossack Fonseca and others as a destination for those who wish to seek the same kind of secrecy for tax evasion and avoidance as you might find in traditional tax havens like the BVI or Panama or Isle of Man.
CW: Was that surprising to you?
ROBERT CRIBB: Totally surprising to me because I think all of us in this country have this sense of Canada has a sterling reputation internationally as a stable economy, highly regulated, and it just doesn't strike us as the kind of place where those wishing to hide, launder, finance terrorism, avoid and evade taxes would see as a destination. So it was very intriguing for us and we spent a long time looking at it and ultimately what we found is in fact around the world increasingly, those in this industry of tax avoidance and evasion do in fact see Canada as that kind of destination.
CW: How does that work? I mean what did you discover in your investigation?
ROBERT CRIBB: Well, here's the fundamental point: the primary tool of tax evasion and avoidance is secrecy. That we know from the Panama Papers. We've shown it time and time again. This is the currency for those who wish to do this thing. And so what's surprising and what many of us didn't really realize is that Canada in fact offers the same kind of secrecy around corporate registration as you'd find in many of these traditional tax havens. In other words, it's virtually impossible in many cases to find out who the actual beneficial owner, the guiding controlling hand of a company is in this country. It's remarkable because it's so easy to hide behind an army of lawyers or accountants or figurehead fictional directors who are not in fact the director. So if you want to hide yourself, if you want to find secrecy, it's very easy to do here. It's the cockroach method. You find darkness and you get in there.
CW: Is that legal in Canada?
ROBERT CRIBB: It's totally legal. Our whole structure is set up this way. It has historically been set up that way. It's never been questioned or changed. There’s very little public debate about this. And so in this increasingly globalized world, people around the world are always searching for where these destinations are. Where can I set up? And they've discovered Canada. It's remarkable. Around the world, there's companies whose sole purpose is to set up and register companies for their clients in order to reach zero per cent tax goals. And they have discovered Canada and the maple leaf is emblazoned on their websites around the world.
CW: So what did you find out about the people who were fronting these shell companies? The people who are actually listed or registered as directors.
ROBERT CRIBB: Yeah. So these are called nominee directors or figurehead straw man directors. And it's a remarkable hidden, shadowy industry. So these are people that effectively agree—for a small payment usually, in the order of $100— to sell their signatures. So they are handed documents, corporate registration documents. They sign them. They get a small fee. And if you're doing this in volume—which what we found here with a couple of women that we're featuring in our stories—you can make a bit of a living. There's a woman in Toronto named Karen MacIntyre—who we're featuring in our stories—who did about 20 grand a year and income on the side. She was basically a law clerk. She was recruited by lawyers to do this work. She knew nothing about any of these companies for which she was the public face. She was the director. She knew nothing about them. She testified in a New York court that she knew nothing about the operation. She knew nothing about those who were behind these companies. She was solely a name and a signature.
CW: How did she get involved in something like that?
ROBERT CRIBB: So she worked for a law firm. She was approached in the early 1990s to do this.
CW: What was she told? Just we’re using your name?
ROBERT CRIBB: Yep. Yep. We’re using your name.
CW: Did she ever question what it was being used for?
ROBERT CRIBB: She didn't really. She was handed documents by lawyers. She trusted the lawyers. She believed that it was legal which she was right. It was absolutely legal. And that's the issue. That's the issue that this story raises. The thing that this—generally the Panama papers and this story in particular raises—is this really interesting juxtaposition between what is legal and what is right. And sometimes those two things are not the same. And I think increasingly as we dig into this, there are more and more experts, public policy analysts and Canadians who are saying how can this be true? Like how is it that we allow this to happen?
CW: So what happened to Karen MacIntyre? I mean when she was obviously dropped by the companies as a director but somehow ended up giving a deposition in New York City.
ROBERT CRIBB: Well, what happened of course is that the big risk in doing this is when you know nothing about the companies that you're signing for, you have no idea what they're doing. And in fact, these companies for which she signed and ultimately a second Canadian in Quebec, Annette Laroche, ultimately took over those companies. In at least three cases that we found, they ended up in major lawsuits around tax evasion, around human rights abuses. There was a case involving blood diamonds in the Congo. These women knew nothing about this but at the end of the day, they were hauled into court because they were the name and signature on those companies. It's a big risk.
CW: And could they be liable then?
ROBERT CRIBB: Yeah. A Quebec court actually ruled in in one of those cases that in fact whether or not these women knew what was going on in these companies, the fact that they were the fronts in fact did suggest that legally they could be found liable.
CW: So how many Canadians could be in a similar position acting as corporate fronts for offshore money?
ROBERT CRIBB: So inherent in the whole issue here—which is secrecy—is the fact that we cannot know the answer to that question. It's impossible to know. If we went to do a corporate search today and we found a company Triple A Industries Inc. and the director name there is Connie Walker. We have no knowledge as to whether that's a legitimate company operating doing business with an income in this country or whether Connie Walker is simply a front for a Russian oligarch. There's just simply no way to know.
CW: Is there any way to find out just how many of these shell companies exist in Canada?
ROBERT CRIBB: There really isn't because all you know, based on our system of registration, is the name of the company and the listed director. And what we know is those lists of directors— that the information around those lists of directors—may be real or may be entirely fiction.
CW: How is it regulated in other countries? I mean is Canada the only place that this is a problem?
ROBERT CRIBB: No. I mean I think historically in many countries this was the case. What's happening though around the world is that there is such sensitivity and growing awareness around these issues. In large part to the Panama Papers, I think we're talking about this. Governments are realizing that these are very real issues, that criminality is entering their companies through, their countries through these structures. And they're taking steps. So in Britain for example, last year they instituted a public beneficial ownership registry. So here's what that means. I want to open a company in Britain. Legally, I am mandated to list myself in a public registry so that anyone researching that company will come back to me. I am the guiding hand of that corporation. Canada has not done that and the United States have taken steps. The IRS has targeted the same kinds of corporate tax structures that we have here that are attracting people to come here. They have now just as of January 1st mandated that those companies have to register and they have to list their transactions. We're not doing that. We're falling behind. What experts are saying is if we continue to fall behind, we become all the more attractive to those who wish to hide their taxes and do the kinds of nefarious activities that we probably don't want coming here.
CW: So what is the Canadian government doing about this? Is this something they're aware of or is this on their radar?
ROBERT CRIBB: So we sought an interview with the Finance Minister Bill Morneau. He declined to sit down with us. I did speak to him briefly. He was at the Toronto Star for an editorial board meeting and I was allowed to ask a couple of questions. And here's what he said: effectively, he's aware of it. They're concerned about it. He says he's speaking with the provinces about it. And that is one of the complexities for him—in that we don't have one corporate register—we have 11. We have a federal and then we have 10 provincial. So you do have the task of bringing together all of those different provinces and coming towards a unified solution. So that's essentially where we seem to be at. They're aware of it. They obviously talk a very good game about wanting to stamp out tax evasion and corruption and they have taken some meaningful steps. They've invested $444 million in Revenue Canada to investigate this activity. They've placed nearly 100 people from the Panama Papers under investigation. So there's these things happening, but what we're not doing is the kind of steps that create transparency which stop the inflow of this money into this country.
CW: And what is the cost to Canada then, for acting as a host to these offshore funds looking to dodge tax payments?
ROBERT CRIBB: Well, there are several I think. The first, which I just sort of referenced, is this concern about inviting criminals into this country to conduct nefarious activities. There's no question that not all of this is necessarily nefarious but when you create the kind of secrecy that allows that kind of activity, you're certainly laying out the welcome mat. There's no question about that. The other thing that's been raised, which is very interesting, is the investment. This money that comes in—which is entirely anonymous and hidden—is going into real estate in this country it seems. So there's been a recent study on this by Transparency International Canada and what they found is that nearly half of the corporations buying very expensive real estate in the Vancouver area are entirely anonymous. You can't find out who they are. Right and so there's this concern that it's creating a bubble, a market bubble that could be helping to prevent Canadians from accessing affordable housing in this country as this foreign income comes in. And so if that's happening, that's a very, very direct impact on the lives of Canadians.
CW: Alright. Well, thank you very much, Rob. We appreciate you joining us.
ROBERT CRIBB: Grateful. Thanks.
CW: Rob Cribb is an investigative reporter at the Toronto Star who has been working with the CBC investigating the Panama Papers. He was in our Toronto studio. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current. While our last guest mentioned the report by the Transparency International Canada, my next guest is Peter Dent, a forensic accountant who works with the watchdog body. He's also in our Toronto studio. Hello.
PETER DENT: Hi, Connie.
CW: So Peter, how is something like this able to happen?
PETER DENT: Well, the system is set up so that people can come into Canada, foreigners can come into Canada. Canadians can do this too. You can set up a shell corporation. You can nominate a director and you can conduct transactions and purchase assets with this company.
CW: How easy is it for people to do that?
PETER DENT: Well, there's a fee. I mean the fee is in the hundreds of dollars and many people—you can do it yourself and go through the instructions. There's instructions online you can get on how to do that. You can go to a lawyer and have it done for you.
CW: Do you have any idea how extensive this problem is?
PETER DENT: Nobody has any idea how extensive this problem is. It's impossible to know because we don't track that information.
CW: What do we know about how many shell companies are here in Canada?
PETER DENT: There are millions. It could be a numbered company but also could be a name of a company as well. You can pick any name you want, nominate directors and then conduct transactions through it.
CW: So Rob mentioned that this is something that the government is aware of but I mean what would be the process in trying to even regulate if there are millions of companies that could be affected?
PETER DENT: Well, you have to start somewhere and keep in mind that there are two provinces in Canada that collect shareholder information now when a company is set up. That's Alberta and Quebec. And so it's already happening in two of the 10 provinces. It's not happening at the federal level because you can set up a federal company or a Canada company or you can set up a company in any province. But there should be a mechanism in place that allows that shareholder information that's collected when you set up the company. So when you actually register the company, there's a listing of the shareholder. But how do you find that? There's no public registry. There is no mechanism afforded to anyone to allow you to determine without a court order or some other legal authority to identify who the shareholders of those companies are.
CW: What was your reaction to this investigation by CBC and the Toronto Star and what they found about how often this is happening in Canada?
PETER DENT: Oh, I'm not surprised at all. Currently right now, under this very opaque, very untransparent mechanism that we have in Canada and most of the provinces, you don't know exactly who you're doing business with all the time. You can't be sure who the beneficial ownership of that company is. Are you getting in bed with drug traffickers? Are you you know investing with you know organized crime? You don't know that because the information you're collecting is whatever they want you to see and nothing more.
CW: So how does this issue affect everyday Canadians?
PETER DENT: Well, there's different ways it affects everyday Canadians. In the case of homeowners, it could be inflating your home values. And in terms of home buyers, it can make homes in certain markets—certainly our two largest markets, Vancouver and Toronto—unaffordable. So we know that there is a foreign ownership consequence with respect to real estate prices.
CW: Do we know that it's happening with these shell companies?
PETER DENT: We do because of the shell companies that we looked at in our study. We looked at 100 recent transactions over the last few years of the most expensive real estate in Vancouver. And what we found was 46 per cent of the transactions we looked at were owned by either foreign shell companies, Canadian shell companies, trusts or nominees. And therefore, for 46 per cent of these homeowners or these homes, the ownership is opaque. It's not transparent.
CW: And that obviously has an impact on somebody wanting to enter the market.
PETER DENT: Well, of course it does. I mean if you're a corrupt foreign politician and you want somewhere safe to park your money, what better place is there than Canada? We have a stable economy. We have a stable real estate market in most of our major centres. Why wouldn't you put your money into a jurisdiction like Canada? Of course you would.
CW: Is it up to the federal government to fix this? You mentioned that the provinces also need to be involved in helping regulate.
PETER DENT: It's all of the governments at both the federal and the provincial level. It's up to them to correct this.
CW: What does that transparency mean on a practical level? Like what would that look like?
PETER DENT: What we're advocating is that there be a public registry created. So when you incorporate a company in Canada, a private company, the shareholder information goes into a database just the same way that a director information goes into a database. But even the search ability of directors of companies in Canada is not that certain. So if I go in, Peter Dent goes in and basically sets up a company. I become a director of that company. If I searched that company, one, two, three, four, five Ontario Inc., then that information is then collected from that company. So I can go and search that company name and find out I'm a director. I can't find out who the shareholders are but what I also cannot do, I cannot search how many companies Peter Dent is a director of. And so there's no way for me to go in and actually examine if there are instances where individuals are directors of hundreds or thousands of different companies. It's not easy for me to do that. Certainly to do that across jurisdictions is almost impossible.
CW: You heard Rob Cribb say that the federal finance minister is aware of this. Do you think that this should be more of a priority for him?
PETER DENT: Absolutely it should be more of a priority. Not only does this affect real estate values in our two largest markets, it could be affecting them in other markets as well. But there is a much larger public policy consequence to this as well. You know the global financial integrity report last year identified that in 2013, $1.1 trillion of illicit money left the developing world and came to the developed world, basically leaving places in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and ended up in countries like Canada. So $1.1 trillion is basically leaving those jurisdictions at capital flight. Now that's not legitimate capital flight. We're talking about illegal money, the proceeds of crime, coming out of those jurisdictions and ending up in countries like Canada.
CW: Is this problem specific to Canada then?
PETER DENT: It's becoming more and more specific to Canada. Because as the EU, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, as more and more developed countries enact public registries of beneficial ownership crack down on this type of opaque corporate registrations and they are allowing their jurisdictions to be used as vehicles for money laundering, Canada is going to become a much, much more attractive jurisdiction. Keep in mind: these criminals are trading on the reputation of Canada. So Transparency International just released our corruption perceptions index. In that index, Canada is ranked as the ninth least corrupt country in the world. So we're seen as lily white, snow white. And so if you're setting up a company and you're transacting with other businesses or other investors, then it just looks more credible if it's a Canadian company.
CW: So this is going to continue being an issue you think, if we don't deal with it.
PETER DENT: It will become more and more of an issue. As other jurisdictions become less attractive, Canada will become more attractive.
CW: Alright. Well, thank you very much for joining me today.
PETER DENT: Thank you.
CW: Peter Dent is a forensic accountant who works with Transparency International Canada. He was in our Toronto studio.
LIZ HOATH: Hi. I’m Liz Hoath, one of the producers here at The Current and it's time to give credit where credit is due. This week, the show was produced by Idella Sturino, Howard Goldenthal, Ines Colabrese, Lara O'Brien, Shannon Higgins, Ashley Mak, Samira Moyeddin, Sujata Berry, Karin Marley, Kristin Nelson, John Chipman, Pacinthe Mattar and Willow Smith. Special thanks this week to our network producers. In Vancouver, Anne Penman. Michael O’Halloran in Calgary and Suzanne Dufresne in Winnipeg. The Current’s writer is Peter Mitton. Our web producer is Lisa Ayuso. Transcriptions are provided by Eunice Kim and Rignam Wangkhang. Our technical producers are Gary Francis and Jennifer Rowley. And our documentary editor is Josh Bloch. Senior producers are Richard Goddard in Toronto and Cathy Simon in Vancouver. The executive producer of The Current is Kathleen Goldhar.
CW: Well, that's our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio One for q. Actor Gordon Pinsent drops by to walk down memory lane with Tom Power. And she was a trailblazer for women in TV and an inspiration to women everywhere. Following the death of Mary Tyler Moore, Tom Power speaks to two women who worked with her and saw her effect up close. Finally we started today's show by talking about the federal government's promises to Indigenous people. Earlier this week, Anna Maria Tremonti recorded another of The Current’s public forums on missing and murdered Indigenous women. You'll hear it on the show next Wednesday. The focus of this forum was on the role of the media, from journalists to artists. Before the event, Anna Maria went for a walk with one of the guests, Lorelei Williams, whose aunt and cousin are among the missing and murdered women. Lorelei talks to journalists because telling the story is important to her but it's also extremely hard. We'll give Lorelei today's last word. I'm Connie Walker. Thanks for listening to The Current.
It's emotionally draining any time I speak anywhere. I remember the first announcement of the inquiry. I had to deal with media for a full day and I was emotionally drained. And then when they made that second announcement, I was dealing with media back to back for three days, you know telling my family’s story over and over and over again. And after that, I went to bed and I woke up and my body was so sore. I could barely get out of bed. I just felt like I got hit by a bus or something. I could barely move and I was just like oh my god. It takes a toll on me.
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