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Ontario stock regulator pays out $7.5M to 3 tipsters who blew the whistle about misdeeds at companies

The Ontario Securities Commission has made its first three payments to whistleblowers under a new program that allows anonymous sources to tip off the regulator about misdeeds at companies.

OSC implemented new payment program for tipsters in 2016

The OSC changed its policy to allow cash payments to whistleblowers in 2012.

The Ontario Securities Commission has made its first three payments to whistleblowers under a new program that allows anonymous sources to tip off the regulator about misdeeds at companies.

The regulator says the total value of the cash payments add up to just under $7.5 million, which went to three different people who tipped off the OSC about three different matters.

"These individuals voluntarily provided high quality, timely, specific and credible information, which helped advance enforcement actions resulting in monetary payments to the OSC," the regulator says of the payments.

It's the first such payment by any Canadian securities regulator, and the first since the OSC implemented the program in 2016.

"Whistleblowers expose complex securities misconduct that may not otherwise come to light, allowing us to take timely action," said Jeff Kehoe, the OSC's director of enforcement, in a release.

"We hope this announcement, alongside our substantive whistleblower protections, will encourage more whistleblowers to come forward."

The identities of the whistleblowers were not released, as it is the OSC's policy under the program to make "all reasonable efforts" to ensure confidentiality of anyone who comes forward.

Paid whistleblowing programs are common in other countries, particularly the U.S., where the Internal Revenue Service and Securities and Exchange Commission have both been known to hand out tens of millions of dollars to sources in cases that lead to major convictions.

The OSC's the program has generated about 200 tips since being launched nearly three years ago, or about two per week.

Of that 200, 15 (or about seven per cent) are associated with "active investigations" that are continuing, which means they could lead to a payout if they lead anywhere. The maximum individual payout is capped at $5 million regardless, however.

That's not the case elsewhere.

In 2012, the IRS paid $104 million US to a former employee of Swiss investment bank UBS for giving the tax authority information on thousands of U.S. tax dodgers and led to nearly $1 billion in fines.

Bradley Birkenfeld spent 2.5 years in federal prison for his role in the tax scam, but got paid after his release.

And the SEC has for its part paid out $262 million to whistleblowers since implementing their program in 2012. The New York based regulator's policy allows for the payout of up to 30 per cent of any money received in a conviction, to the tipster who helped make it happen.

Linda Fuerst, senior partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in Toronto, said there had been some criticism initially that the cap on potential payouts under the OSC's program might limit the number or quality of tipsters they would attract, but the reality is that their hands are somewhat tied in the matter.

Under the Ontario Securities Act, any cases that come before the commission have a maximum administrative penalty of $1 million for each breach of the law. So multimillion dollar awards for misdeeds that demand far less than that in penalties are unrealistic.

Indeed, already having doled out $7.5 million under a fairly new program "suggests the information they got was in fact significant and was of actual use in bringing some enforcement actions forward," she said in an interview.

"They deserve credit for having a program," she said, because "it does seem that they are at least moving in the right direction in terms of getting credible tips."

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