Realtors told to determine whether clients are financing terrorists

As realtors, we have to look at clients’ picture ID and complete forms (called FINTRAC) which are used to detect money-laundering activities. I have no problems with that, and have filled out those forms for years.  It wasn’t that many years ago (okay, several decades) when, as an articling student, my firm represented a woman whose husband had mortgaged the home by passing off his girlfriend as his wife. So verifying  identification has always made sense to me; I do it even with people I’ve known for years.

But now the government wants more. The new FINTRAC forms require that we assess “client risk” and not just for money laundering but for “terrorist financing offences.” It’s not enough to simply review their ID; we’re supposed to indicate if they are a high, medium or low risk for this kind of contact. Here’s the form (click on it to see the details):

Fintrac form risk

Real estate lawyers don’t have to fill this out; neither do sellers engaged in private sales, which strikes me as a hole big enough to drive a truck through. But what irks me is the suggestion that a realtor, who often has only brief dealings with a buyer or seller, is required to assess their risk of committing a terrorist-related offence. How the heck would I know? Half the time, members of their own family say they had no idea they were involved.

I’ve spoken to my lawyer who advises against completing this form because of the potential exposure to liability. Sure, I can just say all my clients are low risk. But what if they turn out not to be? Or what if I check one of medium or high risk boxes and it turns out my suspicion are ill-founded? Talk about exposure to liability; my lawyer is right on the money.

I help people buy and sell houses: that’s my job. I’m not trained to conduct risk assessments of this type. Nor should I be required to engage in intelligence-gathering for the government of Canada.

Yes, I understand the national security issues, but it’s a slippery slope;  it’s all too easy to end up with citizen watch groups like the Stazi  or Cuba’s CDR informing on neighbours. And then there are the privacy issues: clients are entitled to know why we are gathering their personal information and what we’re doing with it. I wonder how they’re going to react?

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