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Canada’s AML Rules for “Virtual Currency”

On June 9th, 2018, draft amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) and its enacted regulations (there are five separate regulations, that we’re going to collectively call regulations here for simplicity’s sake). While not all of the proposed amendments are related to virtual currency, many are (the term virtual currency comes up 304 times in about 200 pages). This article is intended to give a high-level summary of the proposed amendments as they relate to virtual currency for businesses in that industry (exchanges, brokerages, etc.).

This article should not be considered advice (legal, tax or otherwise). That said, any of the content shared here may be used and shared freely – you don’t need our permission. While we’d love for content that we’ve written to be attributed to us, we believe that it’s more important to get reliable information into the hands of community members (meaning that if you punk content that we wrote, we may think you’re a jerk but we’re not sending an army of lawyers).

Finally, we want to encourage the community to discuss the draft and submit meaningful feedback for policymakers. To this end, we’re going to be posting, hosting and attending community events. We’ve also set up a survey that can be completed without submitting any personal information (though you may choose to do so). If you would like one of our compliance nerds at your event, please get in touch. If you’re already having a related event that benefits the community, let us know or post it in the comments.

The comment period for this draft is 90 days. After this, the Department of Finance takes the feedback to the bat cave and drafts a final version of the amendments. From the time that the final version is published, the draft indicates that there will be 12 months of transition to comply with the new requirements.

What to expect when you’re expecting (to be regulated)?

While we acknowledge that our sample is biased (people that talk to compliance geeks), we know that many businesses such as brokerages and exchanges have expected to be regulated as money services businesses (MSBs) since Bill C-31 was passed in 2014. Many of these businesses already have in place the required elements of an anti-money laundering (AML) compliance regime, including:

  1. The appointment of a Compliance Officer;
  2. Written policies and procedures;
  3. A documented risk assessment;
  4. Training; and
  5. Effectiveness testing (like an audit, but for compliance).

In addition, many have been voluntarily reporting suspicious activity to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), the body under which they expect to be regulated for AML.

The proposed amendments would formalize compliance program requirements, as well as create new requirements specific to businesses “dealing in virtual currency” (which would now be considered MSBs). While “dealing in virtual currency” itself is not defined, the text of the regulations implies that it will include exchanging, sending, and receiving virtual currency on behalf of other people or entities. Such entities would be required to register as MSBs if they are serving Canadian customers (whether or not they are located in Canada).

There are a number of thresholds that are proposed, including identification (at CAD 1,000) and reporting (at CAD 10,000). In each case, specific information must be collected and recorded. The identification methods that are available in these circumstances are relatively prescriptive, although the proposed amendments do make some headway towards supporting a broader array of identification methods by requiring that documents be considered “authentic” rather than requiring documents in their original format. Of course, as with any complex issue, guidance from FINTRAC will be required before we’re certain how this will be interpreted by the regulator (It’s good news; we’re just not sure how good, yet).

As always in compliance, the devil is in the details. What follows is a few of those key details, as well as some of the issues that we anticipate. We encourage you to conduct your own analysis and to join the conversation.

What’s In A Definition?

Definitions are generally not very interesting. When was the last time that you read the dictionary? (Sidenote: if you are a serious scrabble geek and do this on the regular, you will enjoy this section more than most)… In this case though, definitions matter. Definitions will make a difference in terms of the businesses and activities that are regulated, and how they are regulated. Fortunately, our community includes a number of engineers, debaters, and other individuals with a penchant for the precise – and your skills are needed here. We encourage you to carefully consider the following and to submit feedback on how they can be improved.

authorized user means a person who is authorized by a holder of a prepaid payment product account to have electronic access to funds or virtual currency available in the account by means of a prepaid payment product that is connected to it.

funds means

(a) cash and other fiat currencies, and securities, negotiable instruments or other financial instruments that indicate a title or right to or interest in them; or

(b) information that enables a person or entity to have access to a fiat currency other than cash.

For greater certainty, it does not include virtual currency. (fonds)

fiat currency means a currency that is issued by a country and is designated as legal tender in that country.

large virtual currency transaction record means a record that indicates the receipt of an amount of $10,000 or more in virtual currency in a single transaction and that contains the following information:

(a) the date of the receipt;

(b) if the amount is received for deposit into an account, the name of each account holder;

(c) the name, address and telephone number of every other person or entity that is involved in the transaction, the nature of their principal business or their occupation and, in the case of a person, their date of birth;

(d) the type and amount of each virtual currency involved in the receipt;

(e) the exchange rate used and the source of the exchange rate;

(f) the number of every other account that is affected by the transaction, the type of account and the name of each account holder;

(g) every reference number that is connected to the transaction;

(h) every other known detail that identifies the receipt; and

(i) if the amount is received by a dealer in precious metals and precious stones for the sale of precious metals, precious stones or jewellery,

(i) the type of precious metals, precious stones or jewellery,

(ii) the value of the precious metals, precious stones or jewellery, if different from the amount of virtual currency received, and

(iii) the wholesale value of the precious metals, precious stones or jewellery.

prepaid payment product means a product that is issued by a financial entity and that enables a person or entity to engage in a transaction by giving them electronic access to funds or virtual currency paid to a prepaid payment product account held with the financial entity in advance of the transaction. It excludes a product that enables a person or entity to access a credit or debit account or one that is issued for use only with particular merchants.

prepaid payment product account means an account that is connected to a prepaid payment product and that permits

(a) one or more transactions that total $1,000 or more to be conducted within a 24-hour period; or

(b) a balance of funds or virtual currency available of $1,000 or more to be maintained.

virtual currency means

(a) a digital currency that is not a fiat currency and that can be readily exchanged for funds or for another virtual currency that can be readily exchanged for funds; or

(b) information that enables a person or entity to have access to a digital currency referred to in paragraph (a).

virtual currency exchange transaction means an exchange, at the request of another person or entity, of virtual currency for funds, funds for virtual currency or one virtual currency for another.

virtual currency exchange transaction ticket means a record respecting a virtual currency exchange transaction — including an entry in a transaction register — that sets out

(a) the date of the transaction;

(b) in the case of a transaction of $1,000 or more, the name, address and telephone number of the person or entity that requests the exchange, the nature of their principal business or their occupation and, in the case of a person, their date of birth;

(c) the type and amount of each of the funds and virtual currencies involved in the payment made and received by the person or entity that requests the exchange;

(d) the method by which the payment is made and received;

(e) the exchange rate used and the source of the exchange rate;

(f) the number of every account that is affected by the transaction, the type of account and the name of each account holder;

(g) every reference number that is connected to the transaction; and

(h) every other known detail that identifies the transaction.

Diving Deeper – Obligations and Potential Issues

1 – Do the definitions capture unintended parties?

We were surprised to see that there were not specific carve-outs for certain types of tokens, including securities, and tokens intended specifically for gaming. The definition, as it’s currently written seems capable of encompassing both tokenized security offerings and gaming tokens.

In addition, the second part of the definition that includes “information that enables a person or entity to have access to a digital currency referred to in paragraph (a).” has the potential to open the definition even more broadly. For instance, if I have stored a copy of a seed phrase or a hardware device with a vault service – have they received virtual currency? Are they sending virtual currency to me if the contents of my vault are couriered to me?

 2 – What about peer-to-peer, decentralized applications, and smart contracts?

The amendments as they are presented appear to take the view that transactions have intermediaries. There are no specific carve-outs for peer-to-peer transactions (though we expect that previous guidance could be applied here), decentralized applications, and smart contracts. This may be a particularly contentious issue in the case of an exchange from one “virtual currency” to another – especially where such an exchange is initiated or completed without any human intervention. Similarly, questions arise for wallet service providers. For instance, what if a wallet provider does not have access to private keys, but connects to applications that permit users to initiate transactions that would be considered to be exchange transactions under the current definition?

That said, there are some astute exclusions, including the following activities which are explicitly not covered:

(a) a transfer or receipt of virtual currency as compensation for the validation of a transaction that is recorded in a distributed ledger; or

(b) an exchange, transfer or receipt of a nominal amount of virtual currency for the sole purpose of validating another transaction or a transfer of information.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to determine where the policymakers intended to draw the line, and where the regulator will later enforce it…

3 – Jurisdiction doesn’t matter; foreign money services businesses (MSBs) are covered.

While not specific to virtual currency, it is noteworthy that the proposed amendments expand the definition of an MSB to include any business that is providing prescribed services in Canada. As we’ve seen in the case of the NY BitLicense, badly drafted legislation can drive away business and lead to a lack of service providers willing to do business in a region.

While we’re not suggesting that the proposed amendments are nearly as ill-conceived as the NY BitLicense, it is important to consider whether or not these will affect Canadians’ ability to access services, and the attractiveness of the Canadian market generally for innovative international businesses. While we do not expect this particular amendment to be altered, we would encourage businesses located outside of Canada that serve Canadians to comment.

What Next?

If you’ve read this far, congratulations and thank you!

We hope that you will contribute your thoughts and comments. You can do this by contacting the Department of Finance directly. Their representative on this file is:

Lynn Hemmings

Acting Director General

Financial Systems Division

Financial Sector Policy Branch

Department of Finance

90 Elgin Street

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0G5

Email: fin.fc-cf.fin@canada.ca

If you would like assistance drafting a submission, or have questions that you would like Outlier to answer, please get in touch!

You can also answer specific questions in our survey, or join us at a community event.

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