B.C. government comes up empty-handed in first search for Russian-owned properties

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The province is planning to crack down on property owned by Russian oligarchs here in B.C. An initial search has come up empty handed but they're continuing to investigate. Richard Zussman has more. – Mar 2, 2022

The British Columbia government has not been able to locate any properties owned by Russian oligarchs in the province.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson, however, says her department’s staff will continue to search for properties owned by people who are currently under sanctions by the federal government.

The province can use the Land Owner Transparency Act to do so — a first-of-its-kind database in Canada that serves as an accessible registry of beneficial interests in land in B.C., she explained.

Read more: British Columbia’s public sector pension fund working to sell all its Russian assets

Beyond that, she added, the province needs to rely on the federal government for other tools to track actual ownership.

“We are willing to act on whatever the federal government approves. If that means seizing properties we are ready to do that,” Robinson said Wednesday.

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“We have some preliminary information but nothing indicates anything problematic.”

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Ron Usher, the general counsel for the Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia, said the land owner registry tool is important for the province but has limitations.

The biggest issue, he explained, is all properties purchased after the law came into effect are now in the database, but properties purchased before 2019 are not.

“There was to be a deadline last November to input all the historical data that was pushed back to this November, so there would be a number of properties not yet in the land owner transparency database,” he told Global News.

Read more: Grassroots group in B.C. scrambles for funds, supplies to welcome Ukrainian refugees

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The province has been able to put some measures in place right away, such as pulling Russian liquor from government liquor stores. The government’s public sector pension fund, after pressure from members, also decided to divest its Russian assets.

The actions are intended as a condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and violent invasion of Ukraine last week. Russian troops have bombed Ukrainian cities, causing thousands of civilian casualties, and efforts by more than 677,000 Ukrainians to evacuate.

World leaders have condemned the invasion and placed sanctions against Russia. On Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reprimand Moscow, demanding that it withdraw its military forces at once.

Canada, meanwhile, has promised additional economic sanctions are in the works for Russia and confirmed plans to ban Russian-owned or registered ships and fishing vessels from entering Canadian ports and waters.

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