The Ontario Securities Commission will open the doors on its new whistle-blower office in the early summer, providing payments as high as $5-million for tips that lead to successful prosecutions.
OSC chair Maureen Jensen said the regulator has already had calls from people asking when the program will be operational, which gives her confidence that there is significant interest in exposing securities crimes.
"As soon as we mentioned we were going to have a whistle-blower program, we started getting people calling," she said.
She said the OSC will not get as many tips as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – which got more than 3,600 tips under its national program in 2014 alone – but Ms. Jensen said she believes that the program will give the commission access to complex cases that would never have come to light otherwise because they are "just invisible on the outside."
"It's going to be very big, and I think we'll have a view to those kinds of cases we don't normally have a view to," she said.
In her first major interview since being named chair and chief executive officer of the OSC in February, Ms. Jensen said she does not anticipate a significant change in direction at the commission because she helped shape its path as executive director under former chair Howard Wetston.
Ms. Jensen is a rare internal hire for the top job at the OSC, with prior chairs coming from the outside legal sector or Bay Street.
"Howard and I worked together for five years, and together we crafted a vision for the OSC that we've now extended and added to, so all of the things that we were focused on we are still focused on," she said. "It's not a big change of direction, it's just augmenting what we had before."
Ms. Jensen has had a long career as a regulator, starting at the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1998 and moving to Market Regulation Services and, more recently, Canada's brokerage industry watchdog, the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), where she oversaw surveillance and compliance.
The OSC is still awaiting news about the fate of a new federal-provincial securities regulator, which could shape the later part of Ms. Jensen's term as OSC chair.
Five provinces and Yukon have agreed to work with the federal government to create a new voluntary Capital Markets Regulatory Authority, which will replace individual securities commissions in jurisdictions that opt to join. Draft legislation has been published for comment, but the project has faced repeated delays and it is still unclear whether and when the merged regulator may be up and running.
Ms. Jensen said uncertainty about the future will not stop the OSC from developing new policies, because the regulator would fall too far behind if it stopped moving forward. While there is no guarantee any of the commission's new initiatives will be adopted by a national regulator, she said it is likely that successful programs will be continued in the new organization.
"If we put together something that is working, it just makes sense that it would go into the new organization, considering that we'll be a big part of it," she said.
One such initiative, she said, is the whistle-blower program, which is being created by the OSC but has not been adopted by any other regulator in Canada. The program will provide payments to whistle-blowers of 5 per cent to 15 per cent of the total penalties imposed in a case as long as there is a successful prosecution that leads to penalties of at least $1-million. Payouts can reach a maximum of $5-million in cases in which the OSC collects penalties exceeding $10-million.
Ms. Jensen said the program should get final approval in June, and would launch in early summer with a senior staff member heading the new office. People with tips can seek anonymity, and they will even be able to work through their lawyers without disclosing their identities to the OSC in some cases.
"The Panama Papers really show that whistle-blowers are important," she said. "That's what this person was, a whistle-blower, and obviously they felt there was something going on that they really wanted the world to know about, and they felt it was wrong."
More immediately, the OSC and other provinces will publish a new consultation paper at the end of April on whether Canada should create a requirement for financial advisers to act in the "best interests" of their clients, rather than the current system, which requires them only to make "suitable" recommendations. The distinction is critical, Ms. Jensen said, because relationships have changed from brokers selling products to advisers guiding clients.
"We're saying it should be a best-interest standard. You should give the best advice you can give your clients – you should not be conflicted when you're giving that advice."