If you've ever felt your competitors had a suspicious leg up when doing business overseas, this will come as welcome news.
The federal government has added six amendments to the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, in an effort to better level the playing field for international business. The Act, in force since 1998, bans Canadian companies from bribing foreign officials to gain an advantage while doing business abroad.
The amendments will make it easier for the Canadian government to prosecute Canadian companies for bribery regardless of where the alleged crime took place. Changes will also eliminate a previous exception for "grease payments" or facilitation payments, often paid to foreign public officials to complete tasks they are already required to do, such as process documents on time.
With the new provisions, the RCMP now has exclusive authority to lay charges under the Act and all businesses can now be charged (previously only for-profit businesses could be prosecuted). The consequences for bribery are tougher now, too, with the maximum penalty increasing from five years' imprisonment to 14 years. Finally, the Act has become a bit broader as well, and now includes falsifying financial records to hide foreign bribery as an offence.
Government officials suggest business owners make sure workers and contractors overseas understand the changes. For any questions about the amendments, contact the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, offers Peter McGovern, chief trade commissioner and assistant deputy minister of international business development, innovation and Asia at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).
"As Canadian companies work to expand into new markets, they may face new issues, including those related to corruption and bribery," says McGovern. "We equip companies with information they need to abide by the laws of the countries in which they are doing business, and to act in accordance with applicable Canadian laws, ethical standards and corporate social responsibility practices."
Officials suggest Canadian businesses should be prepared to handle pressure from foreign officials to pay illegal fees. If this happens, "consult with lawyers and your internal compliance officers to ensure that you are acting within the law," advises Alan Kessel, assistant deputy minister of legal at DFAIT. "The law is clear," he adds. "Paying bribes to foreign public officials is a criminal act."