Can anyone with the right password hack into the Corporate Registry and erase you from your own company? A War of the Roses unfolding in Vancouver reveals there's no government protection against corporate identity theft or predatory lawyers.
Al Varlo, a successful entrepreneur, has tears rolling down his eyes when he recalls how his twin brother was arrested in front of his store by agents of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). "I thought I was watching a surreal scene from a Hollywood movie, I just couldn't believe it." "They put my brother in handcuffs like a criminal. When I said there must be a mistake, please don't do this, they pointed at their guns."
It's a love story turned sour, of love turning to hate, with his wife and lover of eleven years. It's reminiscent of the "War of The Roses", a black comedy starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner."She was the only woman I loved" says the 33-year-old eligible bachelor as he tries to sip his coffee. I gave her everything she wanted, she didn't have to ask twice."Life would've been good for Al except that the two most important people have gone out of his life, leaving him alone in the Vancouver Singles Scene with an aching heart.
Things took a wrong turn when they vacationed in the old country last summer. Al's father-in-law told him not to get his twin brother involved in the business and to stop his immigration proceedings as an investor immigrant. When he refused, the family turned his wife against him, he says, who decided not to return to Canada with him. Al says his in-laws wanted a big piece of his business, and his brother was in the way.
Al and his brother are identical twins who lost both of their parents when they were teenagers. In spite of being orphaned at an early age they managed to build a successful business and get a college education. Then Al met the love of his life and later moved to Canada, but he couldn't remain apart from his twin half forever. Family ties and emotions run strong around the Mediterranean.
His brother was trying to have his visitor visa extended to attend the PNP (provincial nominee immigration program) interview when the CBSA, acting on a complaint from Al's wife, arrested him for overstaying his visa. His 11-year love turned into hate when he saw his brother in shackles before being kicked out of Canada. Where Al comes from this happens only to hardened criminals and is a shameful thing. But this was only the beginning of the War Of The Roses Canuck Style.
Then he learned that his wife had gone into the BC Corporate Registry online to erase their names from company records and insert her own name as the sole director and shareholder of the company. The company's banking documents had also been changed. He blames his accountant who was the only person with password access to the Registry. Al can't believe how easily this was done, and that the government has no proper safeguards in place against corporate identity theft. He says government ignored the evidence that it had been done unlawfully and told him to get a lawyer and go to court.
His experience with a lawyer from a big Vancouver law firm was no less a shocking experience. "When I asked the lawyer if he could reverse the company registry changes he said yes and asked me for $5,000 up front. After cashing my cheque he said I should get a divorce lawyer and sue my wife for divorce or negotiate with her for a settlement. Anybody could have told me that for free."
There is no consumer protection in BC against predatory lawyer billing. Law Society of British Columbia refuses to get involved in billing disputes. The only recourse open to aggrieved consumers is to apply to the BC Supreme Court for a review of the bill at a hearing where they have to face the lawyer in front of a judge.
In 2005-2006 Government of British Columbia made changes to the system and took all things corporate online. Companies had to re-register in a complex process, a move that was criticised by the accounting profession as an act of patronage to lawyers. The BC Corporate Registry and related departments were taken out of the Ministry of Finance and brought under the Ministry of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government. Under the online system one apparently doesn't have to prove anything to the Registry. If one has a company's incorporation number and password one can insert any information into the records without verification. Director information from the government web site can then be used to alter banking documents. The implications of corporate identity theft are staggering.
The Province's remedy if somebody's hacked into your corporate online account: "Get a lawyer and go to court."
Al says he has complained to BC's Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and received a sympathetic ear and promise of support from North Vancouver MLA Naomi Yamamoto. He has also filed a complaint with the police.