Category: Investment Funds

Alberta and Saskatchewan Adopt the Self-Certified Investor Prospectus Exemption

On March 31, 2021, the Alberta Securities Commission and the Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority of Saskatchewan adopted, on an interim, three-year basis, a new prospectus exemption entitled the Self-Certified Investor Prospectus Exemption, as outlined in Multilateral CSA Notice of Implementation Alberta and Saskatchewan Orders 45-538 Self-Certified Investor Prospectus Exemption. The new exemption allows individual investors in Alberta and Saskatchewan who do not qualify as an accredited investor to invest alongside accredited investors, provided that they meet other criteria to demonstrate their financial and investment knowledge. There are a number of conditions to the exemption, including an extensive prescribed risk disclosure as part of the self-certification, and limits on investments to $10,000 in the last 12 months per issuer, with an aggregate cap of $30,000 in the last 12 months for all issuers. The investment limits do not apply for ‘Listed Issuer Investments’, or those issuers listed on certain exchanges in Canada, provided the investor receives suitability advice respecting the investment from a registrant. Guidance is provided on the distribution of securities by private issuers to self-certified investors and special purpose vehicles comprised in part of self-certified investors.

April 30, 2021

CSA Multilateral Notice and Request for Comment re Proposed Order 45-539 Small Business Financing

The Alberta Securities Commission and the Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority of Saskatchewan have proposed a new prospectus exemption to assist small businesses in Alberta and Saskatchewan to raise up to $5 million from investors in those provinces, based on a simple offering document (which would be considered an offering memorandum under securities legislation).

There are many proposed conditions to the use of the exemption, which vary depending on whether or not financial statements are provided to an investor. For example, if the statements are not provided, the maximum an issuer group could raise from investors that would not qualify to invest under other specified prospectus exemptions over a 12 month period would be $1.5 million, subject to a lifetime limit of $5 million. The maximum any one investor could invest would be $2,500, or a higher limit of $10,000 if they qualify as a “minimum income investor” (which would have lower thresholds than those required of an “accredited investor”). The individual investor thresholds are slightly higher if financial statements are provided.

It is proposed that the financial statements provided under the exemption would not need to be audited (review engagement only) and could be prepared based on Canadian GAAP applicable to private enterprises (with some modifications). It is noted that corporate or other legislation might still require certain issuers to provide audited statements. The financial statements would have to continue to be provided to investors but only until such time as the proceeds from the offering are expended, and continuous distribution offerings would not be permitted. The exemption is intended to address financing challenges for small businesses that do not yet attract venture capital investors, and the exemption would not be available to issuers that are reporting issuers or investment funds. Other conditions to the exemption include requiring investors to sign a prescribed risk acknowledgement, the filing of a report of exempt distribution and the filing of the offering document on SEDAR.

Interestingly, an issuer would be given the choice of creating their own offering document with the specified information included, or to use a pre-designed form of offering document with a drop down menu that could be completed electronically in a Q&A format. Comments on the proposal are due on May 7 (May 24 with respect to the technical amendments relating to SEDAR filing requirements).

April 30, 2021

ASC Notice and Request for Comment re Blanket Order 31-536 Alberta Small Business Finder’s Exemption

The Alberta Securities Commission is continuing to explore unique exemptions to revitalize Alberta’s capital markets and assist small businesses to raise capital efficiently while balancing investor protection.

The proposed new blanket order would provide an exemption from the dealer registration requirement in Alberta for individual finders who utilize pre-existing personal contacts. It would replace the current Northwestern Exemption which has been revoked everywhere except Alberta. The targeted exemption is intended to assist early stage businesses raising modest amounts of capital without the participation of a registered dealer. There are a number of requirements for the use of the exemption, including that the issuer must have its head office in Alberta, and that the issuer can not have raised more than $5 million under all exemptions from the prospectus requirements. The registration exemption for finders would only be available if the issuer uses certain specified prospectus exemptions, such as the private issuer exemption where the purchaser is an accredited investor or not a member of the “public”, the offering memorandum exemption and the accredited investor exemption.

Finders would not be permitted to solicit prospective purchasers other than people with whom they have a “substantial pre-existing relationship”, and as a result advertising would also be prohibited. In addition, the finder would not be allowed to rely on the dealer exemption if they have previously provided certain financial services to the purchaser of securities, such as financial planning, provision of insurance products or mortgage services. Investors would be required to sign a specified risk acknowledgement form, and an information form with respect to the finder would need to be filed with the ASC within 10 days of the distribution. Comments on the new proposal are due by May 7.

April 30, 2021

Regulatory Penalties in British Columbia Not Discharged Through Bankruptcy

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has confirmed that monetary penalties and disgorgement orders from regulatory proceedings are exempt from a bankruptcy discharge. In 2015, the British Columbia Securities Commission ordered Thalbinder Singh Poonian and Shailu Poonian to pay more than $19 million in penalties and disgorgement after the commission found that the pair had engaged in market manipulation. In 2018, the Poonians sought a discharge from bankruptcy absolving them of their debts. The British Columbia Supreme Court denied their application for an absolute or suspended discharge from bankruptcy under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.

The ruling sends a strong message that securities law violators may have difficulty using bankruptcy laws to release themselves of the financial consequences of their wrongdoing.

April 30, 2021

Lawsuit Against Ontario Securities Commission Can Proceed

On March 18, 2021, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled that a malicious prosecution lawsuit against the Ontario Securities Commission and three of its employees can proceed. One of the appellants in the case, Mr. Sam Qin, and various entities he controlled, were involved in the development and management of solar energy projects in Ontario and elsewhere. Mr. Qin attempted to raise capital for his projects using a program sponsored by the Ontario government. Neither Mr. Qin, nor any of his companies, were registered to sell securities and no prospectus was filed in connection with Mr. Qin’s efforts to raise funding. After certain proceedings, the OSC dismissed the allegations, finding that the appellants were not mainly engaged in the sale of securities and were not required to register under the Securities Act (Ontario).

In their statement of claim, the appellants argued that the allegations were false, made without reasonable and probable cause, and made for a collateral and improper purpose.

April 30, 2021

Expansion of Ontario Securities Commission’s Mandate

In January 2021, the Capital Markets Modernization Taskforce published its final report after completing its review of the status of Ontario’s capital markets. In its most recent provincial budget, the Government of Ontario indicated that it will proceed with certain of the recommendations made in the report, including to expand the Ontario Securities Commission’s mandate to include fostering capital formation and competition in the markets. The OSC’s current mandate is to provide protection to investors from unfair, improper, or fraudulent practices, to foster fair and efficient capital markets and confidence in capital markets, and to contribute to the stability of the financial system and the reduction of systemic risk.

April 30, 2021

Updates on Amendments re Syndicated Mortgages

As reported in our December 2020 bulletin, on December 7, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) released the final amendments to OSC Rule 45-501 Ontario Prospectus and Registration Exemptions (Amendments). The Amendments form part of the changes across Canada which, in Ontario, will have as one of their effects the transfer from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) to the OSC of regulatory oversight over the distribution of non-qualified syndicated mortgages (NQSMIs) to persons that are not permitted clients.

On February 25, 2021, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) published CSA Staff Notice 45-328 Update on Amendments relating to Syndicated Mortgages. In that notice, the CSA confirmed that the Amendments and the amendments in the local jurisdictions to the syndicated mortgage rules, took effect in all jurisdictions on March 1, 2021, except in Ontario and Quebec where the amendments are expected to take effect on July 1, 2021.

Accordingly, if a firm trading syndicated mortgages is operating only in Ontario or Quebec, they have until July 1, 2021 to comply with the Amendments. Firms operating in all other Canadian jurisdictions needed to comply with the Amendments by March 1, 2021.

Furthermore, on March 10, 2021, FSRA released final approach guidance (the “SMI Guidance”) for supervising mortgage brokerages and administrators that engage in NQSMIs. FSRA consulted on the proposed guidance in August-September 2020. The SMI Guidance will apply to: (a) mortgage brokerages dealing and/or trading in NQSMs with permitted clients on or after July 1, 2021; (b) mortgage brokerages acting on behalf of the borrower in NQSMIs with investors/lenders that are non-permitted clients; (c) mortgage brokerages that dealt and/or traded in legacy NQSMIs (conducted prior to July 1, 2021); and (d) mortgage administrators administering NQSMIs. The SMI Guidance highlights the division of regulatory oversight of NQSMIs, risk profile factors for mortgage brokerages, administrators and NQSMIs, information required for the quarterly data report for NQSMIs with permitted clients and data collection for legacy NQSMIs. Firms in Ontario dealing and/or trading in NQSMIs or mortgage administrators administering NQSMIs will want to review the final guidance in detail. Please don’t hesitate to contact your usual lawyer at AUM Law.

April 30, 2021

Some Provincial Regulators Say Modernization Task Reforms Could Hurt Harmonization

In response to the recently released report by Ontario’s capital markets modernization taskforce containing 70 plus recommendations (summarized in our January bulletin), the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), excluding the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), recently issued an open letter expressing concern about a number of the taskforce recommendations. In particular, the CSA letter raises concern that certain recommendations could negatively affect harmonization efforts across Canada, that a “harmful imbalance” could result from the recommended expansion of the OSC’s authority in certain areas, and have (again) called for the OSC to join the CSA’s passport regime.

February 26, 2021

CSA to Release Recommendations on SRO Framework

In response to the recently released report by Ontario’s capital markets modernization taskforce containing 70 plus recommendations (summarized in our January bulletin), the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), excluding the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), recently issued an open letter expressing concern about a number of the taskforce recommendations. In particular, the CSA letter raises concern that certain recommendations could negatively affect harmonization efforts across Canada, that a “harmful imbalance” could result from the recommended expansion of the OSC’s authority in certain areas, and have (again) called for the OSC to join the CSA’s passport regime.

February 26, 2021

FAQ Corner: Are there other regulations for a portfolio manager to think about when determining whether the early warning reporting rules apply to the purchase of securities of a reporting issuer?

Answer: When considering an investment in a reporting issuer, we often get questions on whether the early warning reporting (EWR) requirements apply and whether a report is required under National Instrument 62-104 Take-Over Bids and Issuer Bids or National Instrument 62-103 The Early Warning System and Related Take-Over Bid and Insider Reporting Issues (NI 62-103). Typically, a purchaser must promptly issue a news release and file an early warning report in the prescribed form within two business days of a purchase exceeding the thresholds. However, NI 62-103, in certain instances, may allow a portfolio manager to rely on the alternative monthly reporting (AMR) regime to report the beneficial ownership of, or control or direction over, voting or equity securities (or convertible securities) of the reporting issuer in question within 10 days of each month-end in which a report is required to be made. A separate insider report may also be required to be filed on SEDI under applicable securities regulations with respect to such investment in the reporting issuer unless an exemption is available. In addition to the early warning and insider reports, a portfolio manager should also consider other rules, including whether consent for a purchase of securities would be required under National Instrument 31-103 Registration Requirements, Exemptions and Ongoing Registrant Obligations (NI 31-103). For example, NI 31-103 prohibits a registered adviser from causing an investment portfolio it manages (including an investment fund) to purchase a security of an issuer in which a responsible person (as defined in NI 31-103) is a partner, officer or director unless the written consent of the client (which means the unitholders of a fund if the client is a fund) is obtained before the purchase.

There are also other conflict of interest issues to consider in these instances. For example, where the purchase in question is by an investment fund, particularly of larger positions, portfolio managers should consider whether such transaction would be prohibited by conflict of interest rules such as those found in subsection.111(2) of the Securities Act (Ontario). This provision prohibits an investment fund from making an investment in any person or company in which the fund, alone or together with one or more related investment funds, is a substantial security holder (generally, beneficial ownership of voting securities to which are attached more than 20% of the voting rights attached to all of the issuer’s voting securities). The calculation to determine whether the issuer owns 20% or more of a reporting issuer is different for the purposes of s.111 of the OSA and or the purposes of the EWR and AMR regime in NI 62-103.

These rules require careful consideration and can be complex, including with respect to determining a person’s ownership percentage of securities of a reporting issuer. If you have any questions with respect to these requirements, please do not hesitate to contact us.

February 26, 2021

Regulators Make it Easier for MFDA Reps to Sell Liquid Alt Funds

On January 28, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) issued temporary blanket relief, which is expected to be codified at a later date. This relief expands the list of courses that allow mutual fund dealing reps to sell liquid alt funds thereby increasing investor access to these products. Dealing representatives (and supervisors) in the Mutual Fund Dealers Association (MFDA) channel (and outside the MFDA channel in Québec) now have four additional courses that they can pass in order  to distribute these products – the courses are offered by the Canadian Securities Institute and the IFSE Institute.

January 29, 2021

FAQ Corner: Can a portfolio manager or investment fund that is subject to FATCA/CRS due diligence and reporting obligations rely on a dealer or third-party custodian to conduct these activities on its behalf?

Answer: The FATCA and CRS provisions of the Income Tax Act (Canada) (the “ITA”) and the guidance issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in connection with those provisions addresses the application of the FATCA and CRS due diligence and reporting requirements in circumstances where there are multiple financial institutions involved in a particular financial account. Generally, where an account is maintained by two financial institutions, each of which would have FATCA and CRS due diligence and reporting requirements, the parties can enter into arrangements to allocate the FATCA and CRS obligations applicable to the account amongst them in order to alleviate duplicate reporting. So, the answer is … yes!

If units of a fund are held in client name, both the fund and the dealer involved in the distribution have FATCA and CRS obligations with respect to the account. In general, the CRA expects dealers to perform the due diligence and account classification and funds to report on the accounts, unless a fund has been advised by a dealer that the dealer will take responsibility for its own reporting. While the ITA and CRA guidance sets out some default arrangements, financial institutions can enter into written agreements to allocate the responsibilities based on their circumstances. It is advisable to retain records of such arrangements in order to demonstrate compliance with FATCA and CRS obligations.

With respect to custodians, the CRA generally expects the financial institution with the most immediate relationship with the client to be best positioned to understand the client’s tax status (i.e. conduct the due diligence), however it is appreciated that custodians may be in a better position to provide reporting. The CRA expects a suitable arrangement to include one where the investment manager performs the due diligence and communicates the account classification to the custodial institution for reporting by the custodian to the CRA.

January 29, 2021

FAQ Corner: Does a pooled fund that invests in an underlying fund require a custodian for the securities of the underlying fund?

Answer: In June 2018, amendments to the custody requirements in NI 31-103 came into force (the “Custody Amendments”). The Custody Amendments include an exception from the requirement to retain a qualified custodian for securities that are recorded on the books of the security’s issuer, or the transfer agent of the security’s issuer, only in the name of the client or investment fund (the “Exception”). We are of the view that in many circumstances, a top fund can rely on the Exception such that a custodian is not required simply to hold the units of an underlying fund held by the top fund as long as the units are recorded on the books of the underlying fund in the name of the top fund. These units are typically maintained in book-based form. However, there is no exemption for the portfolio securities held by the underlying fund, which generally must be held by a qualified custodian that complies with the requirements of NI 31-103.

Prior to the Custody Amendments, it was common for fund-on-fund relief orders to include a representation that the assets of the top fund would be held by a custodian that meets the requirements of NI 81-102. Such a condition may generally be superseded by the Exception, provided that there is no other reason a custodian at the top fund level would be required.

January 29, 2021

Reviewing Fund Custodian Arrangements

Investment fund managers that have obtained approval from the Ontario Securities Commission to self-trustee pooled funds and/or exemptive relief for fund-on-fund structures may have selected fund custodians that meet the requirements of National Instrument 81-102 Investment Funds (NI 81-102) in order to comply with the terms of those regulatory orders. The custodian requirements in National Instrument 31-103 Registration Requirements, Exemptions and Ongoing Registrant Obligations (NI 31-103) that took effect in June 2018 are more flexible than those in NI 81-102 in that IIROC dealers that are permitted to hold investment fund assets are qualified custodians for investment funds. As well, there is an exception for securities recorded on the books of the security’s issuer in the name of the investment fund which may alleviate the need for a fund to retain a custodian for the units of an underlying fund held by the top fund. Investment fund managers with custody arrangements that were put in place to comply with the terms of an order issued prior to the NI 31-103 custody amendments coming into force may wish to consider reviewing their fund custody arrangements in light of the more flexible custodian requirements under NI 31-103. For more information, please contact Stacey Long or a member of our team.

January 29, 2021

Ontario’s Capital Markets Modernization Taskforce Releases Final Report

In our July 2020 Bulletin we reported on the Consultation Report of Ontario’s Capital Markets Modernization Taskforce. On January 22, the Taskforce released its Final Report after engaging with over 110 stakeholders and receiving over 130 stakeholder comment letters in response to the Consultation Report.

Background: The Taskforce was appointed by Ontario’s former Finance Minister to review the capital markets regulatory framework and make recommendations to modernize Ontario’s capital markets regulation. One of the Taskforce’s main objectives was to amplify growth and competitiveness in Ontario’s capital markets.

As we did in our July 2020 Bulletin when we last reported on the Consultation Report, in this month’s bulletin we have highlighted the proposals that we think will be of particular interest to readers who are following this initiative.

Improving Regulatory Structure: The Final Report sets out a number of recommendations which the Taskforce believes will lead to a more modern and efficient securities regulator including:

  • Replacing the Securities Act (Ontario) and Commodity Futures Act (Ontario) with the Capital Markets Act (CMA). The recommendation is to see the implementation of the CMA by the end of 2021. As for this timing … we’re betting on the Over.
  • Expanding the mandate of the OSC to include fostering capital formation and competition in the markets in order to encourage economic growth and help facilitate capital raising.
  • Enhancing collaboration between the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) and Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) to achieve efficiencies including examining the potential of back-office efficiency opportunities.
  • Introducing a single self-regulating organization (SRO) that covers all advisory firms, including investment dealers, mutual fund dealers, portfolio managers, exempt market dealers (EMDs) and scholarship plan dealers. In the short term the new SRO would regulate both investment and mutual fund dealers. In the long term this SRO would replace IIROC and MFDA and would also regulate exempt market dealers, portfolio managers and scholarship plan dealers and ultimately the OSC would delegate more registration responsibilities to the new SRO.
  • Speed up the SEDAR+ project to create a more modern, centralized and user-friendly electronic filing/document retrieval system with the first phase to be complete in 2021. We’d love to see this happen in 2021 but again, don’t see this as being likely considering the heavy regulatory agenda this year.

Improving Regulations and Enhancing Investors Protection: Based on the Taskforce’s findings, capital markets participants are in favour of reducing regulatory burden and streamlining regulatory requirements. The Final Report recommends streamlining regulatory requirements and enhancing investor protection including:

  • Lowering to 30 days the current four-month hold period for securities issued by a qualified reporting issuer using the accredited investor exemption and eliminating the hold requirement altogether after two years.
  • Providing the Director of Corporate Finance at the OSC with power to impose terms and conditions on issuers similar to the power the Director of Compliance and Registrant Regulation has regarding registrants.
  • Expanding civil liability for offering memorandum misrepresentation to extend to parties other than the issuer such as its board of directors, promoters, influential persons and experts.
  • Allowing the OSC to adapt prospectus liability to address regulatory gaps resulting from new and evolving financing structures.
  • For consistency with other jurisdictions, decreasing the ownership threshold for early-warning reporting disclosure from 10 to 5 per cent for non-passive investors.
  • Designating a dispute resolution services organization that would have the power to issue binding decisions.

The Rise of Private Markets, Exempt Market Activities and Ensuring a Level Playing Field: The Taskforce included recommendations that aim to increase capital raising opportunities for small intermediaries and increase the variety and quality of independent products available to retail investors, such as:

  • A dealer registration safe harbour for issuers that wish to distribute their own securities without an intermediary. We agree that this would be incredibly helpful to market participants.
  • A finder category of registration which would impose fewer obligations compared to those imposed on EMDs or investment dealers (such as lower capital requirements) and eliminate the need for a finder to have an ultimate designated person or chief compliance office in certain instances. We also think this is a good idea, provided there’s clarity regarding when one crosses into being a registrable finder.
  • The OSC and TMX to re-allow EMDs to act as “selling group members” in the distribution of securities made under a prospectus offering. This door was closed to EMDs a few years ago due to various policy concerns, so will be interesting to monitor this proposal.
  • Additional accredited investor categories to include individuals that have passed relevant proficiency requirements.
  • Improving access to the shelf system for independent product through guidance to address product shelf issues and the makeup of New Product Committees, title clarification for proprietary product to ensure a level playing field for all products gaining action to a distribution channel and that conflicts are addressed in the best interest of clients.

Fostering Innovation: The Taskforce made recommendations to help support stakeholders request for a more nimble and flexible regulator in order to foster innovation in the Ontario capital markets including:

  • Foster an Ontario Regulatory Sandbox to benefit entrepreneurs and in the longer-term, consider developing a Canadian Super Sandbox where the OSC and FSRA should design an approach that would offer rapid exemptive relief or use other available regulatory tools to permit companies with innovative business models operating across the financial services sector in Ontario to test new financial services and products.
  • Encourage access to retail investors in less liquid private equity and debt markets by introducing an appropriate retail investment fund structure (e.g. Interval Funds in the U.S.)

Other Recommendations: The summary above highlights only a handful of the Taskforce’s 70 plus recommendations. The Final Report also included other proposals such as:

  • A fully electronic or digital delivery in relation to documents mandated under securities law requirements within six months.
  • Name change of the Ontario Securities Commission to the Ontario Capital Markets Authority.
  • Reducing the minimum consultation period for rule-making from 90 days to 60 days.
  • Providing the OSC with additional tools for continuous disclosure and exemption compliance.
  • Modernizing Ontario’s short selling regulatory regime to include protections allowed for in other jurisdictions (e.g., U.S. and U.K.)
  • Introducing an exemption from the disclosure of conflicts of interest in connection with private
    placements to institutional investors. An issue that’s been kicking around for years.

What’s Next? The next steps for the Final Report are now up to recently appointed Minister of Finance. The Minister may choose to act on some, none or all of the recommendations. As we have previously mentioned, we think that initiatives that can be implemented by Ontario authorities on their own could start moving forward if no legislative or rule changes are required. Other proposals (such as SRO reform) will require coordinated, cooperative and determined actions by multiple parties across the country and therefore likely to take much more time to achieve, if they are achievable at all.

AUM Law will continue to monitor the status of the recommendations and update you on significant developments. If you are interested in discussing any of the recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact Sandy Psarras, Chris von Boetticher or another member of our team.

January 29, 2021