On March 29, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC, and together with the CSA, Regulators) jointly published Staff Notice 21-329 Guidance for Crypto-Asset Trading Platforms: Compliance with Regulatory Requirements (Staff Notice). The Staff Notice is intended to provide regulatory guidance on how securities legislation, as it currently stands, applies to platforms (Crypto Asset Trading Platforms, or CTPs) that facilitate or propose to facilitate the trading of crypto assets that are securities (Security Tokens) or instruments or contracts involving crypto assets (Crypto Contracts) in the interim period while the Regulators continue working on establishing a long-term regulatory framework for CTPs. The Regulators’ work in this area began with the publication of Consultation Paper 21-402 Proposed Framework for Crypto-Asset Trading Platforms back in March 2019 (Consultation Paper), which we reported on in a previous issue of our bulletin.
In providing their guidance, the Regulators divide the CTPs into two broad categories: The Marketplace Platforms, which operate in a manner similar to marketplaces as currently defined in securities legislation and the Dealer Platforms, which are CTPs that are not marketplaces.
Dealer Platforms: The two most common characteristics of a CTP that is a Dealer Platform are that:
- It only facilitates the primary distribution of Security Tokens; and
- Clients do not interact with one another on the CTP.
The Regulators indicate that for a Dealer Platform that only facilitates distributions or the trading of Security Tokens in reliance on prospectus exemptions and does not offer margin or leverage, registration as an exempt market dealer or, in some circumstances, restricted dealer may be required.
A Dealer Platform that trades Crypto Contracts, on the other hand, would be expected to be registered in an appropriate dealer category, and where it trades or solicits trades for retail investors that are individuals, it will generally be expected to be registered as an investment dealer and be an IIROC member.
Marketplace Platforms: Generally, a CTP would be a Marketplace Platform if it:
- Constitutes, maintains or provides a market or facility for bringing together multiple buyers and sellers and their orders for trading in Security Tokens and/or Crypto Contracts; and
- Uses established, non-discretionary methods under which such orders will be executed and processed.
Marketplace Platforms will generally be subject to the requirements applicable to alternative trading systems, such as those set out in National Instrument 21-101 Marketplace Operations.
Additionally, it is contemplated that activities on Marketplace Platforms will be subject to market integrity requirements, such as IIROC’s Universal Market Integrity Rules or similar provisions.
Where a Marketplace Platform also conducts activities similar to those performed by Dealer Platforms, it would also be subject to the appropriate dealer requirements, including dealer registration requirements, discussed above.
The Regulators acknowledge the continued evolution of fintech businesses and the emergence of a wide variety of CTP models, and note in all cases that exemptive relief may be available and terms and conditions that are tailored to their businesses may be appropriate.
The Staff Notice also contains in an appendix the Regulators’ responses to the comments received from industry stakeholders on the Consultation Paper, but does not give much indication on what the long-term regulatory framework may look like (other than, perhaps, the taxonomy of CTPs that is used in the Staff Notice) or an expected timeline.
They encourage CTPs to consult with their legal counsel and to contact staff of their local securities regulatory authority on the appropriate steps to comply with securities legislation and IIROC rules.