As of December 31, 2008, lawyers in most Canadian jurisdictions (except Quebec, which will be joining later in 2009) became subject to new rules requiring us to identify our clients in a prescribed manner at the start of every new matter or engagement. In some circumstances, we will also be obliged to verify client identities by obtaining copies of original documents that substantiate the identification information we have obtained. These requirements are part of a world-wide initiative to combat money laundering, terrorist financing and fraud. This kind of regime may not be new to our clients, as other organizations and professionals, such as banks and accountants, are already subject to similar rules.
The identification information we will need to gather is fairly basic. For each individual client, we will need to obtain a full name, business and home addresses and phone numbers, and the client's occupation or vocation. For clients that are "organizations" (a term used in the rules that includes not just corporations, but also trusts, partnerships and other associations), we will need to obtain a full business name, address and telephone number, and, with some exceptions, incorporation or business registration number (if applicable), and the nature of the client's business. For each organization, we also need to obtain the name, contact information and position of individuals who instruct us. For existing clients, some of that information may already be in our files, but there may be information gaps that the rules will require us to fill.
We may also need to review documents in order to verify identification information when we are handling funds on behalf of our clients, or instructing others on the handling of funds for our clients, though not in all circumstances - there are several exemptions. When we are required to verify a client's identity, the rules obligate us to take copies of original documents that attest to the information we have collected, and which can reasonably be relied upon. For individuals, these documents would include passports and driver's licences. For organizations, we will need to obtain documents that are filed with or issued by public authorities, or when those are not available we may need to ask for copies of documents such as trust deeds or partnership agreements. In some situations we will also need to obtain additional information about significant shareholders and directors.