The Exner Foundation for Academic Excellence in Law and Business is an Alberta non-profit organization dedicated to furthering our understanding of white-collar crime. By encouraging research and knowledge-sharing among academic and industry experts, and through raising public awareness, we aim to create leadership that can inform emerging law, policy, and trends in corporate governance.
The term “white-collar crime” covers a broad spectrum of behaviours on the part of individuals, corporations, groups, or governments that are non-violent or indirectly violent, which are typically motivated by financial gain. Some white-collar crimes are motivated by power in addition to, or in lieu of, financial gain. Fraud, falsification of documents or records, embezzlement or laundering of funds, undue exercise of power or influence, and abuse of systems or public trust are just some telltale markers.
The “crime” part of “white-collar crime” is misleading, particularly in Canada. Most offences, if they are addressed at all by the law, result in relatively minor regulatory or civil liabilities and not criminal charges. Furthermore, Canadian law rarely provides meaningful remedies for victims of white-collar offences.
The impact of white-collar crime in Canada and around the globe is estimated in trillions, and it sometimes encompasses irreversible environmental harms. However, white-collar crime is one of the most understudied, and therefore least understood, areas within academic, legal, and industry frontiers. Globally, reports of fraud and other economic crime rates in the corporate sector are at all-time highs, and the impact of this activity is harming more parties, and in more diverse ways, than ever before. As an ever-growing problem in today’s industrialized societies, the need to understand white-collar crime is ever more urgent, if we truly want to address it.
For those who are affected by white-collar crimes, the social and economic costs are astounding. For example, victims of investor fraud often find themselves bankrupt, lose their homes, or lose their retirement funds. The emotional toll these experiences can take – though unquantifiable – are often devastating to those who suffer these losses. Another example is the environmental harms caused by corporate decision-making, which constitute another branch of white-collar crime (“green-collar crime”). These corporate actions cause irreparable damage to land and wildlife, and are currently addressed by transferring public wealth (the majority of which is derived from Canadian’s personal taxes). These are merely two illustrations that show how perpetrators are not typically held accountable in a meaningful way. If the parties responsible for these harms are levied regulatory fines, gaps or shortcomings in Canada’s legal framework often allow for them to evade the majority of these obligations.
The Exner Foundation would like to change the way Canada addresses white-collar crimes, and contribute to setting new ethical trends in corporate decision-making. We believe our three-pronged approach can lay the groundwork to do just that.