Regulator Implements Anonymous Tip Line Recommendation

The groundbreaking June 2016 report of the Independent Advisory Group into the regulation of the real estate industry in British Columbia contained the following recommendation:

  1. The Real Estate Council implement confidential reporting channels (for example, reporting hotlines or whistle-blower programs) for industry and the public, to facilitate reporting of licensee misconduct.

Very few regulators encourage anonymous reports for a number of reasons. It is difficult (although not legally impossible) for an anonymous tip to constitute reasonable and probable grounds to support the initiation of an investigation. Even if an investigation can be initiated, it may be difficult to investigate effectively without a witness. In addition, approaching a practitioner about a serious abuse of trust without possessing some evidence can result in the identification of the anonymous reporter (through the details reported), increasing the risk of either interference with the reporter /witness or the concealing of evidence. It takes a great deal of skill and effort to screen anonymous tips for relevance and to combine them with other information (e.g., already on file or contained in other anonymous tips). This sort of time investment is necessary because an apparently innocuous, seemingly malicious or ostensibly incomprehensible report could, in fact, relate to significant misconduct or incompetence. Failing to investigate such reports, if they do turn out to have merit, makes it appear retrospectively that the regulator “missed it”. Many practitioners feel it is unfair to be subject to an investigation without being able to comment on the credibility or motivation of their accuser. And there is, of course, the potential for a complaints/reports program to be abused by those with a personal grudge or by a competitor.

Despite these concerns the Real Estate Council of British Columbia has implemented the recommendation. Reports can be made either online or by telephone. Reporters are requested to complete a detailed form. Areas of possible reporting are identified with an emphasis on concealed or consensual misconduct that might not otherwise become known (e.g., secret commissions). Practitioners are reminded that filing an anonymous tip does not satisfy their mandatory reporting requirements, which must be made with the reporter’s identity revealed. For more information about the confidential reporting initiative, see:
https://www.recbc.ca/licensing/about-tipline.html.

It will be interesting to watch unfold any discipline proceedings (and potential court challenges) that result from these anonymous reports.

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