BRANTFORD – Not very many people living in Ontario are aware that there is no such thing as the Ontario land registry, which registers and records all land transactions in the province. It’s all been sourced out to a private corporation.
About 15 years ago the province hired Teranet, a private firm, to digitize, register and transact real estate deals and titles, both old and new.
Martin McDermott was caught on the horns of this beast while dealing with land in Ancaster once owned by his now deceased mother.
He believes the change in the Ontario land registry system and its software is or could be just as easily used to unfairly deal with certain Six Nations land claims and title issues.
“Teranet started as Real Data Ontario (RDO) who had a secret master agreement with the province of Ontario,” McDermott says. “They had been given the contract to digitize all of the Ontario land registry documents on file and centralize this data in one privately owned data base. Teranet can make agreements for new data sources and has an unfettered right to mine as much data they want from other sources to integrate with private data in land registry offices.”
According to McDermott, RDO in fact was a shell company set up with no employees, no software, in fact nothing but a name, directors and surveyors. He believes that was done without due process of tenders from other bidders. To grease the wheels, others who could benefit from the RDO contract wrote letters of support, contingent upon RDO getting the contract.
As part of his personal investigation into Teranet, McDermott recently went to the CBC in Toronto to view a 1991 investigative report they did on Teranet at that time. He came back with the confidence that his suspicions are likely true.
McDermott found that although welcomed by the Ontario Liberals, in some other provinces, like Alberta, this practice was found to be unacceptable and Alberta would not privatize its land registry wishing it to remain in public control given the sensitive nature of this information.
“Under Teranet, you don’t know if your neighbour has split his properties between numbered companies and foreign investment capital, as Walton International is in the practice of doing,” says McDermott. “That means you don’t know if the appreciated value on that land next to you is affecting your property taxes. That’s because Teranet supplies the data of the property assessment values from the registry of the last conveyances of these properties.”
The startup costs for Teranet came from foreign private financing brought by a certain Mohamed al Zibek of Saudi-Arabia.
Teranet is a subsidiary of Borealis Infrastructure, which in turn is an arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.
“What they did was to take the software, called Polaris, that was already under development and in turn went to local registry offices and scanned some, but not all, documents. Many of these registry offices were then closed,” he says.
Teranet also took all the maps, which are copyrighted by cartographers and those who hold the copyright on those maps. There is a $50 million class action suit before the courts involving the Keatley company, a survey consortium which is suing Teranet for copyright infringement. The court initially ruled in Teranet’s favour but in a later appeal, the court overturned that decision and the class action suit is still alive.
“I believe that people who have lost property through this hocus-pocus land registry also have a right to sue by way of a class action law suit,” says McDermott.
McDermott also says this software developed by Teranet has no security systems in place to guard this information in any way.
Teranet gets 60 per cent common shares while Ontario government gets 40 per cent common shares. In 2012, Ontario sold its shares and in 2014, the McGuinty government renewed the contract with Teranet ahead of the scheduled 2017 renewal date giving Teranet the contract until 2067.
CBC discovered during their story that there was another, much more reputable consortium with a long track record, employees and significant capital also wanting in. This company would have protected this data like a bank but was never considered.
Under the Teranet system lawyers can now represent both a buyer and a seller, without any physical documents in hand, only the software on a memory stick they now have privy to. But now, employees and secretaries can perform this duty using this supposedly secure software, according to an article published in Law Times Written By Tali Folkins.
“So this numbered company has a Teraview stick, and they have credentials to go into Teraview,” says lawyer Shayle Rothman who is opposed to the practice. “Because the system is not locked for anything other than ownership transfers, they were able to discharge a mortgage fraudulently. It was super easy for them to do.”
According to McDermott, this system has also been used to purge land titles, historical documents, and fast track development projects by those insiders using it.
The questionable use of invisible equity is not new. A study of the establishment of the hamlet of Caledonia itself involved Indian Agent Jasper Gilkinson who used illegal land titles in Brantford as collateral on land he wanted to purchase in Caledonia.
The system has been made more efficient by digitizing by scanning in what is wanted and purging out what is not, but now it’s happening at the speed of light, according to McDermott.