English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, Ca...

English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


     I recently found myself in a store that had a talk show on the radio that was discussing the city’s plan to use a scarecrow (or a man dressed up like one) to scare seagulls or crows or some form of avian nuisance away from one of Ottawa’s monuments or parks.  I honestly can’t recall the specifics because it wasn’t the story that grabbed my attention, rather it was the host, who seemed to be working himself up into a ballistic lather over the issue.  He was beyond enraged that the city was contemplating spending money on such an outrageous idea and I found myself briefly wondering if they had paramedics on standby in the studio when he went into cardiac meltdown.  He painted the idea (in very loud audio colours) as an affront to democracy and Ottawa taxpayers needed to rise up and punish their elected officials for such a travesty.  In all honesty, I have no opinion on the matter that got him so riled up, but it was the degree to which a minor issue (in my opinion, anyway) provoked him so dramatically that got my cranium’s wheels turning (not to mention the language he used to vilify both the proposal and those who hadn’t even voted on it yet).  He genuinely sounded like he was the only chicken who knew that it was raining chunks of sky and he was determined to warn the rest of the barnyard.  I actually found it more than a little amusing.

Then later that day I came across a story I had to triple check to believe.

Returning home after being out-of-town for two weeks, Katie Barnett of Vinton County, Ohio discovered that not only had her home been burglarized, but that the locks had been changed and she was locked out.  The culprit?  Welston First National Bank, who was foreclosing on a home.  Not hers, because the company that was responsible for collecting and removing the possessions in said house got the address wrong.  No, you didn’t misread that-the bank, an institution that is supposed to protect money and perform dozens of complicated financial transactions on a daily basis-emptied the wrong house (one of the reasons they gave was that her lawn hadn’t been mowed so obviously she had to have been the delinquent homeowner in question).  But while that may have given you a chuckle or two, the story quickly becomes a downright knee slapper.

When Katie contacted the bank to get her stuff back, they had already sold it.  When she kindly asked that the bank reimburse her for the stuff that they had essentially stolen and then fenced, she was met with attitude, bank president Anthony Thorne gruffly told her that she wasn’t going to get retail value for her possessions.  You know, the ones the bank stole.  The local police pretty much shrugged their shoulders after initially accusing her of being a squatter and Katie quickly discovered she had few options.  The bank had robbed her of an estimated eighteen thousand dollars worth of stuff, and no one apologized, was held accountable or was going to fix it.  And stories like this are becoming frighteningly common in the good old U S of A.

By the end of 2012, there had been more than 50 lawsuits filed against big American banks for improper foreclosures (perhaps that’s why the banks have begun using SWAT teams to deliver routine foreclosures notices), they’ve made a habit out of foreclosing on homes they don’t even own the mortgage on and have even foreclosed on homes where the owner’s crime was making the monthly payment early.  Last week, a court overturned the foreclosure on a woman’s home because she was a mere six dollars short and American banks have recently paid a handful of punitive fines without disputing the charges because it wasn’t worth their time (and the fines amounted to little more than a few minutes worth of revenue for them anyway).  It is estimated that banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citibank (among others) have foreclosed on over 700 veterans, many of them while they were on active duty overseas, in defiance of American federal law.  American banks have also come under fire for knowingly laundering billions of dollars for international drug cartels (it’s estimated that Wachovia, now owned by Wells Fargo, laundered an amount worth approximately one-third of Mexico’s entire GDP) and lawmakers have been pretty candid that America’s banks have returned to the greedy, negligent behaviour that lead to the economic meltdown of 2008, a collapse that caused catastrophic damage across the entire planet (current lawsuits and investigations against the U.S.’s big banks easily number in the double digits, if not triple).  And for those keeping score at home, you can count the number of American CEOs and major banking figures that have seen the inside of a courtroom for their role in the second greatest economic crisis in history on one hand.   Instead, many of them took multi-billion dollar bailouts, gave themselves bonuses and proceeded to lay off thousands of workers.

Last Canada Day, I wrote a mostly tongue in cheek piece about why we’re fortunate to live in Canada, taking a few good-natured jabs at our American friends along the way.  But the reality is, when it comes to our financial and banking systems, Canadians are truly far better off.  That isn’t to say Canada’s banks are angels.  Last spring the Royal Bank of Canada made headlines when it was discovered that they were laying off 45 Canadian workers and replacing them with cheaper, foreign labour.  To add a little extra insult to injury, the Canadians who were being discarded were forced to train their replacements.  Public outcry was fierce and the government moved swiftly to address the situation, promising to close loopholes RBC had exploited.  Now odds are there were probably a handful of government officials who knew what was going on and may have looked the other way every now and then, but once the story broke, the government at least made the appearance of correcting the problem.  In the land of the Stars and Stripes, banks routinely prey on their customers with neither apology nor regret and the American government rewards their predatory behaviour with obscene subsidies (it’s estimated that the United States facilitated implied subsidies of 83 billion dollars to it’s ten largest financial institutions last year).  Perhaps the most telling fact?  Since the late nineteenth century, the United States has suffered 16 crashes.  Canada has suffered a grand total of 0.

The moral to this little rant?  Well, suffice to say, if I could have put a little birdie (or crow) into the ear of the radio personality who seemed to consider the possibility of Ottawa’s decision to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a glorified scarecrow as a genuine threat to the Canadian way of life, I’d have suggested he calm down and take a breath.  Because if that’s the biggest problem we currently face in our day-to-day lives, we have it much better off then our American friends, who are getting mugged more and more by the guys in the three-piece suits these days then the ones hiding in the alleys.

Shayne Kempton



One thought on “BANKING ON CANADA

  1. Gary Bartlett says:

    Enjoy your columns , I liked the Town movie ,which Afflect directed .I think He might bring a fresh perspective to a possible Trilogy . There are lots of batman stories to draw from, comics and old 60’s. tv.
    Keep up the good work
    Gary B

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