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UBC Law's "Lifecycle of Dirty Money" Course and Dr. Sanaa Ahmed

UBC Law's "Lifecycle of Dirty Money" Course and Dr. Sanaa Ahmed

I attended the Peter A. Allard School of Law’s first session of “The Lifecycle of Dirty Money” course this past Thursday and was impressed by Dr. Sanaa Ahmed’s brief introduction and critique of anti-money laundering policy using a political economy lens.

She argues that anti-money laundering policy experts must analyze money laundering from a political economy perspective which includes analyzing political structures, economic systems, and the power dynamics facilitating money laundering activities in British Columbia and broader the country.

Dr. Ahmed correctly posited that the development of public policy doesn’t occur in a vacuum but rather on a stage orchestrated by government which includes many different, powerful actors. We assume the locus of control in these matters rests with the state, but is this really the case? Dr. Ahmed raised several interesting ideas and questions during her talk, for example:

  • The need to create a universal definition of “money laundering” to promote collaboration amongst policymakers and nations and help those involved in combatting money laundering think more broadly about what money laundering is.
  • The definition of money laundering is too crime focused, we need to expand it.
  • The activities we criminalize as a province and nation distract us, perhaps on purpose, from money laundering activity.
  • We can’t stop money laundering with supply-side interventions.
  • Issues of power in policymaking and law: all law is an expression of the interests of those with power – how does this impact money laundering laws?
  • Facilitating business and capital inflow into Canada is important – are we really scrutinizing this activity closely? And do we care about dirty capital flowing into Canada if it’s benefitting us?

Dr. Ahmed had more questions than answers and that's what I found interesting about her talk – her curiousness got myself and others thinking.

As someone who works in the anti-money laundering policy space, her ideas were refreshing as they were high-level and philosophical in nature. Often, I spend my time down in the weeds and it was helpful to start thinking about money laundering through the political economy lens again.

I'm looking forward to hearing more from Dr. Ahmed in the next session of the course and plan to post each week not only on key ideas raised by Dr. Ahmed but the other speakers as well, including Dr. Peter German.