Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Bruce Livesey

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Bruce Livesey

Bruce Livesey is an award-winning investigative journalist who lives and works in Toronto. His new book, The Thieves of Bay Street: How Banks, Brokerage and the Wealthy Steal Billions from Canadians, exposes the dark underbelly of Canada’s financial system.

Bruce talks with Open Book about the timeliness of his book, why Canada is a haven for fraud, and his top tips for protecting your money.

Open Book:

Tell us a bit about your book, The Thieves of Bay Street: How Banks, Brokerage and the Wealthy Steal Billions from Canadians.

Bruce Livesey:

It’s a non-fiction investigative exposé of how Canada’s banks and brokerage houses, as well as some of our wealthiest citizens, engage in fraud and generally get away with it. I examine cases such as Conrad Black, Nortel, ABCP, Norshield, rogue brokers and our shoddy regulatory system. At least one million Canadians have lost money due to investment fraud, and one estimate says annual losses reach as high as $20 billion.


Canadians generally think of themselves as living in a highly regulated financial system free of "American-style" greed and mismanagement. Is this an illusion? Why do you think this image is important to the Canadian self-image?


It’s completely an illusion. Or more like a delusion. The reason this myth persists is Canada’s banks and brokerages are stable if compared to America’s financial institutions. But this is not due to our prudence but because the federal government has forced the banks to put quality assets aside, and because our banks are an uncompetitive oligopoly that permits them to charge some of the highest fees and commissions in the world and making it impossible for them to lose money. Their stability exists because they can gouge Canadians so readily. I don’t think it is important to Canadians’ self-image as I don’t think there is much fondness for our banks.


Why do you think there is so little consequence for the actions of those who exploit our economic system?


Because the criminals are rich and can employ the most skilled lawyers in the land. And because they’ve managed to ensure our laws regarding white collar crime are weak and ineffectual. And because Canada is a country of city states where the business and legal establishments in places like Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver can easily influence the provincial securities commissions. And because Canadians have a messed-up reverence for our wealthy which is rarely deserved.


Why was this the right time to write this particular book?


We’ve just had the credit crisis and the recession that had resulted, which continues to grind on. Meanwhile, the Canadian banks were being held up as this model of propriety and soundness. And I knew this was nonsense. I knew we had a huge problem with investment fraud. So I felt a book exploring why Canada was, in fact, a haven for white collar crime and stock market thievery was important and overdue.


If you could give any piece of advice to average investors, what would it be?


Don’t trust anyone. Especially any investment adviser or broker who works for one of the big chartered banks and their brokerage houses. They are there to make money for themselves and their employers and not for you. The faster you understand the less likely you will be to lose your money. Secondly, research the hell out of anything you do invest in. If you don’t understand it, don’t invest in it. And try to invest in companies that actually make tangible goods — not synthetic investment products. And read the fine print on all the hidden commissions and fees. They can really ruin your long-term financial prospects.


What are you working on now?


I am writing some articles for the Globe and Mail’s Report On Business Magazine on some fraud cases and I am trying to get some documentaries off the ground on various subjects, a couple that have to do with the financial system.

Bruce Livesey is an award-winning investigative journalist. His writing has appeared in most major magazines and newspapers in Canada. He also has extensive experience as a television producer, working for the investigative unit of CBC TV's The National, the fifth estate and CBC News Sunday, as well as outside Canada for a co-production of PBS Frontline and the New York Times, Al Jazeera English and Al Gore's Current TV. He is a co-winner of a Dupont Award, one of the most prestigious US television awards, and has been nominated for two Geminis and three national magazine awards, winning in 2008. He lives and works in Toronto.

For more information about The Thieves of Bay Street please visit the Random House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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