Forensic fire investigation consultancy opens new office in Vancouver

17 September 2018

Amid surging occurrences of wildfire in Western Canada, fire investigation consultancy Origin and Cause has opened a new office in Vancouver. The company primarily serves insurance companies in helping determine the veracity and policy-worthiness of fire and explosion-related claims.

Alberta and British Columbia have been seeing more and larger-scale wildfires in the last few years. The massive Fort McMurray Wilfdfire of 2016 forced the evacuation of 88,000 people, destroyed 2,400 buildings, and became the costliest disaster in Canadian history at an estimated cost of $9.9 billion. A current estimate of insurance payouts from the disaster reaches as high as $4.7 billion.

In 2017, BC saw the largest single blaze in in its history, with 19 fires in the province’s Interior merging to form a single fire of 4,674 square kilometers. Fires that summer displaced more than 3,800 people, while over 400 firefighters worked to contain the massive blazes at the peak of the season.

This summer saw about 2,000 wildfires in BC, with over 400 being started by human activities like campfires, cigarettes, car accidents, and flares.

According to a growing body of environmental science, fires in the western United States and Canada have been becoming larger and more frequent since the 1970s as a result of climate change. Though the ignition events remain independent – lightning/human factors – the warmer temperatures and drier soils caused by earlier snowmelt make the land more susceptible to fire, while drier conditions and higher temperatures increase the duration and severity of wildfires.Forensic fire investigation consultancy opens new office in VancouverFor Origin and Cause, investigating the aftermath of fire is their business, and business is good. The consultancy’s name derives from the forensic fire investigations they perform, which are sometimes called origin and cause investigations. Forensic examinations use a systematic approach and a knowledge of fire science to figure out the whether the cause of fire was faulty wiring, wildfire, arson, or whatever else.

Origin and Cause is Canada’s largest consulting forensic engineering and fire investigation firm, and has been in business for over 25 years. The consulting firm has completed more than 30,000 cases for insurance companies, law firms, independent adjusters, manufacturers, and corporate risk managers.

The firm has 14 offices nationwide from Halifax to Victoria. Now, based on increased demand for its services in British Columbia, Origin and Cause is opening a new office in Vancouver.

"The past few summers have been incredibly difficult for the people and the province of British Columbia, and a challenging time for insurers," commented Origin and Cause President, Mazen Habash. "Our clients in Vancouver need us now more than ever and are constantly reaching out to our Victoria office and neighbouring offices in the West. We are honoured by their trust in our expertise, and are excited to open up a local office so that we can better serve their forensic needs."

The lead expert working out of the new Vancouver office will be Tom Hoppe, a Fire and Explosion Investigator at the firm. Hoppe has over 15 years’ experience conducting investigations into large losses, incendiary fires, and explosions.

"Tom is very well respected in the fire and explosion investigation industry; known for his passion for discovering the truth by determining the facts of an incident, as well as his exceptional customer relations experience," remarked Western Canada Manager Ken Swan. "We are proud to open our doors today on the mainland, and look forward to being a part of the local insurance community."


Canadian cannabis firms have attractive international opportunities, MNP reports

18 April 2019

Accounting and consulting firm MNP has released a report examining the comparative favourability of international cannabis markets.

As the first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis, Canadian businesses are in an advantageous position to steer the emerging sector. However, Canada’s market is still a small one in the global scale of things. As in the case of other industries like manufacturing or natural resources, Canada’s cannabis firms need to pursue opportunities abroad in order to compete globally and unlock true growth potential.

"Canadian cannabis firms have the financial capital, intellectual capital, human capital, and a supportive policy framework to germinate the seeds of international success," Glenn Fraser, MNP's national cannabis co-leader, said. "Whether opportunities blossom depends on how effectively they leverage those advantages to get in on the ground floor of new markets. The time is now for Canadian cannabis companies to take a leadership role and replicate the Canadian model in new environments."

For now, only Canada and Uruguay have legalized recreational cannabis sales on a national level. However, numerous countries have legalized medical marijuana, and more still are contemplating recreational legalization, encouraged by Canada’s example as well as the changing attitudes of citizens.

MNP, a nationwide accounting and consulting firm with a strong cannabis advisory practice, recently released an illuminating report on the comparative attractiveness of international cannabis markets. The firm analyzed 16 international markets with dynamic cannabis sectors, considering factors like available financing, taxes and fee structures, and policy maturity. Though no markets received top marks across all categories, several still showed great promise.

Financing opportunities

Accessing capital, banking, and financial services can be a challenge in some markets, but remains an important part of market viability and business success. As such, MNP’s report analyzed the relative ease of accessing capital through public or private markets, as well as the availability of banking services.

Israel, Switzerland, Australia, and Malta emerged as the markets with the best financing opportunities. Israel’s cannabis sector, which has seen strong investment from Canadian firms, has also been buoyed by the anticipated legalization of exports. The Israeli market is largely supported by private equity firm iCan, which represent firms from more than 40 countries.

Switzerland’s cannabis market has also seen heavy investment from Canada, while the SIX Swiss Exchange and Bern exchange provide ample access to further capital. Venture capital is also expanding rapidly.

Australia, meanwhile, has the Australian Stock Exchange, which is already home to more than 20 cannabis stocks, including AusCan, Bod Australia, and Atlas Pearls.

Malta has strong access to capital though the Malta Stock exchange, as well as investment from banks. The small island nation has a particularly vibrant emerging medical cannabis sector, which has largely been built from international investment. "If Canadian businesses want to build eminence in new countries, they need to involve themselves in cannabis' continued integration into healthcare," David Danziger, senior vice president, assurance, MNP, said. 

"Companies who are already active in regions with a burgeoning medical market will have a clear advantage – both in terms of brand awareness, infrastructure, and international relationships – if and when those areas transition to recreational legalization," Danziger added.

Colombia, Jamaica, Denmark, Germany, and the UK were tagged as mid-level markets for financing opportunity, while Uruguay, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Africa, and Asia were on the low-end.

Taxation and fees

Another central factor is the level of taxation and fees, which determine overall profitability, but also cannabis sector viability – set taxes and fees too high, and consumers will flock to the black market instead of buying overpriced legal pot. Uruguay (corporate tax rate 25%), Portugal (21%), and Jamaica (25%) were deemed as having the most favourable tax and fee burdens. Asia also entered the top tier, with China holding a corporate tax rate of 25%, and Thailand carrying a favourable 20% rate.

The UK, Netherlands, Australia, and Mexico were in the middle range, while Colombia, Israel, Switzerland, Malta, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and Africa were in the high-taxation range. All of the countries in the mid and high tier for taxation were hampered by either higher corporate tax rates, value added taxes (usually in 20% range), or a combination of both.

Policy maturity

Colombia, Jamaica, Australia, Malta, and Germany have the most mature and open cannabis policy environments, according to the MNP report. Jamaica is setting itself up as a premier legal cannabis producer, with progressive cannabis laws and dispensaries that allow tourists to purchase medical cannabis.

Colombia is creating a strong export market, with 80 companies producing cannabis products, many with international investment. The sale of dried cannabis for medicinal purposes, is, however, still barred.

Australia has a strong amount of domestic production underway with investment from Canadian firms, and recently permitted cannabis exports. There is also the belief that the government will start reimbursing medical marijuana in the years to come.

Though it has a miniscule population, Malta’s cannabis industry has attracted heavy international investment. The country’s high cost-per-gram paid by patients, as well as its liberal medical cannabis importation policies, make the country an attractive target.

Finally, Germany has perhaps the most advanced medical cannabis market, with its own government agency and costs coverage by the national health plan. The number of insured patients and medical cannabis imports are both on the rise, and some executives believe recreational legalization is on the horizon.

Uruguay, Israel, Italy, the UK, and Mexico were deemed to have mid-level policy favourability, while the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Denmark, Africa, and Asia had low-end policies. The Netherlands, despite its image as a pot haven of sorts – especially in Amsterdam – is actually just lax on enforcement, as the drug is still federally illegal. Many of the countries on the list have decriminalized personal possession and consumption of marijuana, but its sale and production remains illegal (outside of medical parameters). 

Overall, Jamaica and Australia emerged as perhaps the most attractive cannabis markets, with Australia in the high tier for financing and policy, and mid tier for taxation. Jamaica, meanwhile, has high-tier policy, mid-level financing, and a low-tax environment.

Looking forward, MNP advises Canadian firms to double down on their competitive advantages, while building a strong brand at home as opportunities open up abroad. "It's important for local cannabis companies to consider their areas of expertise and invest heavily in owning that position in the market," Fraser said. "The most valuable international opportunities will go to those companies who have developed a sustainable (and transferable) competitive advantage in conjunction with a recognizable brand in their home market."