Opinion: Cryptocurrency policies must combat snake oil without stifling innovation

Ethan Lou’s book, Once a Bitcoin Miner, is forthcoming from ECW Press.

In the wake of the latest B.C. bitcoin scandals, I talked to the executive director of the provincial securities commission, Peter Brady, who warned investors to be careful because, sometimes, there is nothing the regulator can do.

Then I talked to a 62-year-old technology illiterate named Keith who reached out because he needed someone to help him buy bitcoin, face to face. I later learned someone I know had already tried to help him, with little success. If Keith had contacted someone malicious – and there are many – he could have easily been led into something shady and ended up with no recourse.

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Those two conversations are jarring when juxtaposed and underscore a growing problem, particularly in the West. In just over a month, the B.C. Securities Commission has issued three statements on separate cryptocurrency matters, including an announcement of an active investigation, a departure from usual practice.

Therein lies a quagmire: What do you do when the sector is hard to police, but shady operations are easy to set up and the world is filled with clueless victims? A heavy hand is bad for innovation, but so is lawlessness. And innovation, believe it or not, is something in which Canada had a head start. It would be a travesty to see it eroded by the Wild West.

Cryptocurrency has become its own multibillion-dollar industry and enriched many, and it’s barely 10 years old. Everyone in it, even the most knowledgeable, had come from somewhere else. It is a land of new beginnings, where anyone can rise high. But that frontier also attracts the uninitiated, seeking fast riches – and the snake-oil salesmen and slipshod wildcatters seeking the same.

The scene is particularly rife in the coastal British Columbia, home to the world’s first bitcoin ABM, the first registered cryptocurrency investment firm in the country and numerous listed…

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