British Columbia Attorney General David Eby listens during a news conference in Vancouver, on Friday May 24, 2019. British Columbia’s attorney general hopes an inquiry into money laundering will answer lingering questions about how the criminal activity flourished in the province and identify specific people who allowed it to happen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia Attorney General David Eby listens during a news conference in Vancouver, on Friday May 24, 2019. British Columbia’s attorney general hopes an inquiry into money laundering will answer lingering questions about how the criminal activity flourished in the province and identify specific people who allowed it to happen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. money laundering inquiry to begin amid hopes for answers, accountability

Eby argued that most B.C. residents already know the previous government, at best, turned a blind eye

British Columbia’s attorney general hopes an inquiry into money laundering will answer lingering questions about how the criminal activity flourished in the province and identify those who allowed it to happen.

David Eby’s government commissioned three reports that revealed B.C.’s gambling, real estate and luxury car industries were hotbeds for dirty money, but he said an inquiry will be able to dig deeper because it can compel witnesses to speak.

“There are a number of people, myself included, who have unanswered questions about how things got as bad as they did, what warnings were ignored, who was profiting from these systems, how did they work exactly and are there other steps the government should be taking,” Eby said in an interview.

Inquiry hearings led by commissioner Austin Cullen begin Monday with opening arguments from more than a dozen participants, including the federal government, B.C. Lottery Corp. and B.C. Real Estate Association.

The inquiry will reconvene in May for a money laundering overview and to quantify the extent of the problem in B.C., before main hearings are held from September through December to dig into specific industries and government responses.

Eby has been pushing for action on money laundering since he was an Opposition member and said he first became concerned about it while working as a lawyer in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

“I watched many of my clients, who were badly addicted to drugs and mentally ill, scraping together money to buy drugs,” he said. “I knew the money was going somewhere and it was a lot of money.”

People carrying bags of cash into casinos were treated as VIPs with “total impunity,” he said, while police were spending a great deal of time on his former clients in the Downtown Eastside.

The NDP government has made several changes since taking power in 2017, including the creation of a public registry of property owners so those investing in real estate can’t hide behind numbered companies. It has also pressed the federal government for action.

With a provincial election expected next year, it’s fair to ask whether the inquiry is in part political, given that the reports commissioned by the NDP have indicated money laundering worsened under the B.C. Liberals’ watch between 2009 and 2015.

Eby argued that most B.C. residents already know the previous government, at best, turned a blind eye, and at worst, recognized dirty money was generating revenue, dismantled a police unit responsible for the problem and increased betting limits.

“There’s sort of a broad sense that something went very wrong in government, but the individuals who made the decisions, those specific people who were involved, have not really been held accountable,” Eby said.

The Opposition Liberals were unavailable for comment but Leader Andrew Wilkinson has said previously that the former government embarked on a plan to contain the problem, but criminals found ways to work around it.

As for the federal government, Eby said on some fronts it has made good progress, including rewriting some Criminal Code sections to make it easier to prosecute money laundering and improving some information sharing from Fintrac, the Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.

“But in other ways I’ve been incredibly disappointed with the response from the federal government,” he said, noting that it announced funding increases last year to the RCMP and Revenue Canada.

“That money, although it was announced many, many months ago, has not arrived in any way, shape or form in the province.”

The office of federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement that the previous Conservative government cut half a million dollars from the RCMP budget, which led to the abolishment of all 12 proceeds of crime units.

Blair’s office said his government, in contrast, earmarked over $172 million in the 2019 budget for the RCMP, CRA and Fintrac and announced the forthcoming creation of both an enforcement team and a Centre of Excellence.

“Our government remains firm: criminals should not be able to hide their money in Canada,” it said.

Peter German, a former senior Mountie who wrote two of the three reports that helped expose the problem in B.C., said his work was not a fault-finding exercise, so if the inquiry wants to hold people accountable it can use its powers of subpoena to do so.

“If you wanted to subpoena members of organized crime and put them on the stand, you can do that,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. makes regulatory change in battle against money laundering

The third report estimated that $5 billion was laundered through B.C. real estate in 2018. Co-author Tsur Somerville, a University of B.C. professor, said it was dismaying to see the extent to which the problem had been effectively ignored for many years.

“We should care about money laundering whether or not it has any effect on real estate,” he added. “We should care about money laundering because it’s a vehicle by which (people engaging in) illegal activities are allowed to access their ill-gotten gains.”

Inquiries are sometimes criticized as too costly and lengthy, but Simon Tremblay, a former prosecutor on the Charbonneau Commission, said the probe into corruption in public construction contracts was the best investment Quebec ever made.

It cost $45 million but recovered as much as $150 million in public funds, he said, and led to many arrests.

“Obviously, the government has to make sure that the recommendations are followed,” he said. “But knowing a bit about what’s happening in your province, it’s going to be very costly for the political party in power to ignore the eventual recommendations by the commissioner.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

money laundering

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Skeena Bulkley-Valley MP Taylor Bachrach has been working across party lines to have rail safety issues addressed. An April 27, 2020 train derailment blocked five intersecting tracks on the CN rail line in Prince Rupert close to the waterfront on Bill Murray Drive. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Bachrach pushes for rail safety and wants NW voices to be heard

Residents and community leaders are concerned about safety and preparedness in the NW

Over 8000 BC Hydro customers have been affected by the power outage. (BC Hydro outage map)
Power outage affects 8000 BC Hydro customers in Prince Rupert area

BC Hydro has assigned crews to restore power

Josie Pottle rocks out to placing painted rocks by more than 14 different Prince Rupert childcare organization staff and tots for rock gardens around the city to mark May as Childcare Awareness month. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Childcare month is rocking it in Prince Rupert

More than 14 local childcare organizations participated in making rock gardens

Volunteers at the AFFNO drive-in movie theatre night at the Jim Ciccone Centre on May 8, directed traffic and braved the rain before the movies started. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
It was lights, camera, action for AFFNO’s drive-in movie night

Volunteers and moviegoers watched a double feature in both official languages

Pembina Prince Rupert Terminal has entered into a one-year agreement with Mitsui & Co. for the majority of its production for supply to the Asian markets, Pembina announced on May 6th. (Photo: Supplied
Prince Rupert Terminal highlighted in Pembina first quarter

Pembina announced one-year agreement with Mitsui & Co. to supply Asian market

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

A map of Huu-ay-aht-owned forestry cutblock. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
B.C. First Nations restrict access to territory in wake of forestry standoffs

Huu-ay-aht set up checkpoints after heated and dangerous incidents on southwest Vancouver Island

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add 6 seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Most Read