By David Moscrop
In June 2018, former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Peter German released his report into money laundering in British Columbia. His independent review found that more than $75 million (or 100 million Canadian dollars) had been laundered through the province’s casinos. Canada’s westernmost province is home to about 4.8 million people, so that’s a hefty sum per capita.
In January, we learned that German’s figure was probably low — very, very low — given that an international report put the total amount laundered at more than 1 billion Canadian dollars per year. (The Canadian government knew this, evidently, but didn’t share with British Columbia in the summer.) The new report also includes details about sources of gangsterism not found in the German report. Now, British Columbia is undertaking two parallel processes to better understand what’s happening: a second German report, this time focused on real estate, horse racing and luxury vehicles, and a Department of Finance review.
All of that is perfectly fine — and perfectly inadequate.
Wise and wily governments survive in the long run because they can anticipate and manage crises. Journalist John Ibbitson calls it the “Rhodes Maxim,” citing Paul Rhodes, a former Progressive Conservative press secretary in Ontario, who once told him that the government he served handled controversies by asking itself “How will this end?” and then going there. Smart.
The maxim comes to mind today, with demands in British Columbia for a public inquiry into money laundering in the style of Quebec’s 2011 Charbonneau Commission, which probed public works corruption. That commission’s findings led to millions of dollars in fines, the resignation of politicians and a handful of high-profile arrests — alongside 60 reform recommendations. British Columbia’s largest union, the Government and Service Employees’ Union, is leading the call for a deep dive into the dark cave of misdeeds that hide links to fentanyl trafficking, out-of-control real estate prices and, almost surely, corrupt, complicit and incompetent public officials past and present.
As public pressure mounts on the government to launch an inquiry, the city of Vancouver — a central site for money laundering — has joined the call, as has Richmond, B.C., and the province’s capital city, Victoria. So has the B.C. Green Party, whose support is critical for the government in the legislature. British Columbians already overwhelmingly support the idea, with 76 percent in favor and 73 percent expecting that an inquiry would expose the truth about what’s been going on in the province’s shadows for all these years — and what it has cost British Columbia in dollars, reputation (the scheme has become known as the Vancouver model), real estate prices, cost-of-living challenges and even lives (money laundering is linked to fentanyl trafficking, which has killed thousands in the province since 2012).
The entire thing is an emergency. Recently, a federal case — known as the E-Pirate investigation — related to money laundering in British Columbia resulted in stayed charges when the RCMP botched the case by exposing the identity of an informant. The investigation reads like something out of a crime novel. As investigative journalist Sam Cooper, perhaps the top journalist on this file, summarized it, “The E-Pirate investigation found loan sharks allegedly connected to drug-traffickers in China used legal and illegal Metro Vancouver casinos to wash drug cash, helping ultrawealthy high-rollers from China buy Vancouver real estate, and fund fentanyl imports into Canada.”
The truth must come out. And it looks like there’s lots to out.
So far, B.C. Premier John Horgan has been noncommittal and prone to temporizing. That’s unwise. He cites cost, time and existing fact-finding efforts as reasons to wait, as well as concerns that such an inquiry could interfere with developing prosecution efforts.
Please. A wide-ranging, long-term commission is critical to exposing the truth and rooting out corruption in the province. And it’s well worth the money (as a member of the Charbonneau Commission has said) — it might even pay for itself in fines and funds saved through reforms. Moreover, findings from a commission, which can compel witnesses to appear before it and require them to testify under oath, can be used in prosecutions. Meanwhile, every day without an inquiry is an extra day for thugs and crooks to get away with illicit acts that harm citizens and residents of the province.
The public is tired of waiting and already deeply suspicious of the province after years of inadequately addressing money laundering and its attendant issues under the previous government. Now, Canada and the world are watching and waiting. The premier and cabinet ought to recognize this fact now and follow the Rhodes Maxim by starting out where this issue will inevitably end and saving everyone the time, energy and frustration from the political posturing that will precede an eventual capitulation.
The province, first under the Liberals and now the New Democrats, has already wasted too much time waiting to get serious about organized crime. The delay is undermining governance in the province and destroying the lives of innocent people. Everyone knows what the right thing to do is. All that’s left is to do is get to it.