B.C. Premier John Horgan.
DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS
VICTORIA – B.C.’s New Democrat government has launched a public inquiry into money laundering.Premier John Horgan announced the decision Wednesday after a cabinet meeting in which his ministers debated the pros and cons of an independent commission of inquiry into how criminal organizations have laundered dirty drug money through the provincial economy.“We have an obligation to British Columbians to get to the bottom of this,” said Horgan.B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen was appointed to head the inquiry to look at the full scope of money laundering and its impact on real estate, gaming, financial institutions, the corporate and professional sectors as well as regulatory and law enforcement hurdles.“The inquiry will look at the broad scope of the problems and tell us who knew what when,” said Attorney General David Eby.Cullen will be given the power to compel witnesses and order documents be disclosed. Eby said some people have refused to participate in previous reviews. “We are done asking nicely,” he said.Cullen will be able to apply for court orders to enter private properties and seize records if necessary. Anyone who does not co-operate could be found in contempt, said Eby.Horgan said recent reports have shown money laundering is much worse than was expected and the province deserves answers into what has happened.An interim report is due within 18 months and a final report by May 2021 – just months before the fall provincial election.“The timing of it is the timing of it,” said Horgan. He added Cullen will not be constrained in any way in terms of how far back he is allowed to investigate or the scope of who he calls as witnesses.Eby said Cullen will not be constrained by the two year timeline if he needs more time and resources to conduct the job.Finance Minister Carole James said although the government is moving forward with recommendations, an inquiry will shed more light“Alongside action we also need answers,” said James.The NDP government had been debating internally for months whether to call a public inquiry.Eby said he’s also received an offer of support from federal minister Bill Blair, while Horgan said he’s received assurances from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.“The federal government will cooperate with us as required in this important work,” said Eby.The terms of reference for the inquiry include “the extent, growth, evolution and methods of money laundering in the following sectors” which include gaming and horse racing, real estate, luxury goods, legal and account services, financial institutions, and any other agencies.It also instructed recommendations into regulating any sectors affected by money laundering, as well as barriers to enforcement and any powers or duties needed to crack down on the problem.It also requires Cullen to forward any information to the appropriate agencies if he believes that any evidence points to Criminal Code infractions, while specifying that the inquiry is not to jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation.At issue was the multi-million cost and legal procedural wrangling that can often stall inquiries for years.Attorney General David Eby said he hoped an inquiry would lead to accountability, while Horgan admitted he’d like to see it target the previous B.C. Liberal government.The government also had to weigh whether an inquiry could add any information beyond three completed investigative reports.Former RCMP officer Peter German examined the extensive use of dirty cash from criminal organizations in B.C.’s casinos, as well as the luxury car market. German highlighted the lack of dedicated RCMP resources.Former deputy attorney general Maureen Maloney also examined how criminal organizations laundered cash through B.C.’s real estate market, increasing the cost of buying a home by as much as five per cent last year alone.B.C. also had to weigh whether Ottawa would participate in an inquiry, because the reports have shown much of the blame potentially lies with toothless federal regulators, a lack of shared data, understaffed federal police units and decisions by federal prosecutors.More to come…email@example.com/robshaw_vansun