B.C.’s Attorney-General says neither Ottawa nor the RCMP have added new officers to the federal police agency’s drive to fight money laundering on Canada’s West Coast, despite a pledge to do so last year.
David Eby told The Globe and Mail late last week that no new RCMP resources have been added on this front in the past year and a half, even after former Mountie Peter German found a skeleton crew of five people working these cases in British Columbia and – instead of recommending criminal charges to Crown – simply forwarding files to the provincial Civil Forfeiture Office.
Dr. German was hired in late 2017 by the province to investigate how dirty money had washed through its licensed casinos and then went on to investigate how it corroded other areas of the economy, with his two reports helping lead the NDP government to call the current public inquiry into money laundering.
In June, 2019, the former federal ministers of finance and organized crime reduction came to Vancouver, unveiled $10-million for the RCMP to upgrade its technology to better handle money-laundering cases and touted $29-million in extra spending to tackle these complicated cases, but did not break down where new officers would be deployed.
“To the best of my knowledge, and I find this profoundly unfortunate, there has been no change or an increase in police officers dedicated to anti-money-laundering criminal investigations in the province since Peter German’s report,” Mr. Eby said. “If there were an increase, the federal government, and [Public Safety Minister] Bill Blair in particular, would have probably called me to let us know that that work had been done because both Minister Blair and [Justice] Minster [David] Lametti know about British Columbia’s concerns about the failures of law-enforcement resources on this issue.”
Dawn Roberts, head of communications for the Mounties in British Columbia, said Monday that she could not provide current staffing data as Mounties were still collecting this information for the Cullen Commission, which is hearing from various witnesses about how billions of dollars have been laundered through a handful of sectors in the provincial economy in recent years. She said, in an e-mailed statement, that Dr. German’s 2019 assertion that just five officers were working on these cases in B.C. was a “snapshot in time, on that morning” and “not a true portrayal of the full team.”
The RCMP now has more than 30 members in B.C. working for a “financial integrity” unit that tackles money laundering and other commercial and market enforcement crimes, her statement said.
Two years ago, a massive RCMP investigation into an unlicensed Richmond, B.C., currency exchange accused of laundering hundreds of millions in ill-gotten gains collapsed months before the start of a trial, because the Crown inadvertently disclosed sensitive evidence in the hundreds of pages of documents it handed over to the defence.
Mr. Blair was not available for an interview Monday, but his spokesperson Mary-Liz Power e-mailed a statement noting Ottawa recently approved $98-million in extra RCMP funding to add Mounties in Canada’s four most-populous provinces, including B.C. The minister continues to work with Dr. German and Mr. Eby on the problem, her statement said.
Ms. Power’s statement did not say whether more officers have been added to B.C.’s federal serious and organized crime unit over the past year, but stated that the RCMP has created a Counter Illicit Finance Alliance, which will launch at the end of this month to bring together public and private organizations in the fight against money laundering.
Earlier this month, at the parliamentary standing committee on public safety and national security, Mr. Blair told colleagues that the force’s expertise in tackling these complicated crimes was decimated in 2013 when the former Conservative government decided to shut down a dozen specialized proceeds-of-crime units. He said his government is now trying to restore this capacity, but added “it takes time to bring that expertise back after it was slashed.”
Mr. Eby said B.C.’s beneficial land-ownership registry, which aims to uncover anyone hiding their stake in B.C. real estate, will go live at the end of this month and should help investigators chasing ill-gotten gains.
“We want to make it easier for law enforcement to know who the companies are that are operating in the province, who owns a particular piece of property and those easily accessible pieces of information save a police officer potentially months of work and research and make it easier to do these kinds of prosecutions,” Mr. Eby said. “All we can do is lay the tools out and hope that somebody picks them up and uses them.”
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.