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The key “trial-like” hearings for British Columbia’s long-awaited public inquiry on money laundering are unlikely to start before 2020, says one of the commission counsel for the probe.

Brock Martland said the team involved in the inquiry led by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen may hold some public-information hearings this year, but none featuring witnesses invited or compelled to testify.

“Given the timing of a final report due in May, 2021, I would expect that 2020 would be when the hearings take place,” Mr. Martland said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “The more trial-like phase would be in 2020.”

Premier John Horgan announced the launch of the inquiry in mid-May after three independent reviews found significant levels of money laundering in real estate and other areas of the B.C. economy.

Since then, however, there has been little word about developments on an inquiry expected to deliver an interim report within 16 months, and a final report by May, 2021.

But in the interview last week, Mr. Martland provided an update of the work under way behind the scenes.

“All of the work to date has been quite invisible. It’s sort of like the duck’s feet paddling under the water. Despite the appearance of nothing particular happening, we have actually been working very hard,” Mr. Martland said.

Mr. Martland, who will be commission counsel along with Vancouver lawyer Patrick McGowan, said the inquiry team are drafting a list of prospective witnesses, but have not yet decided whether they would want to hear, for example, from former B.C. premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark.

"I think the nature of this is that we will be very much thinking through questions of what evidence do we need to have before us and does that include hearing from former premiers, for example. But we just haven’t made those decisions at this point.

“We’ll get there, but we’re not there yet.”

He said he has been mindful of some parties who have said they are eager to get before the inquiry to clear the air on the issue of money laundering, but that the inquiry will not hesitate to use its powers to compel witnesses to testify.

“Inasmuch as we need to rely on those powers to get to the heart and truth of things, we won’t be shy to do that,” he said.

Beyond that, he said the inquiry has yet to confirm a venue for hearings, and are working on logistics to broadcast them.

He said the team has been reviewing the comprehensive reports on money laundering prepared by retired senior Mountie Peter German, commissioned by the B.C. government.

They are intent on being focused in their efforts, he said.

“If we were not surgical about our work and, I hope, judicious about how to go about this, we could spend a decade trying to get to the heart of these issues. I think one of the challenges for us will be to define this in a way where we are making important headway leading to a good report, but also not heading down every possible rabbit hole to investigate every conceivable issue,” he said.

Mr. Martland said his entry into the inquiry came after Justice Cullen asked him to join, “which I was keen to do.”

He said he was intrigued by the money-laundering inquiry because such reviews are an opportunity to look at major policy questions.

Mr. Martland has practised in administrative, constitutional and criminal law since being called to the bar in 2001. He was a defence lawyer in the Surrey Six case, and part of the defence team for Air India bombing suspect Ripudaman Singh Malik, eventually acquitted.

He has previously had a role in inquiries, serving as associate commission counsel for the Frank Paul inquiry and the federal Cohen Commission into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon on the Fraser River.

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