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British Columbia B.C. municipal councillors join demands for a money laundering public inquiry

Municipal councillors are joining calls for the B.C. NDP government to initiate a public inquiry into money laundering in the province’s casino and real-estate sectors just as a fact-finder prepares to deliver another report on the problem to the attorney-general.

Those making the demand include Vancouver’s OneCity councillor Christine Boyle, who is hoping the whole council will support her motion this week; Mayor Brad West from Port Coquitlam; councillor Harold Steves in Richmond, whose council endorsed his motion on Monday; and members of Victoria city council.

They bolster a similar effort for an inquiry from the B.C. Government Employees Union.

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“The only way to understand the systemic failure is to have an inquiry,” said Mr. West, who was endorsed by the union in his campaign.

Mr. West is mystified by the government’s hesitation. Premier John Horgan said Tuesday following the throne speech that he is open to the idea of an inquiry, but he stopped short of saying there would be one.

“I can’t understand what they’re waiting for. I believe the current provincial government is, I think, getting bad advice,” Mr. West said.

Peter German, a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada, is heading a review for Attorney-General David Eby and his second report is due at the end of next month. It is focusing on money laundering in B.C.'s overheated real estate market. His first report, delivered last year, looked at the vulnerability of B.C.'s casinos.

Experienced politicians and political observers say it is reasonable for the NDP to be cautious starting an expensive, time-consuming process that runs the risk of becoming a media circus that would overwhelm everything else the government does.

“The downside of inquiries? They take forever, tell you the obvious, and it costs a lot of money,” said former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, who initiated an inquiry into improper use of money related to a Nanaimo non-profit that raised funds through bingo.

That probe ran for five years and cost $6-million before the attorney-general with the subsequent Liberal government, Geoff Plant, called it off, saying the public was unlikely to learn anything more.

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He said the matter was better dealt with through a forensic audit and a criminal investigation, which resulted in former NPD MLA Dave Stupich pleading guilty to fraud.

The inquiry into serial killer Robert Pickton was equally unproductive, Mr. Harcourt said.

“It cost $20-million, said the obvious – that the police screwed up. I could have used $20-million for the Aboriginal Mothers’ Centre,” he said.

Mr. Harcourt said he believes those calling for an investigation may be doing it “because they think they can beat the Liberals over the head with it.”

But he said he understands why the current government would rather keep the message under control by having Attorney-General David Eby in charge of the information that goes out.

Mr. Plant agreed, saying that inquiries can end up being ineffective because they’re so broad.

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“If you’re examining the spread of money-laundering, that is a really big challenge,” he said.

Simon Fraser University political-science professor Stewart Prest also noted that there can be some unexpected pitfalls in an inquiry and various groups are pressing the government not to hold one.

The bureaucracy in Victoria is unlikely to welcome a probe into its activities, he said. As well, because an inquiry is so broad, it could uncover some issues that might involve the NDP, whose government of the 1990s introduced massive casino expansion to the province.

Ms. Boyle, whose motion to call for the inquiry was to be debated Wednesday night at council, said she thinks the NDP is hesitating because it doesn’t want to be seen as partisan and unfairly attacking the Liberals.

But she said she believes an inquiry is needed to “rebuild a sense of trust in the government.”

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