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Federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, Bill Blair speaks as British Columbia Attorney General, David Eby looks on during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, Jan 22, 2019.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction says money laundering is a serious problem throughout Canada and has pledged to improve how information is shared among law enforcement agencies across the country.

Bill Blair met with B.C. Attorney-General David Eby Tuesday as British Columbia reviews a regulatory regime so porous that transnational criminal syndicates appear to be operating with impunity, laundering money through the province’s casinos and real estate.

Mr. Blair, a former chief of the Toronto Police Service, said law enforcement agencies have long known money laundering is a serious problem throughout Canada and that all levels of government must do more to share intelligence when they can. Ottawa will not commit to implementing recommendations from B.C.’s ongoing review into money laundering, which is expected to be finished this spring, but Mr. Blair said the analysis of the country’s gaps in enforcement “will carry a great deal of weight with both orders of government.”

“There’s a real opportunity here because we do have a shared commitment to address these issues, and I think that’s a real opportunity for us to begin to respond in an appropriate way,” Mr. Blair said at a joint news conference. “I’m very grateful for the leadership that [B.C. has] brought to this issue – the effort that they have made to bring it forward and identify the important steps we can take together to make a difference.”

Mr. Eby said an immediate improvement was having RCMP officials agree to meet with Peter German, the former RCMP deputy commissioner in charge of B.C.'s money-laundering review, and hand over a secret 2016 intelligence report that estimated international and local gangsters laundered more than a billion dollars through Metro Vancouver’s luxury housing market in one year.

“We’re starting to see some progress on this issue. I credit Minister Blair’s office on getting that information flowing and I know it’s both of our expectations that it will continue to flow," Mr. Eby said.

The first leg of Mr. German’s review, published last summer, focused on the casino sector and provided a “very conservative estimate” of $100-million a year being laundered by criminals, Mr. Eby said. In a new civil forfeiture lawsuit, the RCMP allege a Richmond, B.C., operation that recently had numerous criminal charges against it stayed was laundering $220-million a year for local drug dealers, as well as wealthy gamblers from China and clients in Mexico and Colombia. A July, 2018, case study by the G7-led Financial Action Task Force alleged the Richmond outfit was part of an underground banking network laundering more than a billion dollars a year in illicit drug and gambling money.

Earlier this month, Mr. Eby told The Globe and Mail that the collapse of that high-profile criminal trial shows that a dearth of federal resources for investigating money laundering is masking the full extent of the problem.

Last week, the former head of a B.C. RCMP organized crime unit told The Globe that Canada needs a new strategy to fight transnational gangs, must improve the legal framework informing these sophisticated investigations and must better deploy the RCMP’s resources to confront the serious threats posed by these international criminal networks.

Mr. Eby praised Mr. Blair’s willingness to tackle this problem but noted that if there is not enough federal co-operation his province may order a public inquiry. He said that option is not as appealing as making changes based on Mr. German’s recommendations, noting B.C. has already shifted the enforcement of gambling laws away from the casino regulator in order to crack down on suspicious transactions.

“We’ll find out if there is a gap between the words of concern and people’s actions,” he said of Ottawa after Mr. Blair left the news conference. “This issue – despite the scope of it, despite the international nature of it, despite the national nature of it – makes very few headlines east of the Rockies.”

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