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British Columbia Former head of B.C. RCMP’s organized crime unit says Canada needs revamped strategy to fight transnational crime

The former head of the B.C. RCMP’s organized crime unit says Canada needs a new strategy to fight transnational gangs, noting in the wake of public outrage over the recent collapse of a massive money-laundering case that Mounties are hamstrung in confronting the serious threats posed by sophisticated criminal networks.

Calvin Chrustie, who retired in 2017 after three decades with the force and is now a sessional instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley’s school of criminology, says such a federal strategy would wake people up to the seriousness and complexity of these threats. In addition, he said, the RCMP needs to better deploy its resources to focus on where these criminal groups are operating.

“There’s key port centres where organized crime is going to thrive, and that’s where the resources need to be aligned federally,” Mr. Chrustie said.

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He said he could not speak about the stay of criminal charges in November related to the Project E-Pirate investigation into a Richmond, B.C., couple and their foreign exchange business, Silver International. In a new civil forfeiture lawsuit, the RCMP allege the operation was laundering $220-million a year for a host of violent local drug dealers, as well as wealthy gamblers from China and clients in Mexico and Colombia. News of the stay sparked outrage and a renewed focus on how transnational syndicates appear to be operating with impunity in British Columbia.

A woman arrives at a storefront in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. The RCMP raided the location in 2015 when it housed the business Style Travel, which police allege was part of a massive transnational money-laundering operation.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Last week, B.C. Attorney-General David Eby told The Globe and Mail he is pushing Ottawa and the RCMP to put more resources into investigating money laundering and that he has launched a review of what went wrong with the prosecution of Silver International, which was part of a wider underground banking network allegedly laundering more than a billion dollars a year in illicit drug and gambling money, according to a July, 2018, case study by the G7-led Financial Action Task Force.

Mr. Chrustie, who now runs a private-crisis and risk-management firm, said a third major issue is the much-needed reform of Canada’s legal framework.

“Our laws, for the most part, were designed for policing in a fishbowl,” he said. “They weren’t designed for fishing in an ocean.”

He said a huge hindrance is the onerous amount of evidence that must be disclosed before major investigations come to trial, as set out in the 1991 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Stinchcombe. In complex investigations, police must often transcribe and translate hundreds of hours of intercepted conversations for defence lawyers.

Before the case against Silver International fell apart, the Crown and defence counsels had argued for months over the inadvertent disclosure of sensitive evidence, according to audio recordings of the proceedings heard by The Globe.

Pat Fogarty, a former Vancouver police officer who led the organized crime section of B.C.'s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit gang squad for five years before retiring in 2013, said this high standard astounded his counterparts in the United States and Australia during joint investigations.

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“I remember writing 200- to 300-page affidavits, but in Australia they won’t take an affidavit for a wiretap over 12 pages, and in the United States they’re 20 pages,” Mr. Fogarty said.

Another major problem, he said, is the constant churn at the RCMP, which means few Mounties develop the expertise needed to properly investigate international gangs.

Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett, who oversees the RCMP’s federal organized crime investigations in B.C., said in a statement e-mailed Friday that recruitment and retention of staffing in this area remains a challenge. The RCMP is also conducting a large-scale internal review of what went wrong in the E-Pirate investigation and ensuing court proceedings.

“We continue to adapt and bring in specific specialists (such as forensic accountants, cybercrime experts, technical skills etc) in many of these investigations,” he said in his statement. “We are directing and focusing existing resources to ensure we address the highest threats to our communities and achieve the greatest impact.”

Mexican drug lord Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman Loera took full advantage of Canada’s structural deficiencies to enable the “deep infiltration” of his Sinaloa Cartel into the country, where it was selling more cocaine than in the United States, according to a recent book by former Drug Enforcement Agency investigator Andrew Hogan.

“His key cartel lieutenants could exploit weaknesses in the Canadian system: the top-heavy structure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hampered law enforcement efforts for even the most routine drug arrest and prosecution,” he writes in Hunting El Chapo.

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