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B.C. Attorney General David Eby and Federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair speak before a press conference on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Canada will focus much of its new anti-money laundering resources in British Columbia, where lax regulation and policing have led to the region becoming a global hub for the crime.

Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Organized Crime Reduction, met on Tuesday afternoon with B.C.’s Attorney-General in Victoria to discuss how new measures outlined in the federal budget will roll out on the ground in Canada’s westernmost province. Over the past year, information about specific cases has emerged pointing to billions in ill-gotten gains being washed through B.C.’s gambling and real estate sectors.

After the private meeting, Mr. Blair told reporters that Ottawa intends to crack down on money laundering in B.C., acknowledging how there have been major effects on “the affordability of housing and the integrity of our financial institutions.”

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“[B.C.] is a priority for the dedication of resources and effort to respond to these challenges,” he said.

Last week, the federal budget announced an extra $29-million in anti-money-laundering spending each year on the RCMP and the country’s financial-intelligence watchdog, as well as the creation of a new expert task force to identify threats and loopholes. The budget also earmarked $50-million over the next five years for the Canada Revenue Agency to create four new residential and commercial real estate teams to audit “high-risk regions” in B.C. and Ontario.

Attorney-General David Eby, who has been pushing Ottawa to step up its funding for months, said Mr. Blair’s second B.C. news conference on the issue this year also demonstrates Ottawa’s commitment to fighting this “very serious issue” in the region, which he said should demand the majority of the new federal funding.

Mr. Eby said he also pressed Mr. Blair to ensure federal agencies such as the RCMP and the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FinTRAC) provide information and co-operate should B.C. decide to open a public inquiry into how it became a hotbed of money laundering.

The province, he said, has so far resisted calls from the public, municipal politicians and its largest public-sector union to start such a process, noting the Premier and his cabinet will decide whether that is necessary after reviewing two independent reviews into the issue that are due this weekend.

Former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German, who also chaired an earlier investigation into money laundering at B.C.'s casinos, is finishing up his report into existing loopholes and how federal and provincial agencies can better combat money-laundering in the province’s real estate, luxury-car and horse-racing sectors.

After Wednesday’s news conference, Mr. Eby told The Globe and Mail that he “cannot fathom” why Mr. German has not yet received a confidential intelligence report from the RCMP that found transnational organized crime groups were linked to more than $1-billion in one year of real estate deals in and around Vancouver. Mr. Eby said he has asked Mr. Blair numerous times to intervene and get the RCMP to release this report to Mr. German, but he said the decision lays with the Mounties.

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Neither man addressed this specific report publicly on Wednesday, but Mr. Blair praised B.C. for bringing the issue to the fore and pledged that Ottawa is improving the way intelligence is shared between federal agencies and law enforcement.

Earlier this month, The Globe reported how FinTRAC was warned as far back as 2014 that the country’s banking, real estate and casino sectors were vulnerable to sophisticated criminals washing vast sums of illicit cash. But a 154-page draft report on the significant weak spots was never finished because the author was reassigned.

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