A lead lawyer on British Columbia’s public inquiry into money laundering says the commission will want to hear from an ex-RCMP officer who spoke out about organized crime in casinos whether he receives participant standing or not.
“It’s far from a case where we're trying to turn them away,” said Brock Martland, senior commission counsel. “Someone who doesn't have the status of participant doesn't mean they're out of the loop or can't engage with us.”
Public hearings at the inquiry get under way this week and Mr. Martland is hoping for robust participation. His comments involving Fred Pinnock, the former head of the illegal gaming enforcement team in B.C. came after Mr. Pinnock’s lawyer announced his client would be seeking formal standing at the inquiry.
“Mr. Pinnock … was in a fairly unique position to see what he perceived as the interference with his stated mandate, far beyond simple indifference or neglect, as to the systemic use of gaming venues to facilitate money laundering,” Paul Jaffe told inquiry commissioner Austin Cullen on Friday.
Mr. Jaffe said it’s essential to the public’s view of the inquiry as operating on a “level playing field” that Mr. Pinnock be treated as more than a witness, with the ability to cross-examine and call witnesses of his own.
“If you exclude Mr. Pinnock from having standing here, virtually all the participants are parties that have interests to protect,” he told Mr. Cullen.
Commissioner Cullen is expected to give a ruling through a written decision on Mr. Pinnock’s application for standing, as well as that of Jim Lightbody, B.C. Lottery Corp.’s president and chief executive officer, in about a week’s time.
The commission has currently granted participant standing to 17 parties, including the Attorney-General’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, the federal government, B.C. Civil Liberties Association, B.C. Lottery Corp. and a number of other gambling-related groups. Robert Kroeker, former BCLC vice-president, is the only individual to receive standing so far.
“In the case of Mr. Pinnock, specifically, we’ve already been clear in saying we are keen to obtain his information and to learn everything we can,” Mr. Martland told The Globe and Mail.
He brushed off the alleged “imbalance” among parties so far granted standing, several of whom could face accusations of wrongdoing or negligence.
“It’s not a soccer match where we sort of line up and say, 'Does each side have the same number of players?’ ” he said. “We’re not there as partisans that are trying to prove one thing or prove a different thing. We really are trying to get to the truth of the matter.”
Mr. Martland added, “We don't extend invitations. So, we haven't gone out there, beating the drum to try and round up possible participants or to signal that anyone needs to do this.”
The commission will hold five public meetings across the province beginning this week to hear people’s concerns about money laundering, how they believe their communities may be impacted and what they think should be done to address the problem. Attendees may also offer relevant leads for investigation in these forums, Mr. Martland says.
The first meeting will be held on Oct. 23 at Vancouver’s Fairmont Hotel. The commission wraps up its series of town hall-style meetings in Prince George on Nov. 14.
The B.C. government called the inquiry in May after three independent reviews, including two by former deputy commissioner of the RCMP Peter German. Mr. German concluded that crime groups were funnelling billions of dollars in B.C. through real estate, luxury cars and other parts of the economy.
According to a report from B.C.'s expert panel on money laundering in real estate, approximately $5-billion was laundered through that sector in 2018, increasing housing prices by at least 5 per cent that year alone.
Mr. Martland refused to comment on potential witnesses the commission may call upon in hearings that will begin next spring and likely continue into 2021.
The commission is scheduled to release an interim report on its findings in November, 2020, with the final report arriving by May, 2021.
With files from The Canadian Press.