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British Columbia Western Canada: Investigating money laundering in British Columbia

Good morning! Wendy Cox here in Vancouver.

A retired B.C. Supreme Court justice will soon begin public hearings aimed at giving British Columbians – and Canadians – a window into how extensively the province is used as a laundromat for the proceeds of international criminals.

The public inquiry was announced this week after Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby spent more than a year demurring when asked if the province would agree to the expensive and time-consuming exercise of holding one.

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Their decision wasn’t a surprise.

The release last week of the last two reports by former RCMP deputy attorney general Peter German – one on money laundering through luxury cars and the other on money laundering in the real estate sector – combined with Mr. German’s original report on casinos paint an appalling picture of the weaknesses in Canada’s ability to clamp down on the problem: FinTRAC – the federal Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada – doesn’t have a reliable way of estimating how much money gets washed in this country. The RCMP’s federal team responsible for money-laundering in B.C. is supposed to number 25, but instead has only five officers who mostly refer files to the province’s civil-forfeiture office.

The inquiry is supposed to wrap up in 18 months, with Justice Austin Cullin delivering his report in May of 2021, just months ahead of the next scheduled provincial election. The NDP government has consistently portrayed the money-laundering problem as one aided by willful blindness on the part of the former B.C. Liberal government, which had been in power for 16 years.

Immediately after announcing the inquiry, the NDP called on the Liberals to waive cabinet confidentiality to allow an in-depth examination of who knew what when during the years when dirty money was coursing through B.C. casinos and real estate. The Liberals said they would on a case-by-case basis. The NDP have offered to waive the confidence for their years in power before 2001.

Justice Cullen’s mandate specifically requires him to examine “the acts or omissions of regulatory authorities or individuals with powers, duties or functions ... to determine whether those acts or omissions have contributed to money laundering in British Columbia and whether those acts or omissions have amounted to corruption.”

But whatever the motivation, at their best, public inquiries hold the potential to offer a better path forward. The inquiry into how serial killer Robert Pickton got away for so long with hunting and killing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside contributed to a change in the way authorities handle such investigations.

The 2010 inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski at the hands of RCMP officers at the Vancouver airport eventually led to a civilian office to investigate police.

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This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West

VANCOUVER REAL ESTATE: Things are getting ugly in Vancouver’s housing market. Sales in the region slumped to a 24-year low in April and prices are off 8.5 per cent over the past year as a market downturn deepens. For sellers hoping to capture the lofty prices they could once command, a stark reality is setting in. Meanwhile, buyers are patiently sitting on the sidelines: “Why buy in a falling market?” Nancy Macdonald reports.

ENERGY WAR ROOM: Postmedia Network Inc. wants to be part of the Alberta government’s new campaign-style “war room” to fight critics of the oil industry. The company’s commercial-content arm has hired Premier Jason Kenney’s former chief of staff to lobby the province, which plans to set aside $30-million to push back against environmentalists, other governments and reporters.

B.C. LEGISLATURE SPENDING SCANDAL: Former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin has found B.C.'s legislature clerk repeatedly engaged in misconduct to enrich himself. Craig James, who had been on leave amid allegations of improper spending, announced his retirement as the report was released. Ms. McLachlin found Mr. James engaged in misconduct numerous times when purchasing suits, pricey luggage sets and a wood splitter that remained at his house rather than at the legislature. Mr. James released a statement that said documents that had not been made public would have helped the public understand the truth, though he did not elaborate.

Ms. McLachlin cleared Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, who was swept up in the same investigation and was put on leave along with Mr. James.

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TANKER BAN: A Senate committee’s decision not to pass legislation that would ban tanker traffic off British Columbia’s northern coast has critics of the bill calling it to be killed. A senate committee examining Bill C-48 ended in a deadlock earlier this week, though the full Senate will likely vote on the bill. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who says the bill is an attack on the province’s oil industry, is urging the Senate to defeat it.

ALBERTA PARKS: When Alberta’s previous NDP government proposed turning a large swatch of backcountry between Banff and Jasper into a “wildland park," people who live in and near the area known as the Bighorn said it was an attack on their businesses as well as activities such as riding all-terrain vehicles, hunting and fishing. The new United Conservative Party government is scrapping the whole plan. James Keller spoke to Environment Minister Jason Nixon, who said the new government will ensure that “recreation” is properly considered when it makes decisions about parks and conservation.

WILDFIRES: B.C. has suffered through two record-breaking wildfire seasons, which burned up large swaths of the province’s forests and prompted evacuations that displaced tens of thousands of people. This year appears to be getting off to an early start. Justine Hunter looks at what emergency officials are bracing for.

INVESTMENT REGULATOR: Saskatchewan has passed legislation that gives the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada the ability to enforce its fines through the courts. The change means IIROC, a self-regulatory organization that oversees investment dealers and trading, can enforce its fines through the courts in eight provinces and all three territories.

HIDDEN CANADA: From Alberta’s Jasper National Park to the Great Sandhills in Saskatchewan, see what spots made The Globe and Mail’s latest edition of Hidden Canada, our annual travel guide.

BEST BURGER: Hungry? Check out Alexandra Gill’s list of the best (vegetarian) burgers in Vancouver.

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Opinion

Stewart Elgie and Nathalie Chalifour on the Saskatchewan carbon-tax ruling: “The majority and dissenting judges in Saskatchewan actually agreed that the federal government has the constitutional power to price carbon. They also agreed that carbon pricing is effective. Where they differed was about the constitutional basis for the federal power.”

Adrienne Tanner on Vancouver’s shark-fin soup ban: “Council’s move this week falls short of a ban but is symbolic of our city’s growing intolerance toward animal cruelty. And it was somewhat brave, given our cultural makeup, and the fact that many of Vancouver and Richmond’s finest Chinese restaurants still serve the soup and defend people’s right to eat it.”

Mac Van Wielingen on Canada’s energy policy: “Curtailing the growth of Canada’s energy sector only translates into lost jobs and a diminished financial capacity to support our own social prosperity. Not only that, it curtails the very investment in research and development that can further improve our environmental performance to support the global transition into a low-carbon era.”

Paul de Jong on stalled pipelines: "Building a twin pipeline along the existing route has dragged into a nasty political drama. But for those on the front lines of this landmark project, the epic battle to get it built has become painfully personal. "

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