Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. money laundering inquiry could have lessons for other provinces: lawyer

4 reports concluded the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal cash linked to organized crime and the drug trade impacted the province’s real estate, luxury vehicle and gaming sectors

Testimony at British Columbia’s public inquiry into money laundering will wrap up Friday, leading to a final report the commission’s chief lawyer says could provide broad lessons about the illegal activity for all Canadian jurisdictions.

The New Democrat government appointed B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen in 2019 to lead the inquiry after four reports concluded the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal cash linked to organized crime and the drug trade impacted the province’s real estate, luxury vehicle and gaming sectors.

Since last spring, the Cullen Commission has heard testimony from about 200 witnesses over 130 days, including former B.C. premier Christy Clark, several former and current cabinet ministers, police officers, gaming officials and financial crime experts and academics.

The last witness expected to be heard on Friday is Rich Coleman, the former Liberal minister in charge of gaming, who was recalled after testifying before the commission in April.

Cullen is expected to complete his report by Dec. 15. It is expected to include recommendations that address the conditions that enabled money laundering to flourish in B.C.

Commission senior counsel Brock Martland said in an interview the aim is to make the final report helpful for the B.C. government and nationally.

“The hope is always that if the commission has gone well and the report is really well reasoned, founded on evidence and it’s been well tested and well analyzed, that the report isn’t simply helpful in this province but in fact has broader utility across the country,” he said.

The commission’s website says its mandate includes making findings of fact on the extent, growth and methods of money laundering in B.C. and whether the acts or omissions of responsible regulatory agencies and individuals “contributed to money laundering in the province or amount to corruption.”

“Ours is a very broad mandate which doesn’t limit itself in years or topics,” said Martland. “It’s basically to head out and study the question of money laundering, examine where there are weaknesses in the system and what kinds of reforms and recommendations should be made.”

The commission heard testimony from two senior gaming investigators who said they raised concerns in 2009 with gaming and government officials, including cabinet ministers, about increasing amounts of suspicious cash likely linked to organized crime appearing at Vancouver-area casinos.

The ex-RCMP officers, Larry Vander Graaf and Fred Pinnock, who are no longer employed as gaming investigators, both testified their calls to take action to restrict the flow of suspicious cash were not acted upon aggressively enough.

Coleman, who was the gaming minister off and on from 2001 to 2013, testified issues related to being able to prove suspicious cash at casinos was illegal money made it difficult to address money laundering head-on.

He denied during testimony that his government put gaming profits ahead of the concerns about the suspicious cash at casinos.

The commission didn’t say why it had recalled Coleman for its last witness on Friday.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby testified he was shocked to learn about the extent of the money laundering issue after meetings with officials at the Crown-owned B.C. Lottery Corp., and the government’s gaming regulator, the Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch, after the NDP formed government in 2018.

Eby said he appointed an independent review of money laundering at B.C. casinos after watching videos taken outside of casinos showing gamblers picking up large bags packed with $20 bills and bringing them inside the venues.

Martland said the commission lawyers were aware of the highly charged debate surrounding the money laundering issue in B.C., but the overall aim of the inquiry is to provide the best information for the commissioner and the public.

“To the extent that we have got into areas that have a political component or a personal component, we really try to steer away from those kinds of debates and just really focus on what do we need to have evidence on and think our way through from the point of view of what’s in the public’s interest and what sort of recommendations can be made,” he said.

“We’re not interested in taking sides in a political debate,” said Martland.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC government

Just Posted

Construction work continues on the City of Nanaimo’s new Fire Station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (News Bulletin file)
Next phase of borrowing approved as Nanaimo fire hall construction ongoing

City of Nanaimo CAO says construction on Fitzwilliam Street hall on schedule and budget

Nanaimo Fire Rescue firefighters at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Tenth Street near Southside Drive on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver OK after crashing vehicle off the side of Nanaimo’s Tenth Street

Crews say wet roads a factor a crash Sunday, June 13

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Nanaimo is the first city in Canada to subscribe to the Chonolog environment photo-monitoring system, which allow residents to contribute photos of habitat restoration projects that are converted to time lapse sequences showing environmental changes. (Chris Bush/ News Bulletin)
Nanaimo residents invited to be citizen scientists by sharing habitat restoration photos

Nanaimo first city in Canada to sign up for Chronolog environment photo monitoring service

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

A section of proposed Harbourfront Walkway between White Eagle Terrace and Battersea Road. (City of Nanaimo image)
Nanaimo’s proposed walkway extension project estimated at $25-30 million

City asking for feedback on concepts to connect Departure Bay Beach and ferry terminal

City of Nanaimo council has approved amendments for an animal control bylaw requested by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The bylaw includes language related to quail. (Wikipedia Commons photo)
Province asks for tweaks to Nanaimo’s animal responsibility bylaw

Ministry concerned bylaw wording could create municipal and provincial jurisdictional overlaps

Most Read