'It reeks of death': Calls grow for public inquiry into B.C. money laundering
A pair of municipal politicians are calling on the province to launch a public inquiry into money laundering and organized crime, and the connections to the opioid crisis and housing affordability in Metro Vancouver.
At a Monday news conference at Vancouver City Hall, Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle and Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West laid out the case for the province to launch a wide-ranging investigation.
"People in our province understand that there is something rotten that’s taken place," said West. "And they’re desperate for government to take steps to understand how it happened, why it happened and how to stop it from ever happening again."
It’s already well-established that criminals laundered cash through BC casinos for years, often investing the proceeds in real estate.
"A billion dollars of property transactions in Vancouver could have been tied to proceeds of crime in the midst of a housing affordability crisis," said Boyle.
Boyle and West were joined at their news conference by Simon Tremblay, who served as assistant chief deputy for the Charbonneau Commission which looked into corruption in the awarding of public construction contracts in Quebec.
Tremblay says any inquiry must have the ability to subpoena people to testify.
"The power to compel is fundamental here because you need the power to bring people in front of the commissioners," he said. "And especially if you’re talking about organized crime, for me, if you don’t have that power it’s a useless exercise."
It’s alleged some of that money came from the illicit drug trade, including fentanyl trafficking. Nearly 1,500 British Columbians died as a result of drug overdoses in 2018.
"That cash, as Mayor West has said, is blood money. It reeks of death. We've had it in this province and officials chose to look the other way," said Sandy Garossino, a former crown prosecutor adding her voice to calls for an inquiry.
For his part, Attorney General David Eby wouldn’t rule out a public inquiry, but his office says the decision ultimately rests with the premier and cabinet.
"It's a very significant concern of mine that started with the casino, just trying to imagine how it could be that no police officers were looking into where this cash was coming from for so many years," Eby said Monday.
The BC Liberals, in power when much of the criminal activity is alleged to have taken place, pushed back against the suggestion.
"Canadians are rightly concerned about money laundering," Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said in a statement. "The public want to see these crimes aggressively prosecuted and criminals go to jail. A public inquiry would not expedite prosecutions."
Boyle wants Vancouver City Council to endorse a motion calling for a public inquiry, and she and West hope councillors and mayors from other municipalities will join them in their efforts to pressure the provincial government to get on board.