In the lead up to the budget which is to be delivered at 2PM today, my BC Green Caucus colleagues and I continued to pressure government during Question Period to crack down on speculation and dubious transactions in our out of control housing market. Sadly, the BC Liberals have been utterly ineffective in Question Period by not using their time to raise key issues like this one facing British Columbians. We only get one question a day to probe what is going on and being done.
Today it was Sonia Furstenau’s turn. Tomorrow it will be my turn.
Sonia picked up on the very serious allegations identified in Kathy Tomlinson’s excellent story in the Globe and Mail this past weekend. In particular, she quizzed Minister Eby as to “how deep does this rot go?”. She further ask the Minister why he claimed it could take up to four years to fix the mess that has been created.
Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange. The Minister’s responses were very thoughtful and quite damaging to the BC Liberal’s under whose watch things got out of control. The exchange is very much worth viewing and reading.
S. Furstenau: While this may seem to be, to some, less urgent than a dinner on Bowen Island, this last weekend we saw stunning revelations in the Globe and Mail about money laundering in B.C. and its connections to drug trafficking and real estate in Metro Vancouver. The investigation revealed that drug traffickers have laundered tens of millions of dollars through Vancouver real estate, and this is only a fraction of the problem. To say this is astonishing is an understatement.
This mess got out of control under the B.C. Liberals, but this government has now been in power for over six months and has yet to take bold action. Government has more information about what’s truly going on in B.C. than even the best reporters, with access to intelligence and data inaccessible to anyone else. And yet, we are relying on the media to reveal these shocking practices.
My question is to the Attorney General. One of the key journalists on this issue, Sam Cooper of Postmedia, says that the rot goes even deeper than we now know. The minister has the information. Exactly how deep does this rot go? Don’t British Columbians deserve to know the full extent of this problem?
Hon. D. Eby: I certainly thank the member for the question on this very important issue.
I think it’s important to recognize how we got here. In 2009, there was an integrated casino investigation team, police officers that were dedicated to investigating what happened in casinos.
They produced a report for the then minister responsible for gaming, the member for Langley East, that said…. This is a summary that was in the Sun. Sam Cooper wrote this: “The 2009 threat report said that known gangsters were gambling in B.C. casinos, and Asian organized crime groups, Italian crime groups and Hell’s Angels operate illegal casinos in B.C. Some of these underground operations are linked to crimes including prostitution, extortion, loansharking and kidnapping, the report said.” The main issue concerning unlicensed gambling “is the protection of the public.”
So the minister got that report, and in April 2009, he took decisive action. He defunded the integrated casino investigation team. So fast forward….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. D. Eby: I know he’s upset about the news, but he did this. He did this.
Fast forward seven years. The then Finance Minister, the member for Abbotsford West, got a memo on his desk, March 2016: “There has been a significant increase in the use of illegal gaming houses in the province and the legitimization of proceeds of crime through B.C.’s gaming facilities.” The decisive action taken by that minister, hon. Speaker? I wish I could tell you what it was because I have no idea what he did. It appears he did nothing. So, on receiving a briefing that this type of activity was taking place….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. D. Eby: I realize it’s not as important as a dinner on Bowen Island, but it is important.
On being briefed as the new minister, I brought in a person of remarkable reputation — Peter German, a former deputy in the RCMP, the author of Canada’s anti-money laundering law textbook — to get to the bottom of this and make recommendations for reform, which include other areas of our economy like real estate.
I’m so glad the member asked the question. I hope she asks another.
S. Furstenau: Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear all the minister’s response. However, I would like to ask a further question.
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.
S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister speaking to some of the systemic inaction that we’ve seen on this file. The investigation over the weekend made the scope and the urgency of this problem crystal clear. People are profiting off the deaths of fellow British Columbians, and this illicit money is being parked in our real estate, contributing to our housing crisis.
My concern is that the Attorney General, in response to this in an article, said it could take up to four years to take action. Journalists who have been reporting on the scandal for years say there’s no need for the delay. The case, as the minister points out, was proven long ago.
We have a commitment to take action on money laundering in our housing crisis. The minister has said this a priority, but we can’t afford four more years. We need immediate bold steps to fix this mess. My question is for the Attorney General: how does taking four years make this a priority?
Hon. D. Eby: I thank the member for her question. The new allegations in the Globe and Mail raised two separate pieces that require a response.
One is they’re very specific allegations involving individuals, and addresses raising questions about the conduct of professionals who are regulated in the province by independent bodies. So, in terms of those individual allegations that were in the Globe and Mail story, we are currently preparing correspondence with professional regulators and making sure that police, Revenue Canada, FINTRAC and FICOM have the information they need about those specific allegations and that they are aware of them and are pursuing them.
The second is that these are…. Although it’s the same genus, essentially — it’s money laundering — it’s a different species. These are new allegations, as far as I’m aware, around builders, liens and loans being used in this way, registered at the land title registry, which raises systemic issues that we need to address.
It does take time, and one of the things that we have to do is build up the capacity that was so degraded under the previous government to detect, prosecute and ensure the province is actually able to stop this activity. We have to rebuild that. Peter German is helping us do that in a way that’s thoughtful and, most importantly, that is effective.