B.C. Premier John Horgan is not ruling out a public inquiry into money laundering in casinos, but says he would prefer a less expensive internal probe.
Pressure has been growing for the provincial government to call a public inquiry since the release of Peter German’s report into widespread illegal activity at B.C. casinos.
“I’m not ruling it out. Minister (David) Eby needs flexibility as Attorney General to give guidance to government as to what is the best course of action,” said Horgan.
“But at this point I would prefer to go at the problem, and we can address that directly by an internal inquiry that is transparent and open.”
Horgan has been asked multiple times since the German report’s release about the possibility of a public inquiry. Any possible public inquiry would be discussed in cabinet and decided upon as a group.
A recent poll from Research Co. found that 76 per cent of British Columbians want to see a public inquiry into the issue. A similar poll conducted in June found the same amount of support for an inquiry.
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But what has the premier concerned is the cost of having a public inquiry.
“My experience over the years looking at public inquiries is that it is a growth industry for the legal profession,” said Horgan.
“I have spoken to previous premiers about the value of public inquiries and I have had a mixed response, to be honest with you.”
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The last public inquiry conducted in British Columbia looked into murdered and missing women in the province.
That inquiry was widely criticized for having too narrow a focus and not having many of the recommendations acted upon.
Horgan said he is hopeful that there will be arrests in connection with the illegal activity that took place in the casinos in connection to money laundering.
The German report was commissioned by the current government to understand how far money laundering had spread in B.C. casinos.
German found widespread money laundering in gambling facilities and also suggested that criminal activity could be taking place in the real estate market, at horse tracks and in the luxury car market.
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The German report was a fact-finding report, not designed to place blame.
But Horgan said there still needs to be some accountability for BC Liberal politicians, including former Finance Minister Mike de Jong and former Gaming Minister Rich Coleman.
“I haven’t heard, since the German Report came out, a clear comment from the former minister of finance, I haven’t heard a clear comment from the minister responsible for gaming,” said Horgan.
“These are now opposition members who were re-elected to the legislature and I think they need to be held accountable.”
Coleman has done multiple media interviews since the release of the German Report.
The former minister responsible for gaming said BC Liberals did “everything we could” to crack down on casino money laundering.
When Coleman was serving as solicitor general, the government decided to scrap the Integrated Illegal Gambling Enforcement Team (IIGET) even though there were reports that showed substantial money laundering in B.C. casinos.
The federal government has also taken a new interest in the money laundering issue. Horgan said he spoke to Bill Blair, the new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, last week.
Blair was recently tasked with dealing with the money laundering issue, but it’s not immediately clear how he plans to tackle B.C.’s money laundering problems.
Over the past year there have been discussions within B.C.’s government about starting a money laundering task force with assistance from Ottawa, or requesting funds to increase the number of RCMP officers focused on crimes connected to money laundering.
Horgan says the federal government plays an important role in fixing the problem.
“Demonstrating there is a problem and then taking steps to address it. That would be a success,” said Horgan.
“That means law enforcement, that means the federal government is doing its part to help us track and monitor illegal money coming into the country if it’s offshore.”