An influential British Columbia labour union is calling on the B.C. government to launch a public inquiry into organized crime, opioids and money laundering in the province.
And while the B.C. NDP government has been resisting demands for such an inquiry, party leaders including Attorney General David Eby and solicitor general Mike Farnworth have started to make behind-the-scenes arguments in favour of an inquiry, according to Global News sources.
In a public statement on Monday, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) cited revelations in Global News investigations about the connection of fentanyl, money laundering and Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis, and also the recent failure of an RCMP money-laundering investigation, as reasons in favour of an inquiry.
“Following the collapse of the E-Pirate investigation – a RCMP money-laundering probe that started in 2015 – a public inquiry is the best way to learn the truth about a crisis that has claimed thousands of lives, and has made B.C. the most unaffordable province to live in,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said on Monday.
“The links between organized crime, fentanyl and money laundering leading to skyrocketing real-estate prices in B.C. cannot go unexamined, so that those responsible can be held accountable.”
Smith said neither B.C. Premier John Horgan or Attorney General Eby have ruled out an inquiry, and the BCGEU “is hoping that public support will push the government to act on this vital issue.”
WATCH: How organized crime groups launder suspected drug money in B.C. real estate
The BCGEU, a powerful force in B.C. politics and significant funder for the NDP, has more than 70,000 members, including about 30,000 working for the provincial government. Members also include employees working at the Metro Vancouver casinos allegedly most connected to organized crime money laundering.
A number of legal and political experts are calling for an inquiry into drug money laundering in B.C.’s economy, based on the model of the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec.
They point to information uncovered in the E-Pirate probe, which resulted in stayed charges after Crown prosecutors mistakenly exposed an informant.
The E-Pirate investigation found loan sharks allegedly connected to drug-traffickers in China used legal and illegal Metro Vancouver casinos to wash drug cash, helping ultra-wealthy high-rollers from China buy Vancouver real estate, and fund fentanyl imports into Canada.
WATCH: Were B.C. casino staff connected to money-laundering suspects?
And confidential RCMP studies, obtained exclusively by Global News, indicate crime networks are laundering billions in luxury Vancouver real estate. The alleged underground bank targeted in E-Pirate is now estimated to have laundered over $1 billion per year, according to a study by international anti-money-laundering officials.
Last week Eby criticized “information gaps” with the federal government and said he is frustrated he had to learn of the scale of suspected B.C. money laundering in Global News reports, rather than having Ottawa update him.
The BCGEU’s high-profile advocacy for an inquiry highlights the different positions and players in ongoing internal debates, sources said.
Some influential NDP party members reacted negatively, the sources said, after BCGEU members voted in favour of an inquiry and sent a letter to B.C.’s government in December. And union leaders sensed pressure to tamp down their advocacy.
Also, people connected to the premier’s office questioned whether Eby’s camp and the BCGEU had worked in back channels to push forward the BCGEU’s call for an inquiry, sources from various camps said.
According to several party insiders, Horgan’s influential chief of staff Geoff Meggs — a former City of Vancouver councillor and communications director for former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell — and some bureaucratic factions in B.C.’s government are against an inquiry.
Sage Aaron, spokeswoman for the premier’s office, said that Meggs would not respond in an interview to information alleged by multiple sources.
“There’s no substance to these allegations,” Aaron said on Monday. “The BCGEU let our office know about the campaign just before they launched in December and we thanked them for the heads up. No one has closed the door on a public inquiry and both the Premier and Minister Eby have several comments on the public record to that point.”
But on the other side of the debate, inside Horgan’s cabinet, influential members including Eby and Farnworth are privately advancing arguments for an inquiry, sources with knowledge of cabinet discussions, said.
If B.C.’s government were to call an inquiry, a source said, it would not be before former Mountie Peter German completes his review of money-laundering concerns in B.C. real estate, due in March.
But there is a realization that there is a limit to what German’s reporting and B.C.’s government can discover on the money-laundering file.
“We have turned over all the rocks we can with the capacity we have,” an official with knowledge of cabinet discussions said. “We have to move into a bigger systemic review that takes [B.C.’s government] out of it. And the position of being against an inquiry is getting too difficult to maintain. It should happen.”
The official spoke on background because of the sensitivity of internal debates, and could not be identified.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, one of the only B.C. politicians that has pressed for a public inquiry, said he’s encouraged by BCGEU’s stand.
West said he believes reports by Global News connecting fentanyl trafficking and money laundering in B.C.’s economy show “there is a rot at the core of the systems, that are supposed to make sure that something like this cannot happen.”
“Every time we hear a new story about the flow of fentanyl money into our casinos and real estate, you get more people willing to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” West said. “We need an inquiry that is modelled after the Charbonneau Commission with the appropriate powers to get to the bottom of this rotten mess, and hold people accountable.”