British Columbia is asking the federal government for the majority of resources from a new money laundering commitment.
B.C. Attorney General David Eby met with Federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair in Victoria on Wednesday.
“It’s an international issue, which calls for a strong, committed provincial partner, which we are,” Eby said. “We are here and ready to work with the federal government to address it.”
The federal government proposed a new anti-money laundering task force in the federal budget to crack down on real estate-, casino- and trade-based money laundering, especially in high-risk areas such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
The plan includes investments of about $200 million in five years and additional ongoing funding, a response to “growing concerns” that transnational organized crime and professional money laundering networks are flooding illicit funds through Canadian real estate, corporations and trade, budget documents say.
WATCH (Feb. 26, 2019): Green Party calls for public inquiry into money laundering scandal
The proposed multi-agency task force is one of a number of enforcement and intelligence-sharing measures proposed in the 2019 federal budget, meant to improve Canada’s weak record for policing money laundering and tax evasion in real estate especially, which has harmed housing affordability.
“I want to ensure British Columbians that we are listening, that we are working well together. I believe that they will see measures, investments in this new budget that advance the work we do together,” Blair said.
The B.C. government is still in the midst of determining whether to call a full-blown public inquiry into money laundering. Eby says he asked Blair on Wednesday for Ottawa to provide federal information to the province if a decision is made to go ahead with the inquiry.
Blair agreed to consider the request and get back to British Columbia on the issue. There are some estimates that billions of dollars have been laundered in the province and fingers have been pointed at decisions made by the previous B.C. Liberal government.
WATCH (March 1, 2019): Timeline of money laundering in B.C. casinos
“The larger issue that I understand British Columbians are concerned about is really political accountability and to identify if there is rot in the system, to have that rot weeded out through a public inquiry system,” Eby said.
Eby also responded for the first time to a new report from Global News that found that despite money laundering concerns from the province’s gambling regulator, officials in B.C.’s finance ministry intervened to allow B.C. Lottery Corp. to raise high-roller betting limits to $100,000 per hand in time for Lunar New Year visits.
In May 2015, then-finance minister Mike de Jong said in B.C.’s legislature that the controversial “senior-level intervention” was made “in the public interest” in order to maximize casino revenue.
“The failure to say ‘stop accepting this cash at our casinos’ is one that I have a very difficult time to understand,” Eby said.
“That decision on the amount per hand was just one example of a series of bad decisions.”
De Jong says he is not even sure that the decision on betting limits made it to the ministerial level and any decision that was made was done so on advice from experts.
“I don’t have the documents,” de Jong said.
“There is a clear record of what took place, the decisions that were made, the decision trail; it always related to advice that was given by (the) gaming policy enforcement branch.”
—With files from Sam Cooper