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Attorney General says BC Liberals should have investigated Hastings Racecourse wrongdoing years ago

Horses are seen in their stables behind Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, Tuesday, August, 20, 2019. Multiple people were arrested and taken away in handcuffs from the stable area on Aug. 19, 2019.
Horses are seen in their stables behind Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, Tuesday, August, 20, 2019. Multiple people were arrested and taken away in handcuffs from the stable area on Aug. 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The allegations of immigration issues at Hastings Racecourse have turned into a war of words between Attorney General David Eby and the BC Liberals over who knew about the wrongdoing first.

Eby alleged last month he had alerted then-finance minister Mike de Jong about concerns at the racetrack while the BC Liberals were in power, accusing the now-opposition party of not doing enough to investigate corruption at racetracks in Vancouver.

De Jong has demanded Eby retract his statement, saying his concerns were related to a different racetrack altogether that were thoroughly investigated.

WATCH: (Sept. 2) Rally held in support of migrant workers arrested at Hastings Racecourse

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Rally held in support of migrant workers arrested at Hastings Racecourse

Eby said Thursday he is refusing to back down from his version of events, saying his initial concerns should have sparked a deeper probe by the Liberals into alleged wrongdoing.

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“I think if Minister de Jong had had a look at it, then he would have been more likely to find what we did when we looked at the issue of security and access to the backstretch, which was allegations of corruption of a provincial employee,” Eby said.

READ MORE: Attorney General says whistleblower notified his office of allegations at Hastings Racecourse

The attorney general has said he was first alerted by a whistleblower in October 2018 that a gaming enforcement and policy branch (GPEB) employee was allegedly facilitating racetrack licences without proper work authorization.

Following an investigation within GPEB, the case was turned over to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in January, Eby said last month.

Eby broke his silence on the case more than a week after CBSA agents detained 25 backstretch workers during an early morning raid. Seven workers were arrested and have since agreed to leave Canada.

WATCH: (Aug. 27) B.C. attorney general reacts to raid at Hastings Park racecourse

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B.C. attorney general reacts to raid at Hastings Park racecourse

Earlier Thursday, de Jong released a statement saying he was “surprised and perplexed” by Eby’s version of events, saying “no such notification occurred” when de Jong was finance minister.

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Instead, de Jong suggested Eby was confusing Hastings Racecourse with Fraser Downs Racetrack, which Eby had in fact alerted de Jong about in a letter also sent in November 2016.

In that letter, which de Jong released along with his statement, Eby alerted the then-minister of allegations of illegal drug use by staff at Fraser Downs, including the concealment of at least one failed drug test and a horse that had tested positive for methamphetamine.

READ MORE: Police not investigating B.C. official linked to Hastings Racecourse worker arrests

In a letter written in response to Eby’s concerns and requests for an independent investigation, de Jong said that investigation was conducted and found no issues with drug testing, or oversight of horse racing in general, within GPEB.

The specific allegations are not addressed in de Jong’s letter, citing privacy concerns.

In his statement, de Jong said Eby should retract the assertion that he had alerted the ministry about immigration issues at Hastings Racecourse.

β€œIt is an honour and privilege to serve in the Office of the Attorney General,” said de Jong, who served in the role in 2010.

READ MORE: Lawyer for Hastings Racecourse workers says they paid up to $1,000 for false licences

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“The individual entrusted to that office should never forget their obligation to conduct themselves to the highest possible standard and with the utmost integrity at all times. Mr. Eby has utterly failed to meet that standard.”

Later Thursday, Eby produced the same letter and reply from de Jong, admitting his concerns were initially linked to drug use at Fraser Downs.

But the attorney general said de Jong’s response in 2016 failed to mention many of the concerns and recommendations included in the investigation report.

In particular, investigator George Morfitt wrote about “some concern” that security at both Hastings Racecourse and Fraser Downs “is not as rigorous as it needs to be, particularly on non-race days.”

WATCH: (Aug. 22) Growing concerns over provincial body linked to racecourse arrests

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Morfitt then recommended access to the backstretch by “unlicensed persons” be reviewed.

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“I do understand that Minister de Jong has some defensiveness about his history on the gaming file,” Eby said, possibly referring to the issue of money laundering in B.C. casinos that grew under the previous Liberal government.

“But I don’t understand why he would suggest, when he gets a report that says there is an issue with security and access to the backstretch … and when it’s looked at by another government that comes in and it finds there is a serious and systemic issue there, why he doesn’t feel some accountability and responsibility for that.”

READ MORE: B.C. official investigated for licences issued to workers arrested at Hastings Racecourse

de Jong told Global News the report was filed weeks before the most recent provincial election, and questioned why Eby is pointing fingers at the BC Liberals for something he has had two years to investigate himself.

“He should stop playing politics,” de Jong said. “He is responsible for the administration of justice, and if he can’t do that in a non-partisan way, then he should step aside and allow someone who is prepared to act appropriately and in the best interest of the administration of justice.”

The lawyer who represented the seven workers at their mandatory review hearings shortly after the raid said she was told the workers paid between $600 and $1,000 for the licences, believing they would also grant them legal work status in Canada.

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None of the allegations have been proven in court. The CBSA will not confirm whether charges are being considered against the B.C. official, who has been suspended with pay.

READ MORE: CBSA makes multiple arrests at Hastings Racecourse

In addition to investigating the false licences, the CBSA is also in charge of investigating allegations of fraud against the official and other criminal allegations.

The CBSA did not have an update on the investigation Thursday.

The backstretch workers will have to wait at least a full year before attempting to re-enter Canada, at which time they will have to explain the CBSA enforcement against them.

The GPEB is responsible for issuing licences to racetrack workers, which is required under provincial law. It is also the provincial regulator for the entire gaming industry, including casinos and lotteries.

β€” With files from Richard Zussman and John Hua