While others sent legal counsel on their behalf, Fred Pinnock was determined to stand before the Cullen Commission for the very first time.
“I am going to make myself available at every opportunity to deliver my message,” Pinnock said at a public hearing Friday.
The whistleblower and former commander of the RCMP’s illegal gaming taskforce was one of four individuals asked to take part in the hearing to determine whether they should be granted participant status at the commission of inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia.
The rules and procedures are still being drafted, but participant status typically includes the ability to request documents and cross-examine witnesses.
“Participants do have some procedural roles and rights in our process and in our hearings,” said senior commission counsel Brock Martland.
Martland wanted to assure the public that individuals without participant standing can still offer valuable information as witnesses, and that the commission would be working very closely with whistleblowers like Pinnock.
If any criminality or corruption is discovered during the commission proceedings, there are also clear rules and procedures that dictate how that information should be forwarded to police.
Martland also explained that commission counsel is focused on the public’s desire for truth and accountability, and will use broad powers to compel testimony and subpoena documents if needed.
“I do accept there will be some areas where we need to resort to those powers and if we need to, we won’t be shy to,” Martland said.
B.C. Lottery Corporation CEO Jim Lightbody and VP of Casino and Community Gaming Brad Desmarais were among the other individuals seeking standing.
Counsel for both men highlighted a specific section of the Cullen Commission’s terms of reference in their argument.
“The acts or omissions of regulatory authorities or individuals with powers, duties or functions in respect of the sectors referred to in paragraph … or any other relevant sector, to determine whether those acts or omissions have contributed to money laundering in British Columbia and whether those acts or omissions have amounted to corruption,” the document reads.
Robin McFee, legal counsel for Lightbody, argued his client could be personally affected by the proceedings.
“Mr. Lightbody, the President and CEO of BCLC, has obvious significant personal, privacy, reputational and professional interests that may be affected in the course of the commission’s proceedings,” McFee stated to the commission.
“The buck stops with him,” he later added.
Pinnock’s lawyer Paul Jaffe argued the public perception would be extremely negative if, out of all the parties granted participant status, none were whistleblowers who were brave enough to speak out.
Jaffe added there would not be a Cullen Commission if it weren’t for individuals like Pinnock. Participant status would allow Pinnock to also act on a wealth of information relating to potentially important documents and even witnesses.
“Public perception is essential,” Pinnock said after the day’s proceedings. “Balance must be demonstrated.”
Pinnock explained during an exclusive 2018 interview with Global News why he believes corruption occurred in B.C. casinos, and said that “it would be a gross injustice if a public inquiry was not ordered by the B.C. government,” because “the public not only has the right to know, but they need to know.”
Pinnock ran IIGET from 2005 until 2008, and the unit was tasked with policing illegal casinos. But Pinnock says he repeatedly expressed the need to extend the unit’s mandate into BCLC casinos, and made a business case for the unit to target organized crime in government casinos.
The reaction was “disinterest” from B.C. RCMP executives and a backlash from B.C.’s government, according to Pinnock. He said he was effectively sidelined by RCMP leaders and had to retire. His unit was disbanded by B.C.’s government in 2009.
Ross Alderson, another whistleblower and BCLC’s former anti-money laundering director, withdrew his application for participant status.
Commissioner Austin Cullen said he will deliver his ruling on the other applicants “promptly.”
The Cullen Commission is expected to be ready to hear witness testimony in the spring of 2020.
—With files from Sam Cooper