When British Columbia’s public inquiry into money laundering resumes on Monday, Port Coquitlam’s mayor says he hopes it becomes must-watch programming.
The Cullen Commission has moved its proceedings online amid concerns about COVID-19. Global News will stream the entire proceedings live.
“My hope is that Justice (Austin) Cullen becomes just as well known as Dr. (Bonnie) Henry,” said West, referring to the B.C.’s provincial health officer, whose daily pandemic briefings have become essential viewing.
“I hope that British Columbians tune in because this is about the future of their communities. If they’re worried about our province, if they’re worried about what sort of future their kids are going to have and whether we are going to be a province of rules, a province of the rule of law.”
Premier John Horgan called the inquiry last May following intense media pressure for people to be held accountable for widespread money laundering in B.C.’s casinos, housing market and luxury car industry.
The next session, running from May 25 to mid-June, will include an overview of the topic of money laundering and regulatory models. It will also aim to quantify the extent of money laundering activity in B.C.
West, who was among the loudest voices calling for an inquiry, said he hopes the COVID-19 crisis does not overshadow the proceedings.
“I think it’s really important we remember exactly why we’re having this public inquiry, this commission,” said West.
“British Columbia has become the hotbed of money laundering in the entire world. And there has been horrible consequences to that for our people.”
B.C.’s provincial government has commissioned three reports that revealed widespread money laundering in B.C.’s gambling, real estate and luxury car industries.
Investigators estimated that as much as $7.4 billion was laundered through the province in 2018 alone.
Investigations by Global News have also revealed links between the fentanyl trade, Chinese gangs and that same dirty money.
Following this round of proceedings, the inquiry will hold its main set of hearings from September through December to probe specific industries and government responses.
“I think it’s really important that we hear from the whistleblowers, that we hear from people who in the past, when they came forward with information, were promptly fired from their positions,” said West.
“I think it’s absolutely essential that we also hear from elected officials, people who are in positions of power at the time that this was really rampant. And so the commission has a big job to do.”
The B.C. Liberals, who were in government during what one report deemed a “decade of dirty money“, have maintained that they embarked on a plan to contain the problem, but criminals found ways to work around it.
The NDP government has made several changes since taking power in 2017, including the creation of a public registry of property owners so those investing in real estate can’t hide behind numbered companies. It has also pressed the federal government for action.
With files from the Canadian Press