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RCMP unit commander warned B.C. government that organized crime would run casinos ‘with impunity’

Click to play video: 'Former high-ranking police officer testifies at Cullen Commission' Former high-ranking police officer testifies at Cullen Commission
Former high-ranking police officer testifies at Cullen Commission – Dec 2, 2020

The former commanding officer of a B.C. RCMP anti-illegal gaming unit says he was stunned when the provincial government disbanded his unit in 2009, even after he warned it that the decision would allow organized crime to operate “with impunity.”

Insp. Wayne Holland, who took control of the anti-illegal gaming unit in 2007, told a public inquiry into money laundering on Wednesday that he expected B.C.’s government to agree with the RCMP’s plan to double his unit’s size to 24 officers.

He told the Cullen Commission that the unit had been chronically understaffed, and in late 2008, he had presented a threat assessment that showed organized crime, money laundering and loan sharking were deeply embedded in B.C. Lottery Corporation casinos.

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The threat report, obtained by Global News in a freedom of information request, also warned of extreme crimes and violence — including murders, loan-sharking extortions leading to kidnappings of children, human-trafficking and prostitution — stemming from B.C. government casinos.

There was also the threat of corruption, Holland’s report warned, including circumstances in which an Asian-organized crime figure was allowed to buy a stake in a B.C. government casino.

“The (threat assessment) document was more substantial than we ever anticipated,” Holland told the commission. “It was very sobering.”

But at a board meeting on the unit’s future in December 2008, Holland said that a deputy minister for then-gaming minister Rich Coleman told him that his unit would likely be dissolved.

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Holland testified that he asked the deputy minister whether Coleman was aware of the threat assessment, and was told that he did.

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“I thought that dissolving (the unit) would put us back a decade or more,” Holland said. “Because police know — you give a criminal entity (opportunity) and they will entrench. They are like moss on a rock. They will grow and prosper.”

Holland said he was never informed who made the decision to disband his unit, but said “in my mind, it would be Mr. Coleman.”

Read more: Former BC Liberal minister and RCMP caused ‘tsunami’ of casino money laundering, inquiry hears

Coleman has strongly denied that he turned a blind eye to crime in B.C. casinos, and has said he will not comment on others’ testimony before his turn at the commission next year.

Holland testified that B.C. RCMP brass assured him in 2008 that they would appeal the move to disband his unit to B.C.’s government, but that he doesn’t know whether they did so at the time.

He said his bosses might have “acceded” to the B.C. government decision, but that he doesn’t believe the RCMP supported the move.

However, he did say RCMP leaders never informed him exactly who decided to break up the unit.

“I never, to my satisfaction, received a concrete answer,” Holland said. “And I remain to this day, uncertain why (the anti-illegal gaming unit) was collapsed.”

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The inquiry also heard of an email Holland sent to his superiors in 2009 in which he said the RCMP should reach a consensus for media questions on why the unit was disbanded.

The official explanation put forward by the RCMP and the B.C. Liberal government that it was to save money “kept changing” in B.C. Liberal statements to the media, Holland said.

For example, Coleman told the media in a 2009 interview that Holland’s unit didn’t present a business case for its continuation. But that was false, Holland told the commission.

He said that is why he emailed his superiors and told them to tell Coleman to stop making “uninformed” statements about the disbanding.

And the financial explanation never made sense, Holland said.

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Read more: Former BC Liberal minister accused of letting gangs launder money in government casinos

“We were aware that legal gaming has a healthy income stream (for the B.C. Liberal government),” he said. “We couldn’t envision that the cost of the unit would have outweighed the capacity for the (B.C. government) to keep funding us.”

He also said he believed the unit “had an effective record, given the value for the money.”

Holland said another reason he heard out of Coleman, according to media reports in 2009, was that the unit had poor performance and was redundant, and that that didn’t make sense either.

Inquiry testimony continues this week.

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