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Comment: We need enforcement, not a specialized unit

A commentary by a Victoria lawyer.
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Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to a question while meeting with reporters after releasing his report from his Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia in Vancouver, June 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam

I am pleased to review the long-awaited report of the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C. I admit that I am less pleased to see that if the NDP government that commissioned the report goes ahead with the recommendation of Austin Cullen, we will see the creation of yet another statutory officer in B.C., taking us to 10 of those independent bureaucracies.

In the executive summary to his report, Cullen describes the cash transactions that came to be known as the “Vancouver Model” for laundering money at casinos and ultimately led to his Commission of Inquiry, as follows:

“In addition to the extraordinary amounts, the cash used in many of these transactions exhibited well known characteristics of cash derived from crime. It often consisted predominantly of $20 dollar bills, oriented in non uniform fashion, bundled in “bricks” of specific values (as opposed to number of notes), bound with elastic bands, and carried in shopping bags, knapsacks, suitcases, gym bags, cardboard boxes and all manner of other receptacles. These vast quantities of cash were frequently delivered to casino patrons at or near casinos, very late at night or early in the morning, by unmarked luxury vehicles.”

Since 2005, law enforcement has had the benefit of the Civil Forfeiture Act. That legislation authorizes the seizure of assets including cash of precisely the nature described by Cullen.

A seizure under that legislation sets in motion a process which involves a whole lot of trouble for the person from whom the cash was seized if they want to try to get it back. I have seen vehicles, houses and cash seized and ultimately forfeited to the province under this legislation.

Often, given that criminals tend to want to avoid court at all costs, assets seized under this legislation are simply forfeited without any fight. Apparently in 2018, after implementing a simple reporting requirement suggested by Peter German, “suspicious transactions” at the casinos declined by 90 per cent.

One can only imagine what even a few RCMP seizures of “Vancouver Model” cash under the Civil Forfeiture Act might have led to. And the government gets to keep the forfeited ill-gotten gains as opposed to simply scaring them off elsewhere, leaving the citizenry footing the bill for an inquiry and possibly yet another bureaucracy.

I would like to hear an explanation from the RCMP as to why they elected not to use the legislative tools readily available to them. I do not see an explanation in this report.

No specialized unit needed. Nothing fancy needed. Just a good old-fashioned investigation, seizure and likely forfeiture. It is obvious from Cullen’s description that the required evidence was readily available.