Former B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark, one of the high-profile witnesses to appear before the Cullen Commission this week, denied in her testimony that there were substantial delays in acting to investigate money laundering in the province when she was premier.
During Clark’s time as premier, from 2011 to 2017, there was a significant rise in suspicious casino transactions allegedly linked to transnational organized crime.
“We recognized it was a serious problem in the province. We were taking action to deal with it,” Clark said at the hearing on April 20.
Housing prices in Vancouver also skyrocketed during that time, but Clark told the commission there was no reason to believe that money laundering was the cause, noting that her government had been informed by experts that the increase was due to factors such as B.C.’s economic growth, low interest rates, and high immigration rates.
When asked by counsel Patrick McGowan whether she was aware that large cash buy-ins consisting of $20 bills had become commonplace at Lower Mainland casinos between 2012 and 2015, Clark said no.
“I wasn’t being kept abreast of the large cash buy-ins and the reports from law enforcement specifically,” she said.
Clark said that she was not directly informed of an “all-time high” jump in suspicious cash transactions until 2015, and that her government subsequently took action.
She noted that this led to her government’s creation of the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team in 2016—part of B.C.’s integrated anti-gang police agency, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit—to combat illegal gaming activities.
“I can say that we took significant action in the years that I was there, and I think confirmation of its effectiveness is that the current government is continuing with those actions that we undertook,” Clark said.
When McGowan questioned Clark as to why there weren’t any prosecutions on money laundering during her time as premier, she first replied that the courts are separate from political inquiries. However, she later affirmed McGowan’s point that courts take what is presented to them.
“Investigation of those crimes sit with law enforcement,” she said. “Again, that is not an area where government is involved and sets day-to-day priorities.”
Clark later remarked that she was not aware when she became premier that an earlier RCMP anti-illegal gambling unit in the province, known as the Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) and funded by the B.C. Lottery Corp., had been disbanded by the B.C. Liberals in 2009.
The IIGET was disbanded in April 2009 three months after releasing a report that year seeking an expanded role and warning about the extent and scope of illegal gaming in B.C.
McGowan closed by asking Clark whether she or the B.C. Liberal Party ever accepted donations from the gaming industry. Clark replied that such contributions were accepted only in the last two years of her time as premier. She excused her actions, saying that Canada’s Constitution does not bar political contributions from the gaming industry.
Mark Skwarok, counsel for the Great Canadian Gaming Corp., did not pose any questions, passing it on to Transparency International Canada’s lawyer Toby Rauch Davis. Davis proceeded to ask Clark if she had ever commissioned a study to see if money laundering was growing in the province, to which she answered no.
Clark also denied being aware of a report by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in 2016 criticizing Canada for its non-compliance on five of the FATF’s 40 recommendations. This included Recommendation 25, which calls on countries to take measures to prevent the misuse of legal arrangements for money laundering or terrorist financing. FATF is an independent inter-governmental body whose recommendations are recognized as the gold standard for countering money laundering and terrorist financing.
Clark testified for just over two hours. She is one of 11 former and current B.C. cabinet ministers scheduled to testify in the coming days.
B.C Premier John Horgan initiated the Cullen Commission in May 2019 in response to multiple reports on money laundering in the province that outlined how hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal cash transactions affected B.C’s real estate, luxury vehicle, and gaming sectors.
The final report of the Cullen Commission is scheduled to be released on Dec. 15.