There are better and lesser ways for governments to raise revenue.
We hold our noses when our province claims more than $1 billion each year through gambling in British Columbia. Even though we have grown sadly dependent and expectant on the funds for social services and culture, we consider the revenue grab relatively benign because it is of a consensual act of considerable entertainment. Besides, the business employs 37,000 British Columbians.
But when the activity is a vehicle to launder money, well, we ought to be scandalized and worried.
Worry has been tucked aside for the better part of two decades in the province, what our attorney general, David Eby, pronounces as an attitude of his predecessors in government of “nobody saying no” to the money, no matter its origin.
The result: Our casinos have been laundromats for the proceeds of crime, says the author of a scalding and dense takedown of the breakdown of a system that knew better and didn’t or couldn’t act.
Peter German, the storied former RCMP and Corrections Services deputy commissioner, provided his report in March to Eby. On Wednesday (June 27) the two stood at the podium and displayed the dirty laundry for all to see.
We have been dupes. There is even a “Vancouver model” that has emerged among experts to describe how funds gracefully funnel from other countries into the economy and extend like tentacles into the drug trade, into real estate, into horse racing, into luxury automobiles and other goods – where cash courses through the system like a firehose.
German’s 247-page report will take some digesting, but a first read is about as depressing as any picture of modern ineptitude of crime-fighting. While it was specifically mandated to avoid fault-finding, it finds fault just about everywhere German sniffed.
What became clear as a bell was the dysfunction of provincial regulation, the feeble quality of federal law, and the tactical and strategic weaknesses of policing the shifting and cunning practices of organized crime.
It is, German says, time we took stock and doubled down at the table.
His 48 prescriptions are mostly within provincial grasp, and Eby pledged a process to enact what can be done in short order. He has already started lobbying Ottawa to fix its piece of the puzzle. He has also launched what appears to be a second round of scrutiny on real estate as a corollary to his anti-laundering exploits.
If Eby succeeds at this and his efforts in reforming real estate transgressions, they will position him politically as iconic and cement his future in public life. He certainly can’t do much worse than the government that preceded him, which commissioned reports but seemingly sat on its hands. We can expect radio silence from them on this because, as German’s report implies, no effort to defend will be plausible.
But to take one step forward will require a step or two back: some loss in revenue, for instance, and a more sedate casino context that doubtlessly will cost some jobs at the tables. And there will never be an opportunity to share high-fives for success; this is a “Whack-a-Mole game,” German said, so the problems will simply surface elsewhere.
The legalization of gambling was foreseen as an opportunity to squelch the squalid underground and to service the obvious need for people to self-soothe and escape through their generally delusional view they can beat the system.
Well, the system is not just a laundromat but a doormat. It has itself been beaten by the very underground it sought to wrangle. We should all hope that the tables are being turned, but that hope should not be anything more than faint. These are nothing short of the smartest possible financial menaces we are seeking to tame.
But we can’t hold our noses or close our eyes any longer. Indeed, we may be too late to undo the damage upon us.