B.C. election prompts Cullen commission on money laundering to delay hearings

Proceeding during the election could effect outcome, hurt perception of independence: Cullen

Commissioner Austin Cullen oversees the commission aimed at identifying the roots and extent of money laundering in B.C. | Graeme Wood

The Cullen commission’s public inquiry into money laundering is delaying its hearings by two weeks so the hearings will not be seen as having had any effect on the B.C. election’s outcome, and to maintain the public’s confidence that the commission is impartial and independent.

Hearings were set to start on October 13, and they are now postponed until October 26 – the Monday following the October 24 election. Hearings are then expected to go well into 2021.

The commission heard opening arguments in February, and then held a virtual hearing streamed to the public in May and June. Its October hearings were expected to delve into specific industries and specifically address trade-based money laundering, the ability to act on evidence of wrongdoing and the impact of criminal proceeds on the B.C. real estate market.

“Evidence to be called during the early weeks of the hearing will identify issues but will not represent the full evidentiary record on these issues, nor provide an opportunity for all perspectives on these issues to be advanced,” Commissioner Austin Cullen said in a statement posted to the Cullen commission’s website.

“It is reasonable to assume that, as it unfolds, this early and incomplete evidence will raise questions and invite speculation about its meaning.

Difficulty arises because only some, but not all, of the relevant evidence will be made public by the time of the election. It may be that evidence led before the election raises questions that cause speculation, but the questions or speculation are answered in whole or in part by evidence called after the election.”

Cullen said that it is unfortunate that there is not time in the two weeks of hearings set for before the election for commission counsel to present balanced and comprehensive evidence on issues.

“Proceeding during the campaign would thus put the commission in the untenable position of making decisions about what evidence and perspectives to adduce before the election and what to adduce after, which would, in my view, run an unacceptable risk of undermining the public’s confidence in the independence of the Commission.”

Cullen said he did not think that the two-week delay will have any significant impact on the timeline of the commission’s work.