In May 2019, the provincial government announced its intention to establish the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, also known as the Cullen Commission. At the time, a survey conducted by Research Co. and Glacier Media showed that 86% of the province’s residents agreed with the proposed course of action.
Discussions about whether or not money laundering was a matter that merited a meticulous investigation had been percolating for years. The release of surveillance footage that showed people bringing in hockey bags full of cash into casinos made it practically impossible for a government – of any political stripe – not to intervene.
Last month, the Cullen Commission’s hearings came to an end with the filing of closing oral submissions by the lawyers of the participants. Only a few sessions were held in person, with the bulk of testimony coming through online video-conferencing mode on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis also pushed the deadline for the final report submission to December 2021.
As the Cullen Commission draws to a close, it is evident that its activities did not particularly grab the attention of all British Columbians. In our latest survey, just under two in five of the province’s residents (39%) say they have followed the developments in the Cullen Commission “very closely” or “moderately closely” – a proportion that rises to 43% among those aged 55 and over and 42% among Metro Vancouverites.
The initial perceptions about money laundering that British Columbians had about the previous government three years ago have not gone through a substantial change. Back then, 39% of the province’s residents thought the BC Liberals deserved “all of the blame” or “most of the blame” for the current situation.
This month, the same proportion of British Columbians (39%) look at the previous provincial government as primarily responsible for the current money-laundering situation. As expected, British Columbians who voted for the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party of BC in last year’s provincial election (52% and 49%, respectively) are more likely to point the finger at the previous administration than their counterparts who supported the BC Liberals in the October 2020 ballot (33%).
While opinions on the BC Liberals did not move on the issue of money laundering, British Columbians now have more forgiving views on other people and groups. Just over a third (36%) believe the British Columbia Lottery Corp. deserves “all of the blame” or “most of the blame” for the rise of money laundering, down 12 points since 2018.
Negative perceptions on the money-laundering file also fell for the current BC NDP provincial administration (17%, down six points) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) (also 17%, down four points). About one in five believe that most of the responsibility for the issues that have transpired also lies with the current federal government (20%) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) (19%). While the dismay at various participants in the situation that led to the Cullen Commission has subsided, the numbers continue to look bleak for the BC Liberals.
More than half of British Columbians (57%) continue to think that the provincial government made the right decision in establishing the Cullen Commission, and a similar proportion (53%) believe we have learned more about why money laundering became a problem in the province because of the inquiry.
Slightly fewer British Columbians (49%) think we have learned more about what to do in the future to curb money laundering. These numbers may move after the publication of the final report, which is expected to feature specific proposals.
We continue to see appetite for action to ensure transparency in all aspects of public life. More than seven in 10 British Columbians (71%) think the province should establish an office similar to Quebec’s Anti-Corruption Commissioner, created “to ensure the co-ordination of actions to prevent and fight corruption in the public sector, including in contractual matters.”
A Quebec-style watchdog office may be one of the recommendations from the Cullen Commission when the final report is issued next month. Some people may be dissatisfied at the fact that the months of hearings did not lead to arrests or perhaps a ban on the public servants who behaved in a richly oblivious manner. Still, at a time when the current provincial government is being criticized for its untenable position on freedom of information requests, a commitment to following stricter guidelines for procurement would be welcomed.
The province’s residents experienced shock and disbelief when the images of money laundering in casinos first came to light. The province must now guarantee that future scams that exploit loopholes in legislation are never tested within the province’s territory.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from October 18 to October 20 among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.