Ian Mulgrew: Policing gap created by RCMP | #romancescams


VPD: “Despite our best efforts, we’re looking at investment scams, internal thefts, romance scams that often tally up into the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.”

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The inquiry into money laundering has begun to grapple with the real impediments to a successful war on dirty money — a dysfunctional policing and political system.

Senior police officers and public safety bureaucrats are finally testifying and are blaming the challenges of cooperative federalism and gaps in the province’s patchwork-quilt of policing for a lack of prosecutions.

The disconnect between Victoria and Ottawa, the lack of expertise, the exorbitant cost, the years-long commitment of officers, the detail and time needed to obtain warrants, legal disclosure obligations, court-imposed timely prosecution and trial deadlines … all handcuff law-enforcement, in their opinion.

It is an old lament.

Money-laundering prosecutions are unheard of, even though international drug dealers have been operating in B.C. for more than half a century, creating an underground economy generating billions.

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During the 1970s, there were ships off the coast from Thailand unloading pot and from Afghanistan delivering hash worth tens of millions.

Then, they moved to using containers in the 1980s, and soon the illicit business blossomed into the global phenomenon known as B.C. Bud.

Yet successive provincial governments have refused to address the long-identified structural problems with policing.

Unlike Ontario and Quebec, B.C. has no provincial police force. It contracts with the RCMP to provide provincial and municipal services in many communities.

After the last contract in 2012, however, Ottawa unilaterally restructured the federal force so that nearly 100 Mounties and support staff working on fraud and money laundering in B.C. were amalgamated under the Federal Serious and Organized Crime umbrella. Many cases were dropped.

Instead of tackling crimes that Victoria considered a priority, the Mounties targeted crimes considered a risk to the nation.

Simultaneously, the federal Conservative government began cost-cutting, choking resources within the force.

The number of Mounties assigned to provincial duties hasn’t changed since 2012 — 2,600, although currently there are about 100 officer vacancies.

The commission was told data indicated the 2013 re-engineering caused a 25- to 30-per-cent reduction in policing services despite the province crying for help with gang violence, trafficking in fentanyl, and casino money laundering.

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B.C. was still complaining at a November 2018 meeting of justice and public safety ministers. As a briefing note put it: “This (restructuring) resulted in a significant gap, whereby no provincial police resources were tasked with the investigation of large frauds and money laundering that fell outside of identified federal priorities, such as national security and terrorism.”

The inquiry was told municipal forces and detachments did not have the capacity to investigate inter-jurisdictional, interprovincial or international fraud.

They lacked the resources, plus each reported to a local police board that set priorities.

In communities, public safety trumps financial crime, especially given burgeoning homelessness, mental illness and the opioid crisis.

The Abbotsford Police Department, for example, has only 224 sworn members, and complex money-laundering cases are beyond it.

“We don’t have the expertise, period,” said Deputy Chief Const. Brett Crosby-Jones. “We would have to rely on the RCMP. We just don’t have the skills ability and investigative expertise to contribute to investigations of that nature.”

Even the Cadillac of city departments, Vancouver, doesn’t have the capacity (with 1,348 uniformed officers and 441 civilian staff).

When possible, it works with U.S. law enforcement to trigger foreign charges and partners with the civil forfeiture office, which means investigators don’t have to prove a crime or worry about disclosure rules.

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“We’ve found that the civil process versus the criminal process can be dealt with far more expeditiously,” Deputy Chief Const. Laurence Rankin explained.

“In that sense, we’re finding other ways to address the money laundering issues, but it’s a huge challenge. It would be very beneficial to have a provincial agency that would be able to address the gap that currently exists. … Despite our best efforts, we’re looking at investment scams, internal thefts, romance scams that often tally up into the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.”

A 2019 provincial government document described the problem: “Presently, there are a number of parties involved in the promotion, regulation, reporting, intelligence gathering, monitoring, and enforcement for casinos and other sectors prone to money laundering. This variety of parties includes those with competing objectives and mandates, which has blurred the lines of responsibility, accountability and transparency.”

Clayton Pecknold, now Police Complaint Commissioner but a former Director of Police Services, said the province has been mulling a dedicated law-enforcement economic integrity unit for years.

The latest 2019 proposal calls for Financial Intelligence and Investigation Units (78 police, analysts, forensic accountants, prosecutors and staff) and an anti-money laundering Fusion Centre (a cross-government data hub for supporting regulators).

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It would cost several million to establish, and about $16 million to fund annually.

“Ultimately, a lack of police capacity in B.C. coupled with provincial financial pressures dissolved the proposal in mid-2019,” a government synopsis stated.

It added staffing it would deplete police resources and potentially threaten public safety.

Vancouver Police Department Insp. Mike Heard complained: “Unfortunately, when I think over a number of years, the proceeds team and financial teams were dissolved … and it’s like every new unit that begins, unfortunately again, you’re trying to gain and garner that experience from scratch and trying to get those units off the ground when you’ve kind of probably lost a lot of corporate history and knowledge over the last 15 years.”

Wayne Rideout, the assistant deputy minister and director of police services, said the province was discussing concerns with the RCMP to address the gaps and priorities.

Until the issues are resolved, though, he acknowledged some serious financial crimes would occur that would not be investigated.

“I think that’s always been the case and frankly it always will be that the capacity will never be enough to handle it. But I would agree that there remains a gap in the province around financial crimes and that while the RCMP is currently adapting and attempting to address those issues, it’s insufficient.”

The inquiry continues.

imulgrew@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ianmulgrew

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