Ian Mulgrew: Christy Clark testifies ‘we took significant action’ against money laundering in B.C.

Former Liberal premier parries testy questions before Cullen Commission, maintains ‘we recognized it was a serious problem’

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark testifies via livestream before the Cullen Commission into money laundering in Vancouver on Tuesday.

Far from turning a blind eye while B.C. casinos washed dirty money, former Liberal premier Christy Clark told the inquiry into money laundering that her government did everything it could to combat crime.

Turning aside testy questions and commission counsel’s snipe that she wasn’t answering, Clark insisted anti-money laundering was a priority for her government.

“We recognized it was a serious problem in the province. We were taking action to deal with it … We took significant action in the years that I was there and I think the confirmation of its effectiveness is that the current government is continuing with those actions that we undertook … Did I do something about it? The answer is yes.”

Her appearance lasted barely two hours.

She acknowledged the province’s efforts were constrained by the complexities of policing arrangements and overlapping jurisdictions while emphasizing the separation of politicians from independent, day-to-day law-enforcement decisions.

Still, Clark pointed to the implementation of recommendations made in a 2011 report on anti-money laundering measures in gaming by B.C.’s first civil forfeiture director, Robert Kroeker, particularly the April 2016 creation of the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team.

She was adamant: “I said, ‘Get it done!’ I knew they were getting it done because they were following through and reporting … Ministers know it’s an honour to serve and ministers serve at the pleasure of the premier and I didn’t have a lot of patience for ministers who weren’t getting their job done.

“They were addressing (suspicious cash in casinos) and they were taking the advice of the experts and making sure that advice was implemented. That, to me, is an important part of making sure someone is doing their job.”

During her term in office from 2011 through 2017, the former talk-show-host-turned-politician-turned-consultant explained ministers were told specifically in letters of expectation to fight money laundering and their efforts were monitored and tracked by the senior civil service.

The bureaucrats survived the change in government, Clark noted.

“I was very concerned about it … That’s why we commissioned the Kroeker report, that’s why we implemented it, that’s why we created the joint task force, the cross-agency task force, which I think is working well and the other changes we made outside the Kroeker report. So government made a significant effort to address money laundering and I think we are seeing the fruits of that — certainly in the work JIGIT is doing now: I see in the paper they’ve taken credit for some significant arrests recently which shows good progress.”

Seen on a livestream, former B.C. premier Christy Clark testifies remotely during the Cullen Commission into money laundering, in Vancouver, on Tuesday. Pictured with her on the livestream are Commissioner Austin Cullen and co-lead counsel Patrick McGowan.
Seen on a livestream, former B.C. premier Christy Clark testifies remotely during the Cullen Commission into money laundering, in Vancouver, on Tuesday. Pictured with her on the livestream are Commissioner Austin Cullen and co-lead counsel Patrick McGowan. Photo by Darryl Dyck /The Canadian Press

There were three ministers responsible for gaming during Clark’s tenure: Shirley Bond, the province’s first female solicitor general, from 2011 to February 2012, Rich Coleman for 16 months until 2013, when it was taken over by Mike de Jong.

From 2011 to 2015, when suspicious cash flowing into casinos peaked, Clark mistakenly believed the situation was under control.

“I had that impression from the entire system … I had that impression from the service plans and the reporting back we were seeing. But I knew more needed to be done because in the service plans, in the letters of expectation, we were getting into a lot more detail about what needed to happen, which generally suggests more needed to happen … so I knew that the problem hadn’t yet been solved … because otherwise, we would have I guess said, ‘OK. Done, let’s move on.’ But we didn’t. We kept working at it and kept taking action for the years I was there.”

The 2015 high tide of suspicious currency spurred the creation of JIGIT, she said.

The individual ministers who would appear at the commission could answer detailed questions, she added, as she was not involved in day-to-day departmental operations for good reason:

“The system wouldn’t work … In my experience, a good CEO, a good premier, a good manager allows other people in the organization to do their jobs, trusts them to do them well, asks them to report back on key measures and then makes a judgment about whether they are doing their job well based on the results they have produced. It’s a question of setting the right clear goals, setting clear rules, setting a process for reporting back on that, and ensuring the monitoring is happening. And that’s the way I ran government.”

At one point during renegotiation of the RCMP policing contract in 2012, she said the province casually considered the creation of a provincial police force.

But Clark explained the support the Mounties enjoyed among municipalities they served and the ballpark estimate of the cost, at $300 million, put an end to the discussion.

“It would have been a hugely complicated task and at the time I was primarily interested in getting the work done on the streets to control crime. I didn’t want to disrupt the work of law enforcement on the streets to get that work done.”

  1. Former Solicitor-General Rich Coleman will appear before the money laundering inquiry on April 28.

    Ian Mulgrew: Politicians in crosshairs of B.C.'s money-laundering inquiry

  2. Money laundering inquiry commissioner Austin Cullen.

    Ian Mulgrew: Former senior Mountie grilled on dirty money at B.C. inquiry

  3. More money laundering coverage

She scoffed at the suggestion her administration might have been too concerned about the revenue generated by gaming to properly police casinos.

“We were a lot more interested in controlling costs and just trying to constrain the growth of government than we were in collecting more revenue,” Clark said.

“That’s philosophically who we were. That’s what we ran on in the election, we were pretty clear on it. We ran on two principles: We were profoundly concerned about public safety and reducing crime in B.C., and we weren’t a government always interested in getting more revenue. That’s not who we were. We tried to restrain the growth of government to ensure it was working for people. We weren’t pushing Crown corporations to be constantly producing more revenue as some previous governments had.”

Clark now is a senior adviser at Bennett Jones, offering clients “insights tied to her experience in infrastructure, Canada-Asia trade, natural resources, social licence and Indigenous relations.”

The inquiry will hear on Wednesday from Kevin Begg, former assistant deputy minister, policing and community safety branch; former director of police services.

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