David Eby slams 'colossal failure' of money-laundering law enforcement during Ottawa appearance

The lack of concrete action on money laundering makes Canada’s financial watchdog look like a “sheep’s mask on a wolf’s face,” B.C.’s attorney general told a federal parliamentary committee Tuesday.

B.C.'s attorney general presented recommendations for improvement to a federal finance committee

Attorney General David Eby travelled to Ottawa to speak to a federal committee about money laundering. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The lack of concrete action on money laundering makes Canada's financial watchdog look like a "sheep's mask on a wolf's face," B.C.'s attorney general told a federal parliamentary committee Tuesday.

David Eby made the comparison as he alleged the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre's (FINTRAC) focus on reporting suspicious transactions rather than enforcing the law leaves the public with the false impression that something is being done.

"I believe the current reporting system actually reduces the probability of action," Eby told the House of Commons finance committee.

The attorney general was in Ottawa to discuss B.C.'s experiences with money laundering as part of a public consultation on amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act.

Hockey bags full of cash

Eby slammed the "colossal failure" of the current regulatory scheme enforced by all levels of government, a failure that he believes is responsible for large amounts of money being laundered through B.C.'s casinos.

"The only real evidence of the problem is a guy lugging a hockey bag full of $20 bills into the casino," Eby told the committee.

A report into potential money laundering at Richmond's River Rock Casino prompted an investigation commissioned by the province. (CBC)

Last year, he appointed lawyer Peter German to lead an investigation into money laundering in this province after reading a report that claimed the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C., accepted $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015.

Those bills, police said, could be the proceeds of crime.

On Tuesday, Eby shared some of the interim recommendations from that investigation, saying that British Columbians have an "increasing lack of confidence" in government enforcement of laws against money laundering.

German has recommended that FINTRAC share information with police, and that police have more resources to pursue those leads. He's also suggested better monitoring of the horse-racing sector and tracking of luxury car purchases.

Real estate links

Eby told the committee that money laundering in B.C. isn't limited to casinos — there's also strong evidence that illicit funds are being used to purchase real estate, helping to drive up housing prices.

As German writes in his interim recommendations, "It has been said that, 'everything in B.C. comes back to real estate.'"

He's pushing for a new requirement that lawyers submit reports to FINTRAC on money held in trust accounts, explaining that the current lack of reporting makes it difficult for police to track illicit funds as they move through the real estate sector.

Eby told the committee Tuesday that his NDP government has already taken action on some major concerns he's raised, including forcing casinos to provide a "source of funds declaration" when receiving more than $10,000 in cash deposits or bearer bonds.

David says B.C. residents have an 'increasing lack of confidence' in government enforcement of laws against money laundering. (CBC)

B.C. is also planning a beneficial ownership database that would require public disclosure of the people behind numbered companies that own property.

"The bottom line for British Columbians is they want to know who owns the property and they want to know where the money's coming from," Eby said Tuesday.