British Columbia

Public inquiry into B.C. money laundering would be worth the cost, says Charbonneau commission member

One of the strengths of a commission of inquiry, Simon Tremblay said, is that it seeks to understand the scope of the problem as opposed to laying blame, resulting in a list of realistic reforms that governments can institute to remedy the problem.

Calls for inquiry growing after revelations that money laundering may be much worse than previously thought

Simon Tremblay, assistant chief deputy to the Charbonneau commission, pictured at a meeting of the inquiry in February 2013. (CBC News)

A member of the Charbonneau commission, which found widespread corruption in the awarding of government contracts in Quebec and in the province's construction industry, says a public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. would be well worth the cost.

Simon Tremblay served as the assistant chief deputy in the four-year inquiry headed by a Quebec superior court judge, which found that organized crime had infiltrated that province's construction industry.

"Yes, it costs money. Yes, it needs courage," Tremblay told Michelle Eliot, host of CBC's BC Today. "But once it's done, the society is just way better, as we have seen in Quebec."

Tremblay said the reforms instituted in Quebec in response to the Charbonneau commission's 60 recommendations constituted a "180-degree turn," and that municipalities and the province have more than recouped the cost of the inquiry in repayment deals and savings.

The Charbonneau commission heard from 291 witnesses over 261 days of testimony, generating 66,000 pages of transcripts. It cost $40-$44 million, Tremblay said.

Calls for inquiry grow louder

Calls for a public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. grew louder Monday as Vancouver city Coun. Christine Boyle and Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West hosted a press conference calling for a wide-ranging investigation into links between money laundering, real estate, drug trafficking and organized crime.

The calls follow a series of revelations suggesting the extent of money laundering in the province is much higher than previously thought.

One of the strengths of a commission of inquiry, Tremblay said, is that it seeks to understand the scope of the problem as opposed to laying blame.

"The commission of inquiry is not looking for civil or criminal liability of people," said Tremblay. "The main purpose is to understand what did happen, how it actually did happen and what should we do so it won't happen again."

The result, Tremblay said, is a list of realistic reforms that governments can institute to remedy the problem.

Societal costs

Christine Duhaime, a Vancouver-based financial crime lawyer, agreed with Tremblay, telling Eliot the costs to society from money laundering greatly outweigh the cost of an inquiry.

"Forty million dollars seems to me like a drop in the bucket compared to the cost we could save," said Duhaime.

But in order for an inquiry to be effective, she warned, it will need to have the power to compel testimony and evidence.

"[The power to compel] will make all the difference [between] an inquiry that is going to have some teeth and go somewhere versus one that is, you know, maybe a little bit light and fluffy," Duhaime said.

Listen to the full episode here:

With files from BC Today

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