With confirmation that a whopping $7.4 billion in dirty money was laundered through British Columbia last year, calls for a public inquiry into the matter have grown even louder.
Twin reports by Maureen Maloney and Peter German, released Thursday, revealed that $5 billion of that money was funnelled through B.C.’s real estate market, driving already sky-high home prices up by at least five per cent.
Among the eyebrow-raising finding in the reports: 33,000 of those homes were bought by “students,” “homemakers,” and “unemployed” people.
Both reports were “fact-finding” in nature, neither naming names nor assigning blame.
Critics of the government’s approach like Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West say that’s not good enough.
“It’s blood money. This is dirty money that is coming from organized crime … So you have a situation where you have thousands of people in British Columbia who have died from fentanyl. You have billions of dollars being made off of the deaths of our own people,” said West.
“And then the salt in the wound is that money is taken and laundered through our housing market pricing so many of our own people priced out of their own communities,” he said.
West called for an inquiry modelled on Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission on corruption, which he said could be empowered to compel testimony and get answers the German and Maloney reports couldn’t.
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“Mr. German relied upon the voluntary co-operation of the people that he interviewed. I want to talk to the people who refused an interview with him. I want to know what they know,” West said.
“What we would achieve is not only political accountability but criminal accountability for the people who have been involved in this, the people who are the perpetrators of this and the people who have been complicit in this.
“Anything short of that and you’re not going to send the message.”
WATCH: B.C. attorney general shares shocking examples of money laundering
West was not alone Thursday in calling for an inquiry.
The NDP’s putative allies, the BC Green Party, pounced on the report to launch their own appeal.
Party leader Andrew Weaver said the reports revealed how the “loophole” of obscured beneficial ownership of real estate is being used to hide dirty money, along with lax financial regulation in many sectors.
“With each new finding and each new report, we learn more about how our province has been exploited by criminals and how the systems and people charged with protecting us have failed over and over again,” Weaver said.
“It is time to remove this investigation from any possible political influence, to get to the bottom of what happened, and to ensure that this assault never happens again.”
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Back in February, the City of Vancouver officially called on the province to call a public inquiry. An Ipsos poll commissioned by Global News also found overwhelming public support for the idea.
The NDP government has previously raised concerns about the cost of a public inquiry, and the possibility that one could compromise an existing criminal investigation.
On Thursday, Attorney General David Eby said the government was still considering its options.
“The decision on a public inquiry is before cabinet and I do expect that our government will have an answer for you shortly on that,” Eby said.
“Obviously, these are very serious and entrenched issues in our province and we’re hearing from a number of people that they would like the government to make a decision on this sooner than later.”
Finance Minister Carole James said the province would also take some time to review the 29 recommendations made in the Maloney report.
The B.C. government has already implemented a number of the recommendations, including implementing the Land Owner Transparency registry.
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