Money laundering in B.C. estimated at $1B a year — but reports were not shared with province, AG says

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Documents that say money laundering in British Columbia now reaches into the billions of dollars are startling to the province’s attorney general, who says the figures have finally drawn the attention of the federal government.

David Eby said he’s shocked and frustrated because the higher estimates appear to have been known by the federal government and the RCMP, but weren’t provided to the B.C. government.

He said he recently spoke to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale about information gaps concerning cash being laundered in B.C. and he’ll be meeting next week with Minister of Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.

« I’ve been startled initially by the lack of response nationally to what appeared to me to be a very profound issue in B.C. that was of national concern, » said Eby.

Surveillance video shows bundles of $20 bills dumped at a B.C. casino in an example of apparent money laundering. (B.C. Ministry of Attorney General)

Last June, former Mountie Peter German estimated money laundering in B.C. amounted to more than $100 million in his government-commissioned Dirty Money report into activities at provincial casinos.

Eby said that number now appears low, especially after the release of an international report that pegs money laundering in B.C. at more than $1 billion annually, although a time period wasn’t mentioned in the report.

A second report by the RCMP estimates $1 billion worth of property transactions in Vancouver were tied to the proceeds of crime, the attorney general said.

The government had estimated that it was a $200 million-a-year operation, but the federal Ministry of Finance has provided estimates that pegs the problem at $1 billion annually, Eby said.

The provincial government only learned about the reports through media leaks or their public release and it wasn’t consulted about the reports, Eby said.

« The question I ask myself is, « Why am I reading about this in an international report instead of receiving the information government to government? »’ he said. « It’s those information gaps that organized crime thrives in and we need to do a better job between our governments. »

G7 report highlights billion-dollar problem

A report issued last July by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, a body of G7 member countries fighting money laundering, terrorist financing and threats to the international financial system, highlighted B.C. money laundering activities.

Eby said the report includes details about a clandestine banking operation laundering money in B.C. that was not fully known by the provincial government.

Surveillance footage of alleged money laundering. (Supplied)

« It is estimated that they laundered more than $1 billion (Canadian) per year through an underground banking network, involving legal and illegal casinos, money value transfer services and asset procurement, » stated the report.

« One portion of the money laundering network’s illegal activities was the use of drug money, illegal gambling money and money derived from extortion to supply cash to Chinese gamblers in Canada. »

The report stated the gamblers would call contacts who would make cash deliveries in casino parking lots and use the money to buy casino chips, cash them in and deposit the proceeds into a Canadian bank.

« Some of these funds were used for real estate purchases, » the report stated. « Surveillance identified links to 40 different organizations, including organized groups in Asia that dealt with cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. »

B.C. ‘still’ hasn’t seen report: Eby

Eby said the G7 task force report included information about money laundering in B.C. from the federal government, via the RCMP, that the province didn’t have.

He said the B.C. government also confirmed the RCMP compiled an intelligence report about proceeds of crime connections to luxury real estate property sales in Vancouver, but his ministry doesn’t have the report.

« We still don’t have a copy of it, » Eby said.

Blair could not be reached for comment but, in a statement, said the federal government takes the threat posed by money laundering and organized crime seriously and is collaborating with the B.C. government and German.

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

« We are taking action to combat this by enhancing the RCMP’s investigative and intelligence capabilities both in Canada and abroad, and our Financial Intelligence Unit further helps protect Canadians and our financial system, » said the statement.

German’s report to the provincial government last June concluded B.C.’s gaming industry was not prepared for the onslaught of illegal cash at the casinos and estimated more than $100 million was funnelled through the casinos.

He was appointed last fall to conduct a second review identifying the scale and scope of illegal activity in the real estate market and whether money laundering is linked to horse racing and the sale of luxury vehicles.

« We’re having some difficulty getting the information we need for Dr. German to make a true assessment of the extent of the problem facing B.C., » said Eby.

Peter German (left) a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP at the launch of his Dirty Money report in June 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

‘A lot of anecdotal evidence’

Maureen Maloney, a former B.C. deputy attorney general, was also appointed last fall to lead an expert panel on money laundering in real estate and report to the government in March.

« We do realize there is a lot of anecdotal evidence on the extent of money laundering in real estate, but we really don’t have a good handle on that, » said Maloney. « We’re looking at whether or not we can produce some good evidence of that. We’re looking at, do we have that data available in B.C., or indeed Canada. »

Confidential provincial government documents dated April 2017 and released through Freedom of Information requests show the government was tracking suspicious currency transactions at B.C. casinos, especially in $20 bills, for years. The high-point of these transactions was more than $176 million in 2014-2015.

In 2008, CBC journalists took $24,000 in cash to B.C. casinos to see just how easy money laundering would be. Turns out it wasn’t hard at all:

Investigation lauded in last week’s Peter German report on B.C. casinos 4:55

Documents dated August 2016 show the government’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch observed so-called « high roller » patrons at a Metro Vancouver casino for a year starting in January 2015 and concluded people connected to real estate were the top buy-in gamblers at $53.1 million.

A spokesman for B.C.’s gaming industry said reports from the gaming operators about cash transactions flagged concerns of money laundering.

Peter Goudron, B.C. Gaming Industry Association executive director, said casinos implemented measures to combat potential money laundering, including placing cash restrictions on players in 2015.

« This had the effect of reducing the value of suspicious transactions by more than 60 per cent over the next two years, » he said. « More recently, operators implemented Dr. Peter German’s interim recommendation requiring additional scrutiny of large cash buy-ins in January 2018 and this has further driven down the number of suspicious transactions. »

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This tank arsenal near Oshawa is a secret the military museum wants shared

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It is the coldest day of the year so far, and I am doing my best General Patton imitation as I stand on the commander’s chair of a tank, popping my head out of the turret as we patrol the frigid tundra of Oshawa.

Despite my best attempt at faking it as a “tough guy in the army,” it is clear I am a lot closer to Mash’s Radar O’Reilly than Rambo, as my hands feel frostbite setting in while I excitedly try to record a smartphone video on my ride in a Leopard 1A5 tank at the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum.

Star reporter Raju Mudhar rides along on a tank at the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum in Oshawa on Dec. 7. The museum has the largest collection of operational vehicles in North America.
Star reporter Raju Mudhar rides along on a tank at the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum in Oshawa on Dec. 7. The museum has the largest collection of operational vehicles in North America.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

I thought a childhood obsessed with G.I. Joe, countless hours playing shooter games on various video game consoles and an excellent knowledge of Hollywood action movies would prepare me for what would be a quick joy ride in an actual tank. I was dead wrong. It was way better than I could have imagined and an absolutely awesome thrill ride.

Jokingly described as “the best kept military secret in southwestern Ontario,” the Ontario Regiment RCAC Museum is also known colloquially as the “Tank Museum,” as it has the largest collection of operational historical military vehicles in North America, including two M4 Shermans, American M60s, the Soviet BMP1, German-built Leopard — which was designed by Porsche — and many more.

The museum hosts and organizes “Tank Weekends” and offers other experiences that let people take a spin in this behemoths.

Not far from the Oshawa Executive Airport, the museum has a small building with historical displays, replicas and information. It is when you walk out into the large warehouse space, called the Military Vehicle Conservation Centre, where it is really breathtaking as there are so many vehicles sandwiched in together, with so many tanks, armoured personnel carriers, vintage motorcycles and other vehicles.

“We have over 80 vehicles that are operational, and probably about 20 or 30 that are prime candidates to be restored,” says Matt Rutledge, operations manager, “We’ve got Canadian vehicles, British, Soviet, German and more.”

It’s not just tanks, as Rutledge points to a Chevrolet Radio van from the Second World War. “That was built in Oshawa by General Motors. Serial number 001, so it was the first one off the line of that particular vehicles type. This area really tells the story of World War II, which includes the local Oshawa General Motors story, but also of the British Commonwealth in general.”

Rutledge is one of two full-time employees at the museum, but there are more than 140 volunteers who help repair and maintain the vehicles. Although keeping them running is no easy task. The majority of the tanks work on diesel, and while most do not run in the winter, as salt and the elements cause more wear and tear — the museum is much more active in the spring and summer — they all have to be turned on and made sure they are functioning.

“Listen, it is fun to drive these things, although it’s not easy,” says Rich Bennett, who is in charge of maintenance of the vehicles at the museum. “But the real reason I do this is because you are literally working on a pieces of living history.”

In terms of finding parts, it is an accredited Canadian Armed Forces Museum, so they can get CAF parts from the service, but it’s not so simple for international vehicles.

“There lots of parts in Europe, because obviously lots of stuff was shipped during the war,” Bennett says. “But if we can’t find a part, we mill it or make it. We’ve got a whole machine shop in the back, with lathes, mills, presses and all that stuff, so we take a piece of metal and recreate it.”

Bennett is my chauffeur today, and leads me through the process of climbing up and getting into the Leopard. He says when it gets moving it will sort of feel like being on a boat, as I will sway side to side, and the tank’s treads mean I will feel just about every piece of terrain. Half my body pokes out the top of the tank, as I am standing on the commander’s chair for most of the ride, surveying the horizon as the tanks motors along.

Later on, Bennett takes me through the tank innards, explaining the positions of the crew, and while he jokes he’s over six feet tall, and this tank is one he finds roomy, it still feels cramped and claustrophobic. If you need another reminder of how useless a tank crew member I’d be, and how small the space is, while climbing in I almost sprained my ankle while getting caught on some wires. Then I had a back spasm while I was just sitting in the commander’s chair as Bennett explained how the crew would load ammunition.

Despite that, I was giddy during the entire ride and tank tour.

While tanks are definitely not known for their use in espionage, it is surprising just how under the radar this institution is. Rutledge says military-philes and fans are fully aware of it, as are tank enthusiasts who play the online game World of Tanks, as every year that game holds contests and tournaments with prizes including being able to have a ride and operate the main turret. As well, if there has been a TV show or movie shot in Ontario and Eastern Canada that needs a tank, it has come from this museum and is either shot here or loaded up and sent to the set. On the day we visit, scenes for a CBC web series called Mindfudge are set to be shot.

“People don’t know it’s here. It is really Durham region’s hidden gem. We’re working to get the promotion out there in the local media, but 70 per cent of our visitors are from outside the Toronto area,” explains Rutledge.

“For example, for one of the big weekends, we had people fly in from Croatia, Australia, Italy, South Africa. They are tank enthusiasts, so they look to travel to the meccas for these vehicles.”

It’s worth it just to go and check out the vehicles, but if you want a ride the museum hosts tank weekends throughout the year, with the next one taking place Feb. 9, where they offer $20 rides in the M548 “Battle Bus” and $50 rides in the M113 Tracked Armoured Personal Carrier.

The biggest weekend of the year is going to be held on June 8-9, called the Aquino Tank Weekend, which is considered Canada’s largest military show of the year. It is named for a battle in the Second World War where 13 Canadian tanks were lost, but none of their crews died. This weekend brings in thousands of people from all over the world, and there are several staged military battles.

There are also several tank packages that start at $350 per person, and customizable four-person VIP Tank Day packages that start at $1,000, where you may be allowed to even squeeze off a blank round.

Visit ontrmuseum.ca for more information.

Raju Mudhar is a Toronto-based reporter covering popular culture at the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @rajumudhar

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Ban All Shared Plates! And Other Strong Opinions from the ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Co-Creators

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Toddlers running around and screaming. Parents drunk on mimosas at 11 a.m. A shared plate with four crostini set down at a table of three. This is what hell looks like for Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, the award-winning writer-director-producers behind The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Gilmore Girls, and Bunheads. The pair eats out a lot, and they have plenty to say about what drives them insane—including small plates, molecular gastronomy, and the general lack of a decent salad. The two are about as fast-talking, quick witted, and animated as any one of their characters, trading punches (and punchlines) while the other holds. Here, in between bites of corned beef and turkey “Midge” sandwiches at the recent Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Carnegie Deli popup in New York, they kvetch about their most profound dining nightmares, and offer up one very simple suggestion to any chef who’ll listen.

Dan Palladino: I have not adjusted to the shared plate thing at all. It’s always awkward for me. Let’s say there’s four things on there and there’s three people—no one will take the fourth one because everyone’s too afraid to overstep the bounds. I never know what to eat, I’m always so nervous about sharing. I just always want my own thing.

Amy Sherman-Palladino: Your issue with that is because food was very competitive in your family. If you didn’t get to that thing that you liked quickly, it wasn’t going to be there and you were going to be stuck with the thing you didn’t like. Your brother and sister were hungry, and they would always come and take your food.

Dan: It was a little competitive. My mother wasn’t Italian, so she didn’t make an abundance of food. She made servings, so there were specific servings.

Amy: Yeah, I had friends like that. You’d go to their house and there’d be four people and there’d be four pork chops, and four perfect portions of peas.

When I make Thanksgiving dinner, I always make two turkeys in case I fuck up one. I believe in over-serving, in having an overabundance of food when people come over. Nobody should ever feel like they’re going to go home hungry or there’s not enough of the thing that they like.

By the way, shared plates are not my favorite thing either, because I’m an only child and I like my stuff. We try not to go to those restaurants.

Dan: It’s when other couples say, « Hey, let’s go to so-and-so, » and I don’t want to be a party pooper, so we do it. I’m very, very nervous. I try to make sure that the stuff ordered is what I will eat. That’s the other thing: Because I’m not a foodie, I’m very picky. I’m just always nervous about how to pick, when to pick, what to leave. It’s just nerve racking.

Amy: But we do tell people that we don’t do brunch. We hate brunch, we hate the concept of it.

Dan: It’s not a real meal.

Amy: It’s not a real meal! There’s either breakfast or lunch. It’s an excuse for people to get drunk at 11 o’clock in the morning, and assume that everyone’s going to be fine with their children screaming and running around a restaurant. That’s the only reason that brunch exists. So that is the one thing. When people are like, « Let’s do brunch. » We’re like, « We can’t, we don’t. We’ll have dinner with you, we’ll have drinks with you, we’ll have any legitimate meal that wasn’t made up, but we will not do brunch. »

Dan: Anthony Bourdain, I think, was the one who pointed out in his book [Kitchen Confidential], that it’s the “F You” meal—that’s the one that none of the chefs want to prepare, none of the waiters want to work at. It’s a room full of unhappy workers making food.

Amy: Just have a nice breakfast. Have some eggs and bacon.

Dan: Diners. We like diners. But any restaurant that tells you, “Order whatever you want, but it’s going to come out when we think it’s ready—”

Amy: I am paying for this. I should get the salad before the hamburger if I want the salad before the hamburger. We don’t do omakase or prix fixe. I don’t want them to tell me what I’m going to have. I don’t want one quail egg with a sprig in the middle of it. I don’t want anything that came out of a science lab. I don’t want things that smoke, or a strawberry that’s not really a strawberry. Just put a damn salad on the menu. It doesn’t need 15 different ingredients in it, it doesn’t need nuts and twigs and fruit, and flowers… just some nice lettuce, maybe a radish and a light dressing. Just have one damn salad on the menu that’s not terrifying. That’s it.

Dan: Yeah, because we often have to order them off the menu. Just put it on the menu.

Amy: Everybody likes a nice, small salad. And they feel like a schmuck asking for it. Oh, and I don’t understand the no bread thing, that you have to order bread or pay for a bread basket. Just give me the bread!

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