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Bob Mackin

The final report on the Cullen Commission on money laundering in B.C. has been delayed again.

Justice Austin Cullen asked for and received another extension. The report was due to be submitted the BC NDP cabinet on May 20, but the new deadline is June 3. A date for the public release is to be announced.

Justice Austin Cullen (left) and commission counsel Brock Martland (Mackin)

Several commission staff members, but not Cullen himself, have recently been ill with COVID-19. The commission refused to say how many had tested positive, but a majority of the team works from home. 

The public inquiry was announced by Premier John Horgan, Attorney General David Eby and Finance Minister Carole James in May 2019 with a deadline of May 2021.

The pandemic meant in-person hearings were moved online. The fall 2020 snap election also delayed testimony. In March 2021, the commission got an extension to Dec. 15, 2021. Late last November, Cullen got another extension to May 20, 2022.

Lawyers for participants gave their final statements last October.

The commission heard testimony from 198 witnesses over 138 days and received 1,063 exhibits totalling more than 70,000 pages.

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Bob Mackin The final report on the Cullen

Bob Mackin

Wave after deadly wave of COVID-19 has led to several pay increases for suppliers the NDP government hired on emergency, no-bid contracts.

Penny Ballem (left) and Premier John Horgan (BC Gov)

A list showing some of the Ministry of Health’s pandemic contracts $10,000-and-up includes 17 deals related to the ImmunizeBC program and one for sourcing personal protective equipment were originally worth a combined $13.25 million. Amendments to the contracts mean they are now worth a combined maximum $24.25 million. Most were signed in the first quarter of 2021.

One of those involves the public face of the ImmunizeBC program, B.C. vaccine czar Penny Ballem. 

NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix originally gave Ballem the $250-an-hour assignment in January 2021 for 10 months at a maximum $220,000 through her numbered company that does business as Pendru Consulting. The NDP has quietly boosted the maximum value of her contract by 245%.

By the end of last October, Ballem had already been paid $405,000 for organizing the vaccine distribution network and clinics, nearly double the original amount. The list shows that at the start of November, her contract was extended to the end of May 2022 and increased to a maximum $760,000.

In December, Dix rewarded Ballem with three more years as chair of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. For the year-ended last March 31, 2021, that post paid Ballem $55,309 in stipend, meeting fees and expense reimbursement. 

Members of Ballem’s team also got hefty increases. 

Mary Conibear and IPS Consulting were hired originally for $56,000 each, but their contracts were extended to respective maximums of $487,000 and $431,600. 4276159 Canada Inc. (aka Bristol Management) was also contracted for $56,000, but is now capped at $160,963. 

Lizette Parsons Bell and John McLaughlin

Lizette Parsons Bell and Associates Inc. and John Hedley McLaughlin were originally contracted for $140,000 each. Bell’s maximum is now $438,273 and McLaughlin’s $257,225. 

Conibear, Bell and McLaughlin were executives of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics organizer VANOC, where Ballem was a Vancouver city council-appointed member of the board of directors. 

Four companies were hired for vaccine distribution: McKesson Canada ($980,000), Imperial Distributors and Kohl and Frisch Ltd. ($260,000 each) and uniPharm Wholesale Drugs Ltd. ($120,000). B.C. Pharmacy Association has a $600,000 contract for its role in the booster dose program.

The original $150,000 contract for St. John Society (B.C. and Yukon) to provide emergency first aid at Lower Mainland vaccination clinics climbed to $460,000 and the $200,000 contract for B&M Tax and Accounting Services Ltd. became $550,000. 

The company that manages the Vancouver cruise ship terminal, Ceres Terminals Canada ULC, saw a $500,000 bump in its contract to $8.125 million. Its main job was staffing the province’s biggest clinic at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Pacific Destination Services Inc. was hired to operate clinics in West Vancouver and Sea-to-Sky for $1.1 million. But its contract was topped-up to $5.5 million. 

The Ministry of Health communications department did not respond to questions about the contracts and the total cost to-date of the coronavirus immunization program. Total payments to contractors are expected in the summertime release of the province’s public accounts sunshine list.

As of April 28, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said 11.6 million vaccine doses had been administered. A fourth round of vaccinations is ongoing for adults. Health Canada is considering whether to approve shots for children under five. 

The biggest pandemic-related increase listed in the report was to KPMG. Originally hired for $750,000 on May 7, 2020, the firm’s agreement is now worth $4.034 million for PPE sourcing for short-term needs and long-term stockpiling. 

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Bob Mackin Wave after deadly wave of COVID-19

Bob Mackin

A history of depression and a marriage breakdown, coinciding with the opening of a casino, led former Squamish Nation council co-chair Krisandra Lenore Jacobs to defraud the band of almost $1 million, according to her defence lawyer.

Former Squamish Nation councillor Krisandra Jacobs

Jacobs, 57, was convicted last November of fraud over $5,000 for cashing more than 400 cheques between April 2011 and May 2014 from the band’s emergency funds. Judge Lyndsay Smith heard the Crown wants Jacobs to pay back $856,695.23 and serve a four-year sentence in prison, while defence lawyer John Turner asked for a two-year sentence.

“Things were not going well for her and she began to gamble,” Turner told the court. “We know that the Squamish Nation has an interest in the [Chances] casino in Squamish and my recollection is that was inaugurated around 2010, just about the time she began getting involved in gambling. She said it was a distraction and excitement, and she began to gamble more and more and needed money.”

Turner said she also gambled in Burnaby’s Grand Villa Casino, but Smith paused his submissions because she said she did not recall a gambling addiction being evidence at trial. Jacobs did not testify at the trial. After a break, Turner said he would not use the submission on the gambling addiction to seek a lighter sentence, but instead to inform the court of Jacobs’s circumstances. 

Turner said Jacobs suffered the public shame of losing her department head job and seat on council and is now living on $500 to $600 a month. He said she is expressing “heartfelt” remorse. When Smith asked if Jacobs would address the court, Turner intervened and declined on her behalf.

Squamish Nation’s Chances Casino near the Squamish Chief (Casinos BC)

The court heard from a victim impact statement compiled by Squamish Nation council chair Dustin Rivers, aka Khelsilem, that said Jacobs’s crime divided the community and caused intergenerational harm. “This cycle of theft and distrust must be broken,” read the statement.

Bird said that Jacobs was in a position of trust as both an employee and an elected official and she used her business sophistication in a premeditated fashion. But, he conceded, there is “little chance of any restitution.”

“This money is money that came from leasehold land owned by the Squamish nation,” he said. “And it reflects one of the main goals not only of Canada, but First Nations communities throughout Canada, and that’s to make these communities self sufficient. They can stand on their own.”

At the end of the hearing, Smith spoke directly to Jacobs, telling her “it’s a long road, it’s not quite over.” She would need another 90 minutes of court time to deliver her sentencing judgment at a date to be determined after June 6. 

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Bob Mackin A history of depression and a

Bob Mackin

Only two of the seven members of the core team studying feasibility of a Vancouver 2030 Winter Olympics bid are indigenous. 

Last December, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton announced they were exploring an indigenous-led bid with leaders of the Four Host First Nations — Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Lil’wat — when they signed a memorandum of understanding at B.C. Place Stadium.

Chief Lara Mussell Savage and Tewanee Joseph

The Canadian Olympic Committee, which pledged support in February, provided the list of the seven people to a reporter late May 2. It includes former Squamish Nation councillor Tewanee Joseph, who was executive director of the Vancouver 2010 Four Host First Nations Society, and Skwah First Nation chief Lara Mussell Savage, who worked as an aboriginal and youth sport manager at the Vancouver 2010 organizing committee (VANOC). Skwah is part of the Sto:lo Nation in Chilliwack and is not one of the Four Host First Nations. 

At the top of the feasibility team list is COC president Tricia Smith. It also includes COC vice-president of international relations and public affairs Andrew Baker, former VANOC sport vice-president Tim Gayda, former VANOC Games operations director Mary Conibear, and Own the Podium communications consultant Chris Dornan. 

Dornan said the core team is only “a small operational group working within the greater team.”

He said the Four Host First Nations are providing direction and invited the seven people who are “working under leadership, collaboration, coordination and commitment with the Nations.”

“We are working as one team,” Dornan said.

A three-member IOC technical review team began a visit May 1 to Vancouver and Whistler as part of the ongoing quest to find a host for the 2030 Games. The group arrived from Salt Lake City where it met 2030 bid officials in the 2002 host city. 

The IOC has replaced costly bidding wars with a new process to encourage interested cities to negotiate behind closed doors through “continuous dialogue.” The 2030 host is expected to be chosen by May 2023 at the IOC session in Mumbai, India. 

The new process, however, is secretive. The IOC refused to name its delegation or provide an itinerary. It said “each interested party is free to communicate to national and regional media when it feels the time is right.” However, the COC and local governments have not been forthcoming. 

City of Vancouver’s manager of sport hosting, Michelle Collens, referred a reporter to Johann Chang in the city hall communications department, who then referred the reporter to the COC. The COC provided part of the same statement that was already supplied to the reporter three days earlier.  

On April 11, Stewart’s office said a draft 2030 Games concept would be provided to the two municipal and four band councils for consideration in June. 

However, on April 28, Conibear registered on behalf of the COC to lobby Premier John Horgan and his staff, five ministers, B.C. Lottery Corp. and B.C. Pavilion Corp. for staff resources to help create the conceptual plan. 

“Should a Games concept evolve into a successful bid, it could impact a host of government policies, including Indigenous relations, the environment, housing, economic development and others,” said Conibear’s registration.

Missing from the team is the man who hatched the idea for a 2030 bid two years ago: ex-Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong. 

“John is not involved in the project,” Dornan said.

John Furlong (left) and RCMP Olympic security head Bud Mercer in 2010 (

In March, APTN News reported that a Federal Court judge granted Furlong an order to seal documents related to a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case involving the RCMP. 

Six members of the Lake Babine Nation alleged that Furlong had abused them while he was a gym teacher at a Catholic day school in Burns Lake beginning in 1969. The RCMP closed the investigation without charges. The six accused the RCMP of racism and they also claim the RCMP was biased in favour of Furlong. The Mounties ran the nearly $1 billion task of securing the 2010 Games and senior officers met frequently with Furlong. 

Furlong made no mention of working in Burns Lake in his 2011 post-Games memoir, Patriot Hearts. He has always denied the abuse allegations.

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Bob Mackin Only two of the seven members

Bob Mackin

Scenes from Vancouver 2010 at B.C. Place Stadium (City of Vancouver Archives)

The mayors of Vancouver and Whistler and B.C.’s sport minister were not scheduled to meet with International Olympic Committee inspectors touring potential sites of the 2030 Winter Olympics.

A trio of IOC technical experts visited 2002 host city Salt Lake City last week and arrived May 1 in Vancouver. The IOC called the visit a “service” that is provided to assist potential hosts and their national Olympic committees. It is refusing to identify the trio and won’t comment on the itinerary. 

“The IOC does not publish the agenda or participant list of such services,” reads a prepared statement from IOC headquarters in Switzerland. “The IOC respects the confidentiality of each possible host as they work toward the development of the public and private dimensions of their project. Each interested party is free to communicate to national and regional media when it feels the time is right.”

None of the members of the IOC’s future host commission, which will ultimately recommend a 2030 host to the IOC executive board, is on the trip.  

“I do not have plans to meet with the IOC technical team this week,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton. “I am expecting municipal staff will meet with them. I do not have details of those meetings.”

“The Mayor is not scheduled to meet with the IOC during the technical visit. I am not aware of anyone at the city doing so either,” said Alvin Singh, Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s spokesman. 

Corinna Filion, communications director for Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, said “no one is meeting with them.”

Coun. Collen Hardwick (left) and Mayor Kennedy Stewart at the April 12 city council meeting (City of Vancouver)

Richmond city hall spokesman Clay Adams confirmed the IOC delegation will visit the Richmond Olympic Oval, but he said he did not know when. 

The IOC has replaced costly bidding wars with a new process to encourage interested cities to negotiate behind closed doors through “continuous dialogue.” The 2030 host is expected to be chosen no later than the May 2023 IOC session in Mumbai, India. 

The Vancouver 2030 idea was hatched by ex-Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong at a 2020 Greater Vancouver Board of Trade breakfast that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Games. He suggested most of the competition venues built for 2010 could be renovated and re-used, along with additional venues elsewhere in B.C.

Last December, Stewart, Crompton and leaders of the 2010 Games’ Four Host First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Lil’wat) signed a memorandum of understanding to explore a bid. In February, the COC announced its support of a feasibility study.

Vancouver Coun. Colleen Hardwick proposed a plebiscite on the bid for October’s civic election ballot, partly due to the ongoing mystery of the true costs of Vancouver 2010; the VANOC board minutes and financial records at the City Archives won’t be open to the public until the fall of 2025. 

No one else from city council seconded her motion at the April 12 meeting. A day earlier, Stewart had suggested there could be a “community vote or other engagements with residents” after a feasibility study is done in June.

IOC president Thomas Bach (left) and Xi Jinping in Beijing (PRC)

Beside Vancouver and Salt Lake City, there are two others exploring 2030: winter 1972 host Sapporo and a Spanish/French/Andorran bid led by 1992 summer host Barcelona.

Salt Lake City is the most-aggressive. It had a head start over Vancouver by more than a year and has national Olympic committee and state backing.

A month after Calgary voters rejected a 2026 bid in November 2018, the U.S. Olympic Committee chose Salt Lake City to bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games. Last spring, the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games said it had already raised US$1.5 million for a US$3.8 million bid budget. Utah has already estimated it would cost US$2.2 billion to operate the 2030 Games.

On April 29, Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reported bid committee CEO Fraser Bullock was ecstatic about the IOC visit: “This is exactly what we hoped to receive from the IOC: a partnership (and) great input.”

Bullock was the chief operating officer of Salt Lake 2002 and a member of the IOC coordination commission that oversaw Vancouver 2010.

“I’ve obviously got my fingers crossed for 2030 but whenever we’re asked to host them, we’ll be ready,” Bullock told the newspaper.

Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Games — the first in the U.S. since Atlanta 1996. NBC’s TV contract with the IOC is the biggest single source of revenue and the 2030 Winter Games are the last under its current 2021-2032 contract, worth US$7.65 billion. 

  • Meanwhile, the COC has registered to lobby the B.C. government. Mary Conibear of Calla Strategies is asking, on behalf of her client, for the provincial government to commit staff resources to collaborate on the Games conceptual plan.   

“Should a Games concept evolve into a successful bid, it could impact a host of government policies, including Indigenous relations, the environment, housing, economic development and others,” said Conibear’s April 28 registration.

Conibear was the managing director of Games operations for VANOC. Last year, she was hired on a no-bid Ministry of Health contract to help organize vaccine clinics under B.C. vaccine czar Penny Ballem, a former VANOC director. 

Conibear’s lobbying targets include the Office of the Premier; MLAs; B.C. Lottery Corp. and B.C. Pavilion Corp.; and the ministries of attorney general, environment, indigenous relations; jobs, economic recovery and innovation, and tourism.

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Bob Mackin [caption id="attachment_9522" align="alignright" width="682"] Scenes from

Bob Mackin

A 17-page internal communications report says staff at the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation spent 18 hours producing and promoting the Barge Chilling Beach sign last December, a month after Sentry Marine Towing’s barge washed ashore.

Vancouver Park Board’s Dec. 15, 2021 Tweet (Twitter/ParkBoard)

They briefly considered commercializing the Sunset Beach oddity, when they discovered someone had called it Barge Chilling Park on a Google map, a nod to Guelph Park’s sculpture-inspired Dude Chilling Park sign. 

“Maybe we need to do some swag?” wrote general manager Donnie Rosa, in a Dec. 13 email obtained under freedom of information. “Set up a hot chocolate stand or somehow leverage this good news to show we ARE fun!!!”

“Swag would be hilarious,” replied Jeannine Guerette, the acting senior manager of marketing and communications. “But it might take too long to produce, the joke might pass. Could we put in a temp sign calling either Barge Chilling Park, or Barge Chilling Beach? We could do a selfie contest with the sign (so long as it’s not too close to interfere with ops).”

Replied Rosa: “I love it…a selfie to do some PB promo…holiday card or something – love it.”

Other managers chimed in and Guerette already had an idea to announce it by Tweet, as a “holiday gift” to Vancouver.

So the sign was made, erected and announced on Dec. 15, a month after the storm that made the barge famous.

A question came in the next day, about the cost of the sign. But nobody knew exactly. 

“The material is called Alupanel and aside from the wood, the materials were scrap and extra pieces we had left over from other jobs,” wrote paint department sub-foreman Darren Peigan. “You could safely say a couple hundred [dollars].”

In her Dec. 23 report, Guerette said total communications staff time, including planning, consulting on production/installation, social media execution/monitoring, media relations, supporting spokespeople, and reporting, was approximately 18 hours. She wrote that staff raced against the news cycle.

The vandalized sign, before and after (Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation)

“To be relevant and on trend, the sign had to be produced and installed quickly. Timing was critical because at any moment, an issue could arise including a pending injunction ruling [on the eviction of a homeless campers CRAB Park],” said the report. “Staff also wanted it to be a surprise so the decision was made to tell only those who needed to know for operational/safety reasons.”

The barge sign generated 114 published media stories, including mention in the Guardian and New York Times. The social media analysis found 92.6% of comments were positive or neutral and only 7.4% negative. “Leslie Knoppe (sic) approves” said one Instagram comment, using the name of Amy Poehler’s middle manager character in Parks and Recreation, the TV mockumentary about a fictional Middle America park board.

Then came the Jan. 4 discovery of graffiti. The Halkomelem language word “I7iyel̓shn” (ee-ay-ul-shun, or good underfoot) was spray-painted in yellow on the sign. New Westminster artist Ronnie Dean Harris had photoshopped the word onto a photo of the sign in a Jan. 1 Instagram post, indicating the beach already had a Coast Salish name.

The graffiti was removed, but Rosa wondered if the sign should go. “With the social dialogue that’s happening, maybe it’s time to remove this temporary sign now – it was meant to be a holiday cheer. I don t want it to be divisive.”

To which Steve Jackson, the director of business services, responded: “To be fair – almost everything we do is divisive.”

City hall’s chief equity officer Aftab Erfan weighed-in. 

“I think what’s needed is a narrative of: humour aside, there are thoughtful, non-trivial, and collaborative process in place to re-name places throughout the city with the [First] Nations,” Erfan wrote.

“For now we will leave it – frankly the discourse is important and I’m ok that we sparked it,” said Rosa.

The graffiti reappeared almost two weeks later, but in black paint. The sign was removed Jan. 20. 

But not the barge, which awaits federal approval to be chopped into pieces for recycling. 

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Bob Mackin A 17-page internal communications report says

For the week of May 1, 2022:

The B.C. NDP government’s response to the Black Lives Matter/George Floyd protests of spring 2020 was an all-party committee to reform policing in British Columbia. 

The committee released its report on April 28th, with 11 recommendations. Topping the list, a proposal to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force and to merge existing municipal forces in neighbouring jurisdictions. 

Those ideas aren’t new — for the better part of two decades, Kash Heed has urged lawmakers to make these big changes for better, more-efficient policing and better accountability. 

Kash Heed is the former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police, former chief of the West Vancouver Police and former B.C. solicitor general. He is host Bob Mackin’s guest on this week’s edition of Podcast. 

Also, commentary and Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines. 

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to TuneIn or Apple Podcasts.

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Have you missed an edition of Podcast? Go to the archive.

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For the week of May 1, 2022:

Bob Mackin

A second person has been charged in connection to the killing of a key figure in B.C.’s casino money laundering scandal. 

Yuexi Lei, 37, was arrested March 10 and appeared in Richmond Provincial Court April 28 on two counts of accessory after the fact and one count of accessory after the fact to murder.

Silver International underground banker Jian Jun Zhu.

Last November, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced the first degree murder charge against Richard Charles Reed, 23, for the Sept. 18, 2020 fatal shooting of Jian Jun Zhu, 44. 

Both Lei and Reed are in custody and appeared separately by video before Richmond Provincial Court Judge Patrick Chen. Chen adjourned their cases to June 14 to determine whether to conduct a preliminary inquiry in Richmond Provincial Court or send the case to B.C. Supreme Court. 

The online court registry says Lei also goes by the alias Alex and is scheduled to appear in Richmond Provincial Court on May 4 on stolen property and firearms charges related to an October 2020 offence in Richmond. 

Reed is also charged with: aggravated assault; possessing a firearm with altered serial number; possessing a loaded, prohibited or restricted firearm; unlawful discharge of a firearm; and discharge a firearm with intent to wound/disfigure, 

IHIT Sgt. David Lee said after Reed was charged last Nov. 15 that there were additional people involved in the crime and the investigation was continuing. The B.C. Prosecution Service’s Dan McLaughlin said Reed and Lei are the only persons currently charged.

Paul King Jin (BCLC/Cullen Commission)

Zhu was shot at the Manzo Japanese Restaurant on Cambie and Capstan in Richmond and died the next day in hospital. A second victim, Paul King Jin, survived. 

Zhu was well-known to Richmond RCMP as the man behind the underground Richmond bank Silver International Ltd. that was accused of laundering $200 million annually. A criminal case against Zhu and director Caixuan Qin collapsed in November 2018 and the charges were stayed when federal prosecutors errantly exposed the name of an informant.

A source familiar with Jin, who was sitting next to Zhu at Manzo, said he was treated for facial cuts from bullet-shattered glass. 

Jin was banned from B.C. casinos in 2012 and the B.C. government alleged in a 2020 civil forfeiture lawsuit that he used proceeds of crime to buy a boxing and mixed martial arts gym at the south end of No. 5 Road. 

The World Champion Club gym, a kilometre south of the Richmond RCMP headquarters, became the North American training base for China’s national boxing team, hosted social events with local allies of the People’s Republic of China consulate, and even a 2019 news conference with then-NDP sport minister Lisa Beare.

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Bob Mackin A second person has been charged

Bob Mackin

Clouds of secrecy continue to swirl after last fall’s sudden retirement of New Westminster Fire and Rescue Chief Tim Armstrong.

The official story, as New Westminster city hall tells it, is that the 12-year department head notified city manager Lisa Spitale on Oct. 22 that he would retire Oct. 28. There was no public announcement, only carefully worded internal memos distributed by Spitale and Armstrong.

City hall’s freedom of information office is refusing to disclose all email between Spitale and Armstrong from mid-September to the start of November, and it has also refused to show Armstrong’s payroll data since last July.

A lawyer who is seeking to succeed retiring Mayor Jonathan Cote in October’s civic election said it is “concerning” that the city is being so secretive. 

New West Progressives’ mayoral candidate Ken Armstrong (who is not related to Tim Armstrong) called freedom of information a “critical part of good governance in a democracy.”

“Like any other New Westminster residents, we would be interested in learning more about what happened,” Ken Armstrong said.

“Access by journalists and by residents should not be impeded, as long as the request is within the scope of the legislation. So, yeah, [it’s] concerning.”

The only payment that city hall has disclosed is the July 20 reimbursement for $732.65 in gas and food costs from Armstrong’s deployment to the Deka Lake wildfire near 100 Mile House.

New Westminster city hall claims information about Armstrong’s paycheques and 27 email messages between Armstrong and Spitale are private. The law, however, states it is not a breach of privacy if the information is about a third party’s position, functions or remuneration as an employee of a public body. The city also claims that disclosure of one of the messages from Sept. 21 would harm the city financially or economically. 

City hall did not release censored versions of the actual email messages. Instead, it withheld them in their entirety and provided a chronological list of messages in the FOI response letter. Oct. 20 was the busiest day with five messages, including one with attachments. 

According to the law, citizens have a right of access to records held by a public body, subject to certain exceptions to disclosure, “but if that information can reasonably be severed from a record, an applicant has a right of access to the remainder of the record.”

A complaint to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has been filed, seeking urgent resolution prior to the Oct. 15 election. 

New Westminster chief administrative officer Lisa Spitale (New Westminster)

Armstrong departed just three days before one of the busiest nights of the year, Hallowe’en. His memo generally thanked staff and said it was “time for a change” after 40 years in the fire service and public safety. There was no explanation for the short, six-day gap between his notice and retirement. 

Interim fire chief Curtis Bremner was introduced at a Nov. 1 council budget workshop without fanfare and without mention of his predecessor. Bremner later retired and Erin Williams became the new acting chief. The job vacancy has yet to be posted, pending a review of the fire department’s organizational structure. 

For 2020, the most-recent year available, New Westminster paid Armstrong $194,802. He also billed taxpayers $3,827 in expenses. 

In early 2020, the Justice Institute of B.C. awarded Armstrong an honorary doctor of laws degree. Armstrong joined Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services at age 21 and rose the ranks over 28 years to become Deputy Chief. He became New Westminster’s fire chief in 2009 and also served as the Royal City’s director of emergency management. His also trained firefighters in the U.S. and Taiwan. 

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Bob Mackin Clouds of secrecy continue to swirl

Bob Mackin

The NDP cabinet-appointed board of BC Hydro did not assess the potential for fraud at the $16 billion Site C dam project until after B.C.’s auditor general began to investigate.

Site C dam under construction (BC Hydro)

The stunning revelation is from Auditor General Michael Pickup’s April 26-released report. He found the Crown utility’s overseers finally approved a fraud risk policy on Jan. 12, while the audit was underway. By then, $8.4 billion of the budget had already been spent. It is scheduled for completion in 2025.

“But because the assessment was an initial one, and the Site C team has not been conducting ongoing fraud risk assessments, there is a risk that some fraud threats were overlooked,” said Pickup’s report.

Site C is not the first mega-project by 1961-founded BC Hydro, but it is the largest in the province’s history. One of its engineering contractors is SNC-Lavalin, the troubled Quebec giant that pleaded guilty to fraud in Quebec in late 2019 and was banned from bidding on World Bank projects between 2013 and 2021 due to corruption. 

Earlier this year, BC Hydro finally identified a variety of potential fraud schemes common in large infrastructure projects, including payroll, overtime and expenses fraud and procurement and contracting fraud. The Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre, cited in Pickup’s report, said infrastructure projects are uniquely prone to corruption because the larger they are, the harder it is to compare costs and detect corruption, fraud and shoddy workmanship and materials.

BC Hydro’s chief financial officer, David Wong, is now in charge of fraud risk management. While staff are required to have code of conduct training, only staff in the internal audit services department had received fraud risk management training, the report said. Likewise, BC Hydro engineers and accountants would have received some training through their professional associations.

Michael Pickup, B.C.’s new auditor general (Nova Scotia)

During a teleconference with reporters, Pickup chose his words wisely. He declined to say he was surprised by the lack of policy, but said the report speaks for itself. 

“My expectations would be that on a project of this size, you’d have all of this up and running at the beginning of the project and well in place,” Pickup said, adding that a fraud risk assessment is not a “one and done” exercise. 

“You do them at the beginning of a project, and you do them as you go.”

Site C has been subject to two stalls during the life of Premier John Horgan’s government. After the 2017 election, the cabinet pondered whether to cancel construction. But Horgan announced the project would proceed with a $10.7 billion budget, $2.4 billion more than when it was announced in December 2014 by BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark. Horgan also announced a new $16 billion budget in February 2021 and blamed cost overruns on pandemic slowdowns and geotechnical challenges.

Pickup found that BC Hydro had some internal controls to defend against identified fraud, but there was no formal method to monitor and evaluate fraud on Site C. In the absence of a program, BC Hydro’s internal auditors examined procurement and contract management in 2017 and payment verification controls in fall 2021 and said they had no major findings. 

By comparison, government ministries and central agencies had done more. As of January, 82.5% of staff had completed fraud awareness and prevention training.

BC Hydro employees have three ways to report misconduct: to their manager, the ethics officer or through a confidential third-party reporting system. One complaint was registered in 2021 through the third-party system and five directly to managers over a five-year period — one in 2016 and two each in 2019 and 2020. Four of the five cases reported to managers were policy violations. 

“The 2016 case was deemed to be a theft of time, where an employee claimed, and received, compensation for work they didn’t perform, which is an example of fraud,” the report said.

Pickup said BC Hydro needs to do better because fraud is often discovered by employees and they need to safely report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal. Poorly managed investigations can cost more and harm reputations. 

BC Hydro accepted the five recommendations, to implement the policy, train staff and management, conduct regular assessments, implement a fraud investigation procedure, and provide regular evaluations to the board of directors. 

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Bob Mackin The NDP cabinet-appointed board of BC