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Bob Mackin 

Richmond city hall documents show that the man authorities believe is a central figure in laundering money through B.C. casinos ran a rub and tug parlour in the penthouse of a Richmond hotel.

Paul King Jin, according to a 2014 B.C. Lottery Corporation suspicious transaction report obtained by the Vancouver Sun, was idenfitied as “one of the main cash facilitators in the Lower Mainland for casino VIP patrons.” He had been banned for five years from B.C. casinos, but was linked to the Silver International currency exchange in Richmond that police raided in October 2015. 

Gambling table found in the Richmond rub and tug parlour operated by Paul Jin (City of Richmond)

In December 2011, after a litany of bylaw infractions, Richmond city council cancelled the business licence for the massage parlour that Jin operated, Watercube Vancouver Health Club Ltd., doing business as The Water Club, at the Radisson Hotel. Since 2009, there had been numerous complaints of operating after midnight, unregistered employees, smoking of cigarettes and marijuana, gambling and prostitution on site. RCMP also believed it to be a known hangout for gang associates.

Water Club took over in 2009 from Body Rub Studio that had been operating since 1996. The report said the adult oriented use licence for a body rub studio in Richmond is based on a $3,353 fee plus $116 for each body rub employee registered at the business.

Documents obtained by theBreaker include a police report from Sept. 29, 2010 when Constables Zentner and Lu attended at 2:02 a.m.

“Const. Zentner opened the door and observed two occupants, a male and female both found nude inside the room,” said the incident report. “The female was identified as an employee of Water Club but not licensed or registered as a body rub employee at Water Club and should not have been in a room with any client providing massage services.”

A Nov. 8, 2009 email from Const. Gabor Egri to city hall inspector Victor Duarte recounted Egri’s Nov. 7, 2009 investigation of a complaint of alleged prostitution. 

Egri wrote that he found a male and female in a room, engaged in a sex act. They were startled and the woman proceeded to quickly put on a short black skirt and top, grab something and wrap it in a towel. The male, a pilot for an airline, gave an audio statement to Egri. “One thing led to another” and they had intercourse, but the pilot claimed no money was exchanged between the two, according to Egri’s notes.

“Prior to members leaving, front desk staff requested (censored name) pay $100 cash plus ‘tip’ for the one hour massage,” said Egri’s report.”(Censored) initially wanted to pay with American Express but was refused. (Censored) paid $100 US in cash.” 

A Jan. 12, 2011 report to a licence review meeting said that city hall believed the evidence was clear, on a balance of probability, that Water Club and a related company Tin Tin Beauty Spa intended to conduct activity not permitted under any licence category and were trying to create an umbrella company to shield the Water Club from any potenital discipline. 

“In an agreement reached with the City of Richmond, Jin et al agreed to cancel the licence of Tin Tin Beauty Spa and the city agreed not to take further action against Water Club for the incident of Nov. 7, 2009,” the report said.

By early 2011, however, Jin’s name was not on the corporate registry for Watercube Vancouver Health Club Ltd. Instead, it listed the directors as Kong Qing Gao of Vancouver, Gui Zhen Hao of Qingdao, China, Gong Ping Jia of Richmond, Shi Guo Jia of Qingdao, China and Wei Qing Zhang of Guangzhou, China.

Prior to the 60-day suspension, Jin’s lawyer, Jason Tarnow, wrote Jan. 12, 2011 to city hall that the company employed 30-40 people and paid $20,000 monthly rent. 

“No sexual activity is allowed at the club. Employees are instructed to follow the requirements of the bylaw regarding their clothing. They are not allowed to be naked, as (censored) was. After finding out about this incident (censored) was immediately terminated. She was not allowed back in the premises by Mr. Jin. As to the late hours, Mr. Jin has faced lots of pressure from friends and clients to allow people in the premises late at night. It does not happen anymore.”

“The RCMP have been inside these premises at least 10 times since the last inspection as noted by Mr. Duarte. Mr. Jin is attempting to run a legitimate business. There are no new allegations. All employees are properly licensed. There is no smoking in the premises. Many no smoking signs are up. No sexual activity is allowed. Any employee caught doing same is terminated.”

More bylaw infractions followed. City council held a special meeting Dec. 19, 2011 and voted to revoke Water Club’s business licence. 

A July 2016 BC Liberal government-commissioned report by MNP, finally released by NDP Attorney General David Eby on Sept. 22, pinpointed money laundering at River Rock linked to underground banks and organized crime connected to China. On Sept. 28, Eby named former RCMP Asst. Comm. Peter German to investigate money laundering at Lower Mainland casinos. German wrote the legal textbook, Proceeds of Crime and Money Laundering, and is an international anti-corruption expert.

From water to land

Since the end of Water Club, Jin has made a splash in real estate. 

Court Services Online shows that Jin is a party in 21 civil court cases since 2013 — 16 as the plaintiff. A search of the land titles registry found he is associated with six properties, four of which carry a certificate of pending litigation, and the other two judgments. 

Jin sued Daqing Wang about a property on Vine Maple Drive near Crescent Park in Surrey that is now worth $5.751 million, Tian Yong Zhang over a $1.56 million property on 4th Avenue in Richmond, and Youting Shen over a $1.607 million property on Capella Drive in Richmond. 

The tables were turned on Nov. 24, 2016. Jin was named with 10 others and a numbered company as respondents in a B.C. Supreme Court foreclosure action filed by Accountable Mortgage Investment Corp. The subject property was a house at 2751 Highview Place in West Vancouver, which was assessed at $8.215 million last year. CIBC, which also issued a loan for the property, filed a separate action. The registered property owner, Jia Gui Gao, defaulted on the mortgage and was personally served by Accountable at the Venetian Hotel in Macau.

West Vancouver mansion with links to Jin. (Wendy Tian)

“The total amounts secured against the lands is approximately $28.8 million,” said Accountable’s petition.

The eighth place mortgage, expressed to secure $8 million, was held by Jin. The court filings said Jin and Gao had a falling out. 

“On or about Aug. 17, 2015 the respondent Paul King Jin filed a notice of civil claim against the respondent owner Mr. Gao seeking judgment in the amount of $2.3 million on account of money advanced by Mr. Jin to Mr. Gao for real estate development when in fact the money advanced was spent on ‘gambling and women’.”

The land was listed in December 2015 at $11.8 million, reduced to $10.8 million in May 2016 and $9.6 million in October 2016. Finally, in June 2017, the court approved an $8.7 million offer to purchase by an executive from a mobile phone retailer with no connection to any of the above cases. 

Besides Jin and Gao, the others named as respondents were: Wei Zhang, Ying Zhang, Ze Peng Tong, Mingsheng Huang, Zhi Bang Li, Wei Sze Fu, Yen Tat, Thomas Ha, Donna Ha, and 1003030 B.C. Ltd. 

Court documents say Jin left Canada for China on March 7 of this year and that his last-known address was a recently built, four-bedroom, five bathroom house at 8100 Fairbrook Crescent in Richmond’s Seafair neighbourhood. 

Bob Mackin  Richmond city hall documents show that

Bob Mackin 

British Columbia’s legal gambling monopoly claimed credit for alerting authorities to a suspected criminal, but it wasn’t getting the information that it wanted in order to shut out more shady gamblers from casinos. 

In a May 12 letter to the head of the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, CEO Jim Lightbody touted B.C. Lottery Corporation’s $3 million a year funding for the fledgling Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team, the onsite training and orientation provided by the BCLC anti-money laundering department and frequent communication between BCLC’s anti-money laundering director and JIGIT’s chief.  

“In regard to support of police efforts more generally, please be reminded that it was BCLC’s analysis of transactions and other operational gaming data that led to the identification of a key suspect associated to illegal gaming operations in the Lower Mainland,” Lightbody wrote in a letter to assistant deputy minister John Mazure that was obtained by theBreaker under freedom of information. “Further it was BCLC’s complaint to the police and briefing on BCLC’s analysis that provided the information that allowed the police to begin to target that suspect. Prior to BCLC’s action on that matter, the activities of a suspected major illegal gaming crime figure appear to have gone undetected.”

BCLC CEO Jim Lightbody (right)(BCLC)

The letter said 260 individuals had been banned from provincial “gaming sites” stemming from cooperation after a 2014 information-sharing agreement between BCLC and the RCMP. Lightbody wrote that “tens of millions of dollars in cash transactions have been refused under BCLC’s program and 131 customers have been placed on buy-in restrictions.”

Mazure had written to Lightbody on May 8, the day before the provincial election, but that letter was not provided to theBreaker. The Vancouver Sun reported Sept. 26 that Mazure’s letter stated suspicious transactions at B.C. casinos amounted to a whopping $177 million in 2014. By 2016, that had been cut to $72 million. “However, $72 million is still a significant amount of suspicious cash,” wrote Mazure. “Further action is still required to mitigate the risk presented by the proceeds of crime entering B.C. gaming facilities.” 

Lightbody’s letter indicated Mazure had several concerns, including casino customers presenting wads of $20 bills wrapped in elastic bands. Lightbody wrote that is a standard practice of “money services businesses” (an umbrella term for currency exchange, money transfer and cheque-cashing outlets) because $20 bills are the vast majority of currency circulated and “that is simply the most practical way for them to handle the money.”

He also highlighted bank drafts, but suggested that money laundering could be occurring before gamblers arrive at casinos with large sums of money. 

“Ultimately BCLC has no means and no authority to require banks to disclose how a bank’s customer conducts its business with the bank,” Lightbody wrote. “GPEB and the police, however, do have access to court processes including search warrants and production orders which allow you to compel the disclosure of financial information and conduct much more in-depth inquiries than BCLC is permitted to do. We understand that through this type of work GPEB has concluded that some bank drafts are suspect — as you have noted in your letter.”

CEO wanted names, didn’t get them

Lightbody’s letter said that “several weeks ago” GPEB had advised BCLC that as many as 10 casino customers were using proceeds of crime to buy bank drafts at Canadian banks. BCLC had asked for their names, so that they could be banned from B.C. casinos under the Gaming Control Act. 

“We have not yet received the names of the customers involved from GPEB,” Lightbody wrote. “I would welcome you doing anything you can to expedite BCLC being provided the names of customers in question so that we can get them out and keep them out of our gaming sites.”

Lightbody wrote another letter just over a month later, congratulating JIGIT after its June 13 announcement of nine people arrested for illegal gambling and money laundering with links to China. He also asked Asst. Comm. Kevin Hackett of the Coordinated Forces Special Enforcement Unit for information about the suspects’ names and their methodology, so they could be banned from casinos. 

Two months later, BCLC had still not received any of those names or related intelligence.

(Bank of Canada)

“It was deeply alarming to hear that top tier organized crime figures participating in or linked to crimes such as kidnapping and extortion were frequenting our facilities,” Lightbody wrote on June 15 to Hackett. 

BCLC corporate security vice-president Robert Kroeker wrote a similarly worded letter a day later to Len Meilleur, executive director of GPEB compliance. The letter was copied to Murray Dugger, the western regional manager of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre. 

In an Aug. 16 email to Kroeker, BCLC anti-money laundering director Ross Alderson wrote that he had not received any information about the identity of the nine suspects, nor had he received information on the suspects’ methodology used to commit crimes. 

Attorney General David Eby announced Sept. 22 that he would order a review of money-laundering at Lower Mainland casinos. Eby released a damning July 2016 report by MNP about money laundering at River Rock Casino Resort that had been kept hidden by the previous BC Liberal government. Eby’s predecessor was Mike de Jong, who is running a second time for BC Liberal leadership. 

The report said Richmond’s River Rock had been flooded with $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015. High rollers, mainly from China, were using underground banks to access large amounts of cash from suspected illicit activities. It also said high rollers were receiving shipments of cash to the casino or just off the property late at night. 

MNP’s report found that staff at Great Canadian Gaming’s River Rock fostered “a culture accepting of large bulk cash transactions,” but there was lax detection by both the casino and the few BCLC investigators assigned to work there. 

Authorities could have their hands full beginning Sept. 29 when the Parq Vancouver casino opens next to B.C. Place Stadium. The successor to Edgewater Casino is the flagship of Paragon Gaming’s $600 million development on B.C. Pavilion Corporation land. The opening comes on the eve of China’s National Day Golden Week, when visits by high rollers from the Middle Kingdom naturally increase to Vancouver. 

BCLC 17-044 Lightbody Letters by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  British Columbia’s legal gambling monopoly claimed

Bob Mackin

The fledgling B.C. NDP government under Premier John Horgan has failed its first major Freedom of Information test. 

On day one of the annual international Right to Know Week, to boot. 

The party that promised to be better than the BC Liberals sent theBreaker a $135 invoice on Sept. 25 after theBreaker asked to see the cost-benefit analysis behind the Sept. 6-announced cancellation of the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project.

The $135 invoice came exactly one month after Horgan and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena proudly announced the NDP would stop charging tolls for vehicle drivers on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. Like the BC Liberals before them, the NDP continues to stick-it to members of the public who only want to see public records that taxpayers have already paid to create.

Trevena said Sept. 6 that an independent review would help decide whether to build the proposed 10-lane bridge, a smaller bridge or a new tunnel. The two bid teams still standing in the BC Liberal-instituted procurement for the $3.5 billion, 10-lane bridge will receive up to $2 million in consolation money. Trevena wouldn’t name them, but theBreaker found out they were led by Montreal’s SNC-Lavalin and Madrid’s Grupo ACS (Kiewit’s team dropped out).

On the fee invoice, the NDP government claimed it needed to spend six hours to locate and retrieve the documents about the cancellation, but would charge $30 an hour for three hours, because the law says the first three hours are free. 

To prepare the records, it wanted to ding theBreaker another $45. 

Grand total $135. Fine print says it could cost more. theBreaker will not pay.

How could it take six hours to find a report created sometime since Horgan’s July 18 swearing-in? Did someone write it on the back of a napkin and let it fall out of his or her jeans at the beach or a lacrosse game during the summer?  

But seriously. The work to help Horgan and Trevena make the Massey decision was already performed by computer-literate people paid with your tax dollars and their report cannot be hard for Trevena, her aides and deputy transportation minister Grant Main to find. Whether you wanted the bridge or not, you have a right to see the results of evidence-based decision-making. 

The situation is eerily similar to one that unfolded four years ago, after Christy Clark announced the bridge project at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

I asked for the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project business case, including cost estimates, and any reports recommending or authorizing preliminary communications, environmental, engineering and site preparation.

The government responded Nov. 5, 2013 with an invoice for $126 to see just 60 pages. The BC Liberal finance ministry, under Mike de Jong, said it would take two hours to “produce” the records and another two hours to prepare and handle the records for disclosure. That’s $120. The other $6? That was supposedly to scan documents that were already printed from a computer (FOI redactions are done on-screen, not by hand anymore).

De Jong’s staff refused to waive the fee, until the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner intervened six months later. The documents were heavily censored and an adjudicator in early 2017 sided with the government and denied access, because they contained advice to cabinet. In our archaic parliamentary system that some call a democracy, cabinet automatically defaults to secrecy, leaving the curious to wait a statutory 15 years to access its minutes and reports. 

Information on decisions made by the people elected by the people should not be held hostage. For the 2005 International Right to Know Day, Open Society Justice Initiative released its 10 principles, which included: “Making requests should be simple, speedy, and free.”

“The cost should not be greater than the reproduction of documents,” it said.

Last Feb. 16, the opposition NDP tabled a suite of 13 democratic reform bills, one of which was the Public Records Accountability Act to improve the FOI law. The BC Liberals, of course, didn’t vote for it. The NDP ran on a platform of improving access to information and Horgan included that in his post-swearing-in marching orders to Citizens’ Services minister Jinny Sims. But the promise was omitted from the Sept. 11 throne speech. 

Trevena (left) and Horgan tout toll free B.C., but not free information in B.C. (BC Gov)

When Horgan attended Game 6 of the Mann Cup in New Westminster on Sept. 15, he told me during second intermission that an FOI reform bill wouldn’t happen before the new year. He said bills to reform campaign finance and lobbying would take considerable time this fall. 

At the Sept. 22 Info Summit, hosted by the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, lawyer Rob Botterell raised the alarm about the lack of rapid reform. “The silence is deafening,” said Botterell, who helped draft the original FOI law in 1992. Botterell urged everyone who is concerned to contact their MLA to pressure Horgan to live up to his transparency promises. 

Trevena — a former BBC and CBC reporter! — had been an advocate of transparency while she sat in the opposition benches. In her MLA report on Oct. 30, 2015, she highlighted her work in Question Period to hold the BC Liberals to account. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, acting on whistleblower Tim Duncan’s complaint, exposed the triple delete scandal centred in then-Transport Minister Todd Stone’s office. 

Trevena told her constituents this: “Access to information is fundamental to a healthy democracy, and is vital for journalists, researchers, academics and others to do their work. However the BC Liberals prefer to erase the record rather than open up their actions to scrutiny.”

But, fast forward to Sept. 25, 2017, on day one of Right to Know Week. There is proof that the NDP has more in common with the BC Liberals than either want to admit. 

They both like to use predatory fees to prevent the same journalist from exercising his right to know about the same major infrastructure project. 

  • The Right to Know belongs to everybody in British Columbia and every other province and territory. Filing FOI requests is for everyone, not just journalists. You’re invited to the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association’s free FOI 101 course on Sept. 29 in downtown Vancouver. Sign-up now. Click here for more information

Bob Mackin The fledgling B.C. NDP government

Bob Mackin 

A 2016 report to British Columbia’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch said gamblers from China used underground banks to bring large volumes of potentially dirty money to play at River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond.

The anti-money laundering report was commissioned by the previous BC Liberal government and dated July 26, 2016, but not released until Sept. 22 by the NDP government.  

MNP was hired in September 2015 after the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch compiled a document that identified $13.5 million in $20 bills were accepted at River Rock in July 2015. That is 675,000 $20 bills. Stacked end-to-end, that would be 102.87 kilometres, the “as the crow flies” distance between River Rock and Whistler, the ski resort town that inspired River Rock’s design. 

Information provided to MNP indicated that unsourced cash from unknown persons or persons believed to be connected to illicit activity “was dropped off at the casino or just off casino property for patrons at unusual times, generally late at night.”

“Law enforcement intelligence has indicated that this currency may be the direct proceeds of crime,” the report said. “The majority of this cash is being presented by persons commonly referred to as high roller Asian VIP clients. Single cash buy-ins in excess of $500,000 with no known source of funds have been accepted at [River Rock].” 

The report said that VIP players used underground banks to get around cash transfer restrictions. 

“Interviews have confirmed that players are indeed wealthy non-residents or business persons with interests both in Vancouver and China, coming to Vancouver to gamble. While the patron may be bona fide, the unsourced cash being accepted by the casino may be associated with criminal activity and poses significant regulatory, business and reputation risk.”

The report said that funding arrangements were confirmed through interviews by BCLC investigators with targeted patrons.

“The patron advises they are provided with a contact in Vancouver, either locally or prior to arriving in Vancouver. They contact the person via phone for cash delivery. The funds are later repaid through cash holdings in China. This transaction flow forms an underground or unregistered Hawala type operation using unsourced cash into the casino.” (Hawala is an Arabic term referring to international money transfer that is often used to launder money.) 

The report said that River Rock staff fostered “a culture accepting of large bulk cash transactions,” but said there is lax, disorganized detection. 

“BCLC’s current systems and technology do not allow analytics or system alerts for activity which is deemed to be suspicious or excessive,” the report said. “Staffing levels do not allow for deep dive investigations to be completed in a timely manner.”

River Rock accepted 675,000 $20 bills in July 2015 (Bank of Canada)

The report also said there is limited open source information available about Chinese nationals, which comprise the majority of the identified high risk demographic at River Rock. 

“As most of the VIP patrons are Asian and many are recent immigrants to Canada or Chinese nationals there is limited Canadian open source information on which to base risk assessment determinations.”

“Report should’ve been made public” in summer 2016: Eby

In a prepared statement, Attorney General David Eby, whose portfolio includes oversight of B.C.’s gambling industry, said he received briefings after he was appointed and was provided the report. 

“This report makes a series of serious recommendations for reform, which should have been made public at the time the report was complete,” Eby said. “I am making that report public today.”

Eby said he would soon announce an independent expert review of whether there is “unaddressed or inadequately addressed” money laundering in Lower Mainland casinos. 

Attorney General Eby (Mackin)

In spring 2016, under then-gambling minister Mike de Jong, GPEB and the Solicitor General launched the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team, a unit of the Coordinated Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. It was the long-awaited replacement for the Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team, disbanded in 2009 by then-gambling minister Rich Coleman. Coleman is now interim leader of the BC Liberals after Christy Clark quit in August. 

Last June, the organized crime fighting agency announced several arrests related to a major illegal gambling and money laundering investigation. Charges have not been announced. The government is trying to seize a mansion on Richmond farmland that was allegedly used as an illegal casino. 

For the report, MNP’s Gregory Draper and Hayley Howe interviewed 23 employees and management of both River Rock and BCLC and analyzed data for reportable cash transactions provided by BCLC for Sept. 1, 2013 to Aug. 31, 2015. 

MNP said there were 41,187 large cash transactions during the sample period, but only 1,194 suspicious cash transactions and 1,209 BCLC prohibition bans for potential money laundering. MNP found 385 of the large cash transaction reports were missing a mandatory field, such as the address or occupation. 

From interviews and observations at the casino, the report said, “it is determined that source of funds and/or source of wealth information is not gathered for high risk, high volume cash players.”

The report said a statistical error found significant over-reporting of non-cash transactions to FINTRAC, the federal Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre. MNP was unable to determine the actual number and amounts of large cash transactions. “Due to the complexity of the reporting issue, it is not possible to segregate and remove duplicate transactions.”

The report explained that BCLC has a top 100 players by volume list and a conditions list. The latter relates to “known associates of high risk players identified by law enforcement to be involved in the provision of large volumes of unsourced bulk cash to VIP patrons.”

Coleman (Mackin)

At the time of the review, 36 patrons on the conditions list also appeared on the top 100 list. 

MNP found high turnover in management at River Rock and that an organizational chart from Nov. 26, 2015 said the manager of player relations and director of surveillance did not have a direct reporting relationship to senior managment. A vice-president of compliance position reporting to the president and CEO also did not exist on the chart.

River Rock also employs VIP hosts that cater to high rollers. They report to the marketing manager.  They are responsible for managing client experience “which includes managing the amounts of complementary items and services given to players (commonly referred to as player comps), and providing custom gaming experiences with the intention of maximizing patron play.” 

It took until almost 5 p.m. for River Rock parent Great Canadian Gaming to comment on the report. In a statement published Canada Newswire, the Richmond-headquartered company said it “strictly adheres to all regulatory requirements and maintains the highest standards of reporting” at its properties. 

“We welcome the Minister’s review of the industry and our operations, and along with direction from GPEB and BCLC, we will adopt any further revisions to the regulatory structure should they direct BC casino operators to do so,” the statement said. 

River Rock hosted a BC Liberal fundraiser starring then-Premier Christy Clark and international trade minister Teresa Wat in November 2016, where the party netted more than $124,000.

Elections BC’s database shows $114,704.65 in donations to the Liberals from Great Canadian. The NDP tabled a bill Sept. 18 to ban corporate and union donations. The bill includes a system of per-vote subsidies and expense reimbursements for parties, coupled with a $1,200-a-year individual cap. 

The report was released a week before Paragon Gaming closes its Edgewater Casino at the Plaza of Nations and moves its licence across the street to Parq Vancouver, beside B.C. Place Stadium. The Sept. 29 opening comes on the eve of China’s National Day Golden Week, a time when visits from China to Vancouver naturally increase. 

theBreaker exclusively reported how Paragon convinced the BC Liberal government to allow supersized tables to skirt a City of Vancouver-imposed 600 slot machine and 75 table limit. 

Edgewater reported more than $5.2 million in $20 bill transactions between March and June 2014, according to CBC.

MNP Report by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  A 2016 report to British Columbia's

Bob Mackin 

When Parq Casino opens Sept. 29 beside B.C. Place Stadium, operator Paragon Gaming says it will play within Vancouver city hall’s limit of 600 slot machines and 75 gambling tables. 

Copper facade of Paragon’s Parq casino and hotel complex in Vancouver (Mackin)

But some of those tables will accommodate two or three times more gamblers than others, and they will be staffed by more than one dealer. All thanks to a quiet change under the previous BC Liberal government that enabled expansion by default.

B.C. Lottery Corporation already let Paragon redefine table shapes and sizes within its licence at the Sept. 29-closing Edgewater Casino, which has an 18-seat, Classic EZ Baccarat table and a 16-seat, Classic American Roulette table.

Six years ago, Paragon wanted more. Much more: 1,500 slots and 150 tables, to be exact. The Vision Vancouver-majority city council rejected the expansion unanimously, but allowed relocation of Paragon’s existing 600-slot, 75-table licence.

“Classic tables require one dealer supervisor and two dealers who work together to conduct a single game,” said BCLC spokesman Doug Cheng. “Edgewater Casino is in compliance with BCLC’s policies and the City of Vancouver’s restrictions on table games.”

Vancouver city hall spokesman Jag Sandhu said city staff are “reviewing this matter, to determine if the suggested ‘double-sized tables’ are permitted at the current and future casino.” 

“The review and approval of the development permit does not refer to the size and configuration of the individual tables,” Sandhu said in a prepared statement sent to theBreaker. “Further, the approval of the development permit is accompanied by a letter from [BCLC] acknowledging the request and approval for the number and table game mix. It also does not specifically address the size or number of participants at the gaming table.”

During a visit to Edgewater, theBreaker noticed most of the gambling tables accommodated between six and eight players. The supersized baccarat table, near the Li Room on the second floor of the former Expo 86 B.C. Pavilion, was populated with elderly gamblers.

Supersized baccarat table in Edgewater with two dealers.

Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation sets limits with greater precision. Documents for bidders to take over the Casino Thousand Islands in Kingston show that facility was capped at 600 slot machines and “300 table positions (approximately 50 live table games),” or six players per table. Washington State Gambling Commission’s limit is “nine players or areas for wagering” at any table in house-banked card games. Quebec states that the number of players at a blackjack table corresponds to the number of betting boxes on the layout; however, the cards are only dealt to a maximum of seven, seated players.

What happens in Vegas?

“The number of players on a table is dictated by the number of positions on the table layout,” said Nevada Gaming Control Board agent John Kariam  “On blackjack, there are generally seven positions. However, some casinos may have layouts that allow only five players. On craps, there are generally 16 positions where a player may bet from.”

theBreaker wanted to interview Scott Menke, CEO of Las Vegas-headquartered Paragon, but was told that he is too busy preparing for the Sept. 29 transition from Edgewater to Parq. A representative for the company, who refused to be identified in print, said “both Parq Vancouver and Edgewater Casino work with BCLC as a service provider to ensure all their policies are being followed and continue to be compliant with all regulatory requirements.”

NDP Attorney General David Eby, who is responsible for B.C.’s gambling industry, told theBreaker that the terms of the licence set the number of tables, not the number of seats. 

“It’s an interesting issue that has been raised here, I’m going to follow-up with staff,” Eby said. 

Chuck Keeling, vice-president of Paragon competitor Great Canadian Gaming, declined to comment.

Ad outside Edgewater (Mackin)

The subtle expansion is not the only ace that governments under Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark dealt the operator of downtown Vancouver’s only casino.

Parq-ing underground

BCLC pumped $32.5 million in subsidies into the B.C. Place casino’s parkade. The funds came from a facilities development commission scheme created under the NDP in 1997 and amended in 2006 under the BC Liberals to stimulate casino renovation and expansion. Campbell led the BC Liberals to power in 2001 on a platform that included a broken promise to not expand gambling. 

In 2012, BCLC CEO Michael Graydon asked for the BC Liberal government’s approval to temporarily increase the additional accelerated development commission from 3% to 5% and accelerated facility development commission from 2% to 4% through March 31, 2017. BCLC normally pays a 25% commission on slot machine “net win” (another way of saying the money lost by gamblers) and 40% on table game net win.

In Graydon’s Sept. 12, 2012 letter to GPEB Assistant Deputy Minister Douglas Scott, he said the $73.4 million, 1,200-stall parkade beside B.C. Place needed BCLC help. City hall required it be built underground, which “has significantly increased the project construction costs impacting the economics of the project when compared to similar facilities developed in suburban areas.” 

Graydon’s April 11, 2013 letter to BC Liberal gambling minister Rich Coleman said Edgewater forecast a negative impact of $4.6 million each year through the end of March 2015, while the new location was under construction.

The BC Liberal goverment rubber-stamped the commission increase before the 2013 provincial election, allowing Paragon to keep $13 million more of its winnings to pay for the parkade, which began construction in 2014. The move was not announced publicly by the government. 

Coleman (Mackin)

“BCLC did not pay Parq commissions for the underground parkade until it was satisfied certain conditions were met,” Cheng said. “Payments began in December 2015. Up to March 31, 2017, BCLC had approved $41.9 million in parkade expenditures as eligible for commissions. Up to March 31, 2017, Parq earned $32.5 million in facility development commissions for parkade expenditures. BCLC is still determining the final amount of the parkade cost that is eligible for facility development commissions.”

In another pre-election move in 2013, the BC Liberals cut Paragon’s $6 million-a-year lease in half to $3 million, after city council’s 2011 restriction changed the casino’s business plan.

Graydon quit BCLC in late January 2014 to become president of PV Hospitality, the Paragon company building the casino. A Finance Ministry internal investigation later found Graydon in conflict of interest for negotiating his switch to the BCLC casino partner while still head of the Crown corporation.

In December 2013, Graydon spearheaded the increase in table betting limits at B.C. casinos, including Paragon’s, from $90,000 to $100,000. That came, coincidentally, after Paragon co-founders Menke and Diana Bennett each donated $5,078 to the BC Liberals in November 2013.

After the conflict of interest rulling, Graydon was forced to repay $55,000 of his salary, but kept $30,000 in vacation pay. In January 2016, Graydon departed from PV Hospitality. Neither PV nor Graydon revealed why. 

The company had said in 2011 that the project, which includes two Marriott hotels, would cost $450 million. Paragon says it is now worth $600 million. Parq was supposed to open in early 2017, but will finally open in time for China’s National Day Golden Week, when an influx of visitors is expected. 

A-G Eby (Mackin)

The BC Liberal government picked Paragon in late June 2009 to develop the property. A director of Paragon’s Canadian subsidiary, then-ICBC chair Richard Turner, donated $50,000 to the BC Liberals through his TitanStar Holdings company the month before the decision. Turner joined the board of the Paragon subsidiary that bought Edgewater out of bankruptcy in mid-2006, six months after he quit as BCLC chair. 

Eby said he became concerned during his time in opposition about the preferential treatment given Paragon and the revolving door between BCLC and Paragon. Since becoming Attorney General two months ago, he has ordered BCLC to reform the facility development commission system.

“One of the things I made clear to staff on taking on this role is that we’re going to make sure that gaming in B.C. is responsibly done, is fairly administered, and is beyond reproach,” Eby said. “That is the message that I’ve sent out to staff here. A lot of that was informed by watching this file evolve with Paragon.”

Bob Mackin  When Parq Casino opens Sept. 29

Bob Mackin

Dianne Watts will throw her hat in the BC Liberal leadership ring on Sunday at 1 p.m. 

Watts

theBreaker has obtained a copy of an invitation to join Watts for “a special event and announcement” at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel. 

Watts is the former Surrey mayor who won the South Surrey-White Rock seat for the Harper Conservatives almost two years ago. 

She was named to new leader Andrew Scheer’s shadow cabinet on Aug. 30, as critic for employment, workforce development and labour.

Others who may join the three-term Surrey mayor in the race include: Andrew Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan, Mike de Jong, Mike Bernier, Todd Stone and Michael Lee.

More to come… 

Bob Mackin Dianne Watts will throw her hat

Bob Mackin

The Insurance Corporation of B.C. has deals to share your personal information with almost 250 government and police agencies, parking, tolling and towing companies, law firms, and bailiffs. 

Sample B.C. driver’s licence (ICBC)

But the Crown auto insurer and driver licensing agency is not doing enough to keep control of third party access to its databases, according to a Sept. 13 compliance audit by B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner

The report said that ICBC “does not conduct compliance monitoring with those who have direct access to ICBC databases.” Nor does it track third party data breaches or require the majority of third parties to report breaches involving ICBC-collected personal information. 

“Only 31% of [information sharing agreements] reviewed required third parties to report breaches to ICBC,” the report said. 

“One of the big issues in terms of government having more and more information about all of us is who has access to it and that it should only be for people to the extent that they need that information for doing thier job or as authorized,” said Vince Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. 

Data collected and stored by ICBC about 3.4 million licensed drivers and the owners and operators of 3.5 million registered vehicles includes: contact details, personal information and photographs, driver licence information, financial and business information, vehicle idenifiers and insurance coverage.

The report, quoting an unnamed ICBC staff member, said that ICBC “has one of the most complete data sets in B.C.” but doesn’t know what to do with all of it.

“We are a Crown corporation and we perform many functions – like driver licensing – that in most provinces are performed by core government, so we have some obligation to provision data to other branches of government but it’s really not clear what that obligation is, how far it goes, and how much of our resources to put into data sharing when it’s not a core function of our business. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue for us.”

Acting Commissioner Drew McArthur launched the audit in February after former New Westminster claims centre adjuster Candy Elaine Rheaume was charged with fraudulent and unauthorized access of the ICBC database.

Rheaume was accused of querying licence plates of people connected to the Justice Institute and accessing personal information that was eventually used by Vincent Eric Gia-Hwa Cheung in a 2011-2012 firebombing spree. In July 2016, Cheung was jailed 13 and a half years.

More than 70% of the 247 ICBC information sharing agreeements are with municipal governments, police agencies and provincial ministries. ICBC also shares personal information with police and other organizations without an ISA. OIPC auditors sampled 94 of the agreements between ICBC and third parties, and found the most-common use of personal information was for law enforcement (51%), followed by debt collection (46%).

ICBC’s dirty secret

The report does not specifically mention it, but ICBC maintains a hotline for law enforcement agencies to call for information about drivers and their vehicles.

The so-called Secure Police Line is permitted by a section of the FOI law for routine police investigations and urgent circumstances. A Surrey Claims Contact Centre phone number, changed every six months, is available for officers to call-in, provide their badge number and gain access to a trove of personal information about drivers. The report said that information sharing agreements generally restrict foreign storage and information disclosure, but not for the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators and Canadian Police Information Centre, which have legal authority to disclose information in foreign jurisdictions.

“The law enforcement provisions of the law are actually very broad, that’s one of the problems,” Gogolek said. “We want that for [investigating] vehicle thefts and amber alerts, so it’s a question of where do you draw the line? The line has been drawn pretty far over in terms of law enforcement getting access to what they want.”

theBreaker obtained 582 pages of police line call logs from January 2015 to June 2015 under the freedom of information laws. The police line’s existence was confirmed by citizen Daryl Cook when he cross-examined a Burnaby Mountie during a 2006 speeding ticket dispute. Cook’s interest was piqued when a police officer called him on his unlisted phone number. 

Personalized licence plate

Canadian law enforcement officers have been caught accessing databases for nefarious reasons. One of the biggest cases resulted in the 2012 jailing of Baljinder Singh Kandola for 15 years for his part in a cocaine smuggling operation. The Canada Border Services Agency officer illegally accessed a database and shared information with cocaine smugglers who had paid $16,000 in bribes for him to let them cross the border from the U.S. into Canada, without inspection. 

According to B.C. Supreme Court documents: “On July 24, 2006, Kandola, using his access code, made an unauthorized access of one of the CBSA’s databases and discovered that [co-accused Shminder] Johal was suspected of importing cocaine in the cars and car parts that he, or his companies, regularly imported into Canada. On seeing this, Kandola immediately advised Johal of this suspicion by the authorities.”

Bob Mackin The Insurance Corporation of B.C.

Bob Mackin 

Political parties in British Columbia already benefit from indirect subsidies, thanks to a 1979-established tax credit system for donors. It costs the public treasury about $4 million a year.

But if the Sept. 18-tabled Election Amendment Act is passed as-is by the Green-supported NDP government, political parties will get half their expenses reimbursed, a transition allowance until at least 2022 and a per-vote subsidy. 

The measures that the NDP says will compensate for the ban on corporate and union donations, and the $1,200-per-year cap on individual giving, could cost taxpayers $27.5  million over the next four years. 

Political parties are poised to reap a windfall of public money, so why not put them under the Freedom of Information law, so that the public can see how every dollar is spent and who is profiting? 

“The parties have received public subsidies for a long time and should have been subject to FOI ever since they started receiving them,” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher told theBreaker. “Not only should they be covered by FOI, they should also be required to disclose detailed financial statements that are audited by the Auditor General or Elections BC.

“By detailed, I mean they wouldn’t just be able to put ‘Outreach’ as a line item, but would have to break that down into specific detailed activities and the amounts spent on each activity.”

Elections BC publishes the names of anyone who has donated $250 or more since 2005 and the NDP’s “ban big money” bill includes new requirements for reporting details of fundraising events seven days before and 60 days after. But Bill 3 does not mandate transparency. Annual reports to Elections BC contain hundreds of pages of names, dates and amounts of donations, but show nothing about who gets paid what. There could be massive corruption happening inside political parties and few would know.

During the 2015 deliberations of a joint BC Liberal/NDP committee to update B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), the Nova Scotia-based Centre for Law and Democracy said the law should apply generally to private bodies that receive public funding: “Although the FIPPA applies to most public authorities, its provisions do not apply to members or officers of the Legislative Assembly. FIPPA also does not cover private bodies that receive public funding, which should be subject to the law to the extent of that funding.”

The May 2016 report of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act stated that Commissioner Elizabeth Denham supported the Centre for Law and Democracy’s recommendation to extend FIPPA to “cover any entity that is performing a public function.”

Political parties in democracies should be bottom-up, not top-down, organizations that openly draft, debate and decide policy. Campaign strategies are a different matter and parties guard those with good reason. There are enough exceptions in the FOI law that would still protect sensitive information, such as intellectual property, from being disclosed to the curious. 

Ultimately, the committee recommended the narrower path of extending FIPPA to “any board, committee, commissioner, panel, agency or corporation that is created or owned by a public body and all the members or officers of which are appointed or chosen by or under the authority of that public body.”

During the spring election, the NDP promised improvements to the FOI law, but they weren’t in the throne speech and won’t be introduced before 2018. 

While Canadian political parties are not subject to freedom of information, political parties in Mexico are. Canada’s other NAFTA partner has long struggled with corruption and has enacted a variety of reforms to level the playing field.  

Still, Canada’s federal Access to Information law offers a potential model in the form of a Crown corporation whose intellectual property is protected. 

In 2007, the federal Conservative government put CBC/Radio-Canada under the federal public records law, but included a specific exemption for the national public broadcaster for “any information… that relates to [CBC] journalistic, creative or programming activities, other than information that relates to its general administration.” 

BC Liberals said how much they spent, but not who got paid (Elections BC)

As such, the CBC website includes a trove of documents released to ATIP requesters in categories such as administration, audits, contracts, expenses, external legal fees, policies and retreats. But nothing that would compromise the news-gathering at the Mother Corp. 

If the nation’s biggest media outlet, which competes for advertising revenue with private companies, can operate under a sunshine law that protects its intellectual property, then why not a political party in B.C., like the NDP or BC Liberals, that stands to gain millions in subsidies under a new campaign financing regimen? 

But why stop there? 

Caucus communication offices at the Legislature are exempt from B.C.’s FOI law. Those offices tend to be filled with political appointees who use taxpayers’ money to craft messages to promote their party (and denigrate others) between elections. The results of their work are exhibited on social media, for instance. 

In 2013, the leaked BC Liberal multicultural outreach strategy playbook, also known as Quick Wins, showed how the ruling party blurred the lines between governing and campaigning. BC Liberal aide Brian Bonney was charged with breach of trust. 

Before this year’s election, BC Liberal leadership hopeful Andrew Wilkinson spent $59,000 of his $120,000 constituency office budget on radio advertising that extended far beyond his posh Vancouver-Quilchena riding. We know that not because of FOI — MLAs’ riding offices are exempt — but because the Legislative management committee decided in 2015 to release quarterly expense reports. 

Wilkinson was also the minister in charge of Government Communications and Public Engagement, which spent $20.5 million of taxpayers’ funds on pre-election advertising. The 2015-launched Our Opportunity Is Here ad campaign sparked a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit aimed at forcing the BC Liberal Party to repay the treasury. The plaintiffs, who seek class action status, claim the ads were strategically designed to benefit the party’s re-election campaign, without any cost to the party. 

Bob Mackin  Political parties in British Columbia already

Bob Mackin 

B.C.’s NDP government finally tabled its promised campaign finance reform bill Sept. 18, two months after it was sworn-in.

B.C. NDP’s last big money fundraiser?

During the spring election, Premier John Horgan vowed it would be the “first order of business.” In August, he said it would be the first bill after the throne speech. It turned out to be Bill 3, after the throne speech and the budget. But it won’t be law by Friday, when Horgan hosts a $525-per-person fundraiser at the Hotel Vancouver to pay-off the NDP campaign debt. A source close to the party told theBreaker that it was as high as $1.8 million in early August. 

The Election Amendment Act bans corporate and union donations, and restricts donations to $1,200 a year by individual B.C. residents who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Parties will be eligible to a partial subsidy; taxpayers were already indirectly subsidizing parties through tax credits that cost the public treasury about $4 million a year.

But Democracy Watch’s co-founder says the $1,200 cap remains an excessive amount and businesses and unions will find ways around it. The NDP bill won’t ban big money, said Duff Conacher. It will only hide it.

“The $1,200 donation limit is much higher than an average voter can afford in B.C., and therefore it’s undemocratic, it will allow wealthy people to continue using money as an undemocratifc and unethical means of influence, and it will also facilitate funneling, as you’ve seen in Quebec, federally and in Toronto,” Conacher said. 

Conacher said B.C. should have followed Quebec, which set $100 per individual in 2013 as the annual limit after businesses exploited loopholes in that province’s corporate and union donation ban. Provincial auditors found workers at 532 law and accounting firms, construction companies and engineering-consulting businesses donated $12.8 million to major parties between 2006 and 2011. Nearly 83% of the donations were $1,000 or more. 

Clark’s last pre-election fundraiser.

“Even if it’s illegal, which it is already, to funnel a donation through someone else in B.C., you won’t stop it because you go to the business or the union and say ‘did you give this money to your executive, on the condition they pass it on to a party?’ and they’ll say ‘no’,” Conacher said. “It’s so easy to give a Christmas bonus and have that be actually on condition to passing it on to a party. How do you prove that?” 

The Charbonneau Commission on corruption in Quebec’s construction industry heard testimony in 2013 from SNC-Lavalin senior vice-president Yves Cadotte, who admitted “we organized ourselves to have our employees contribute to political parties.” 

That amounted to $1.05 million to provincial parties from 1998 to 2010 and $118,000 federally from 2004 to 2011. Elections Canada found SNC-Lavalin reimbursed employee donations to the Liberals and Conservatives “in the form of false refunds for personal expenses or payment of fictitious bonuses or other benefits.”

Overall, positive

The NDP reported that it raised $9.125 million for the 2017 election, including $3.07 million from unions and $1.4 million from corporations. Its largest donor was the United Steelworkers at a whopping $757,614.87.

The Liberals said they spent $13.7 million, of which $4.2 million was raised from corporations. The party grossed $2.9 million at cash for access fundraising events, but deposited $1.8 million after costs. The Green Party won the balance of power in the election and spent only $905,000. While it claimed a self-imposed ban on corporate and union donations, corporate money still found its way into party coffers. For instance, Elizabeth Beedie, wife and mother of real estate tycoons Keith and Ryan Beedie, donated $20,000 to Andrew Weaver’s party. 

Political fundraising in B.C. reached a peak — or a low, depending on your perspective — in February 2016. The BC Liberals reported banking $1.65 million in donations on Feb. 26, 2016. Some $1.1 million came from eight, mostly real estate industry donors involved in a private fundraising dinner on Feb. 23, 2016 that theBreaker revealed. The fundraising hurricane included $400,000 to the party from real estate tycoons Peter and Bruno Wall, three days before they sold Chinatown land to B.C. Housing for $6.7 million. The housing minister at the time? BC Liberal campaign co-chair and deputy premier Rich Coleman. 

Five cabinet ministers for $1,000 in 2016.

IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis, author of May I Take Your Order Please?, the definitive e-book on campaign financing in B.C., said his overall impression of the bill was “positive.” 

He said the government backed-off on making the ban retroactive; donations made since the election are allowed to pay-off a party’s campaign debt, not pay for the next election campaign. It also doesn’t apply to the BC Liberal leadership contest that will climax in February. 

Travis said he was happy to see a 25% cut in the spending cap, intrigued with the reimbursement up to 50% on eligible expenses, but “baffled why any political party needs a transitionary allowance.” 

Until 2022, at least, parties will get a per-voter subsidy to help wean them off corporate and union fundraisers. Subsidies aren’t entirely new. Donations of $1,500 are eligible for the maximum $500 income tax credit.

“Liberals and NDP, if they look at what parties have spent in other provinces on party operations, they don’t need a transitionary allowance — they need a new belt,” Travis said. While the BC Liberals spent $7.25 million in 2014, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives spent $3.5 million. (After winning the 2015 election, the Alberta NDP banned corporate and union donations.)

Fundraisers involving major party leaders, cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries must be reported to Elections BC at least a week in advance, but the name of the host and location won’t be published if at a private residence. No later than 60 days after a function, the attendees and amounts raised must be reported to Elections BC.

Like Conacher, Travis is concerned about party supporters using loopholes to subvert the corporate and union ban. A requirement that donors list the name of their employer would be a safeguard. 

“Something that’s going to be very critical if you want to make sure companies are not using their employees to get around the corporate ban, and unions using their staff to do the same,” Travis said.

Before the election, the RCMP and a special prosecutor launched an investigation into illegal donations from lobbyists.

There is no new money on the table for Elections BC to undertake compliance and enforcement. Yet.

Attorney General David Eby’s office told theBreaker that if chief electoral officer Keith Archer needs more resources, he will have to ask the Standing Committee on Finance, where all legislative officers go with budget requests.  

Bob Mackin  B.C.’s NDP government finally tabled its

Bob Mackin

Key players in two groups that were competing for the $3.5 billion Massey Tunnel replacement project are also partners building a $4.24 billion federal bridge in Montreal. 

theBreaker has learned that the SNC-Lavalin-led Pacific Skyway Partners and ACS Infrastructure’s Gateway Mobility Solutions were the two remaining teams when NDP Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced the cancellation on Sept. 6. 

B.C. government rendering of the cancelled $3.5 billion Richmond-to-Delta bridge.

The government said it will review whether a 10-lane bridge, smaller bridge or expanded tunnel should be built.

There had been three groups qualified for the shortlist by the previous BC Liberal government, but Trevena spokesman Ryan Jabs said the ministry “cannot name the proponents that will receive stipends as a result of the cancellation of procurement, since we are obligated to respect confidentiality.”

Louis-Antoine Paquin, SNC-Lavalin’s media relations manager, told theBreaker “Pacific Skyway Partners will collect the $2 million, which is partial compensation for the consortium’s bidding costs.” PSP also included Fluor Canada Ltd., John Laing Investment Ltd., and American Bridge Company.

Kiewit Inrastructure Group vice-president and area manager Ross Gilmour told theBreaker that his company was “bound by confidentiality requirements in the proponent agreement,” and referred questions to the provincial government. 

Kiewit was partnered with Macquarie Corporate Holdings Pty Ltd., VINCI Concessions, Janin Atlas Inc., and BA Blacktop under the Lower Mainland Connectors banner. 

A source told theBreaker that Kiewit dropped out of bidding, which means the Gateway Mobility Solutions group led by Spain’s Grupo ACS was the only other bidder. ACS executive chairman and CEO Florentino Pérez Rodríguez is president of Real Madrid FC. 

Like SNC-Lavalin, it is eligible to receive $2 million compensation. ACS’s partners were Aecon Concessions, Hochtief PPP Solutions North America Inc., Star America Infrastructure Partners, Flatiron Constructors Canada and Dragados Canada Inc. ACS has not immediately responded for comment. 

SNC-Lavalin, coincidentally, successfully teamed-up with Gateway’s ACS, Dragados, Flatiron and Hochtief in the Signature on the Saint Lawrence group to build the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal. Kiewit and Flatiron built the $3 billion Port Mann Bridge. On Sept. 7, CBC revealed they were paid $572 million more than what was called for in the original fixed-price contract. 

It is common for friends on one megaproject to be foes on another. The phenomenon has raised the eyebrows of anti-corruption experts concerned about the risks of bid-rigging. (There is no direct evidence of bid-rigging on the Massey project.) According to volume 3 of the Charbonneau Commission of Inquiry, which investigated corruption in Quebec’s construction industry, “Colluding companies seek to eliminate competition and obtain as many contracts and as much profit as possible, while preserving the appearance of a competitive market.” 

The 1959-built Massey Tunnel (Mackin)

In Question Period on Sept. 13, ex-Transportation Minister Todd Stone revealed the project’s low bid was $2.6 billion, which was $900 million less than the government-announced $3.5 billion budget. (During the election, the NDP released leaked documents that showed $8 billion in debt servicing costs over 50 years.) A source close to the project told theBreaker that the low bid was submitted by the ACS-led group, which proposed fabricating steel for the bridge in Spain. 

The source said ACS is “steaming,” but BC Liberal Stone’s saving grace may be that he spoke about it in the Legislature, where members have privilege. SNC-Lavalin had lost patience in the procurement and remained involved for the sake of the compensation. But neither will get the $2 million payment automatically; they will have to file claims and a legal opinion is likely to ensure that the bids were compliant. 

Stone’s exchange with Trevena, a former BBC reporter, could only be described as bizarre. 

“I have to say that I’m pretty incredulous that this member, of all people, would be asking questions about this project,” Trevena said in the Legislature. “It was under his government that it went ahead as basically a pet political project of the former Premier, Christy Clark. And I would also expect that the member, as a former minister, would know that I cannot divulge information on the bid process.”

To which Stone shot back: “Being a former minister, I certainly know that you can disclose information. In this particular case, the Minister of Transportation should disclose this information.”

Under Stone, the Ministry of Transportation became one of the worst-performing agencies in government, based on complaints and requests for review received by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in 2015-2016. The 51 complaints against the ministry were just behind the 57 filed against the Insurance Corporation of B.C., which was also Stone’s responsibility, for second-place, government-wide. 

theBreaker was one of the complainants over terminal secrecy by Stone’s staff about the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project and the SNC-Lavalin-built Evergreen Line Rapid Transit project.

Only after the NDP replaced the Liberals in July did the government relent on one file and agree with theBreaker that the costs of SNC-Lavalin’s change orders on the Evergreen Line should be released. SNC-Lavalin submitted no evidence to support its opposition to disclosure. An OIPC adjudicator is expected to rule this fall.

In 2013, the World Bank banned SNC-Lavalin from bidding on its projects for 10 years, over bribery at a Bangladesh bridge project. That was just one of many scandals involving a company that has deep relationships with the B.C. government. The troubled Montreal company also has contracts with BC Hydro for the Site C dam and John Hart Generating Station, maintains BC Ferries terminals and operates the Canada Line for TransLink and Bill Bennett toll bridge in Kelowna. 

Bob Mackin Key players in two groups