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Bob Mackin

British Columbia inches closer to a snap election, despite the pandemic state of emergency.

A person connected to Elections BC, but not authorized to comment, told theBreaker.news that district office staff from the 2017 election and 2018 proportional representation referendum have been asked if they are ready, willing and able to work at the beginning of September.

Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson confirmed in a statement to theBreaker.news. 

John Horgan on July 23 (Province of BC/YouTube)

“We have been asking staff whether they are willing and able to work in a potential fall election, given the recent speculation about an early election call,” Watson said. We have not signed any leases yet. We are identifying potential office space to ensure we are ready to administer a fall election if called upon to do so.”

Elections BC has been drawing up plans for a pandemic-time election, with physical distancing and personal protective equipment at polling stations and increased mail-in and phone-in options, Watson said. Prospective employees are told they cannot work from home.

During an election district electoral office staff and election officials provide front line services to the public that cannot be completed from home,” Watson said.

On July 23, Premier John Horgan admitted that B.C. could go to the polls this fall, but he also said there is an opportunity next spring or next summer.

The NDP minority government’s term and its confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party caucus end in October 2021. But the new BC Greens leader in mid-September could trigger the end of the confidence and supply agreement that led to the formation of the Horgan government in July 2017.

The July 31 bombshell that BC Hydro’s Site C is in disarray could become a wedge issue. Despite Green opposition, the NDP decided in late 2017 to carry-on with the BC Liberal-started megaproject with a $10.7 billion budget and 2024 completion. But the completion date is now uncertain and the budget is officially “to be determined,” according to a long overdue report to the B.C. Utilities Commission that blamed the pandemic and land conditions around the Peace River.

Many signs point to a snap election for Horgan and the NDP, who are riding high on opinion poll results while the weakened BC Liberals have not found their stride under opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson, the 2018-chosen successor to ex-premier Christy Clark. 

John Horgan at the B.C. NDP’s April 23, 2017 Better BC rally. (NDP)

In June, the NDP held online seminars for campaign workers, including one on the topic of campaigning in a “socially distant” election. Party president Craig Keating would not rule out a fall 2020 election.

theBreaker.news reported that, between June 25 and July 16, the Government Communications and Public Engagement department ran six telephone town halls under the banner of “COVID-19 Recovery Ideas.” The NDP’s campaign pollster and data miner, Stratcom, was one of the contractors for the exercise, which showcased mostly rookie NDP MLAs in swing ridings.

On its website, the NDP recruited for regional field organizers to work with constituency associations, candidates, volunteers and election planning committees. Application deadline is Aug. 10, the day after a planned phone blitz by members.

The summer session of the Legislature is scheduled to end Aug. 14. A month later, on Sept. 14, the Green Party will announce results of the vote for a leader to succeed Andrew Weaver, who resigned to sit as an independent. One of the party’s two MLAs, house leader Sonia Furstenau, is facing 2017 Powell River-Sunshine Coast candidate Kim Darwin and lawyer Cam Brewer, a lawyer with Ratcliff and Co., the North Vancouver firm that represents the Squamish Nation.

The Cullen Commission into money laundering was supposed to begin its third phase on the day after Labour Day, but that has been delayed to the day after Thanksgiving Day because of document disclosure issues. Rather than wrapping up in December, hearings will continue until April and Commissioner Austin Cullen will not meet the original May 2021 final report deadline.

Horgan and Weaver agree to defeat Christy Clark in 2017 (Twitter)

The NDP and Green alliance will have more breathing room at the end of August, when Surrey-White Rock BC Liberal MLA Tracy Redies officially resigns to become Science World’s new CEO. The former financial executive and BC Hydro director won’t complete her rookie term, leaving the BC Liberals with 41 members, tied with the NDP.

A by-election must be called within six months of vacancy.

Weaver and Speaker Darryl Plecas are both independents in the 87-seat legislature. Weaver votes with his former Green caucus-mates on confidence and supply measures. 

Speaking of Plecas, RCMP federal serious and organized crime detectives are in the late stages of their investigation of Legislature corruption. Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen blew the whistle on Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, who were suspended and escorted out of the building in November 2018. They both claimed their innocence and demanded their jobs back. But, in 2019, they separately resigned in disgrace after more evidence of wrongdoing was revealed in separate investigations. 

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Bob Mackin British Columbia inches closer to a

For the week of Aug. 2, 2020.

Craig and Marc Kielburger and Justin Trudeau are used to standing on stages for thousands of adoring fans.

Last week, they had a decidedly different audience: the House of Commons finance committee hearings investigating the WE scandal.

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, listen to highlights of their testimony, as opposition Members of Parliament put them on the hot seat. 

Plus Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines and commentaries on British Columbia Day.

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

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

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theBreaker.news Podcast: A summertime grilling for the Kielburgers and Trudeau
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For the week of Aug. 2, 2020.

Bob Mackin

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is warning senior government officials about cyber criminals stealing their identities to create fake social media and email accounts.

“Indications that you are being imitated online may include friends, colleagues or constituents contacting you about messages or emails they claim to have received from you, but which you did not send, or commenting on public postings which you did not make,” reads the advisory, issued last year, but recently updated. “Past cases of online imitation have been focussed on trying to defraud people for money, while some cases have also tried to influence public opinion on high-profile issues.”

@Twitter

One apparent victim of social media account impersonation is the executive director of the British Columbia government’s central freedom of information and privacy office.

Chad Hoskins, head of the access and open government department since 2018, said he complained to Saanich Police after an impostor on Twitter tried to ruin his reputation.

Anti-black racist comments were published on a Twitter account under Hoskins’s photograph and name in the wake of June’s Black Lives Matter protests and riots across the United States. A reader of theBreaker.news sent two of the tweets, but theBreaker.news has chosen not to publish them.

The first, dated June 10, included a comment above a tweet by U.S. conservative commentator Ann Coulter mentioning the funeral for Minneapolis murder victim George Floyd. Another, from June 19, referenced a photo marked with the #HomiesForTrump hashtag of a black male standing over a white male in a store. The impostor @ChadHoskins007 account included the plural of a notorious six-letter racist slur. Both tweets came from the since shut down account.

The B.C. government was notified July 1 and the matter was investigated by Gary Perkins, the government’s chief information officer. Ministry of Citizens’ Services spokesman Kim Emerson said Hoskins had been the victim of impersonation and was advised to file a police report.

“I don’t know what’s happened or who did it,” Hoskins told theBreaker.news. “I’m hoping it’s the end of it, but we’ll see.”

Paul Stanley, the B.C. government’s security chief, said it would be inappropriate to comment on a potential police investigation.

Chad Hoskins (LinkedIn)

theBreaker.news contacted Const. Markus Anastasiades, the public information and communications officer of the Saanich Police. But Anastasiades refused to comment. Instead, he referred the query to the freedom of information office. Civilian manager Justin Hodkinson used a section of the FOI law to claim the force was “unable to confirm or deny whether there are any police files associated with this issue.”

Identity fraud, including personation, is a Criminal Code offence under section 403, punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security recommends victims take action quickly, by complaining to social media companies, government and law enforcement. It also recommends preventive measures, including sharing official accounts widely with the public.

“The more well-known and active your social media accounts are, the more difficult it is for an actor to create a convincing impersonation,” said the agency’s website.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Twitter appeared on a virtual B.C. Supreme Court hearing on July 29. They want Justice Elliott Myers to quash a defamation lawsuit filed by a West Vancouver billionaire because they say the case should instead be heard in California.

Mining and entertainment tycoon Frank Giustra filed the lawsuit in April 2018 over dozens of defamatory, abusive and threatening Tweets referencing his friendship and business deals with former president Bill Clinton and failed 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton. Some of the Tweets were death threats and falsely claimed Giustra was involved in the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy.

The social media giant’s lawyer, Marko Vesely of Lawson Lundell, said the California-based company is not liable for defamation that it did not create. Giustra owns a California entertainment company, has a Beverly Hills mansion, regularly travels to the state and opines on U.S. politics via Twitter. Therefore, the case should be heard in California, not B.C., Vesely said.

“Twitter has no assets here [in B.C.], no presence here,” Vesely said.

Vesely told Myers that the company claims its platform is used by 145 million people daily around the world and that it has no way of mediating the content. Citing a section of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, Twitter claims to be a platform, not a publisher.

Frank Giustra (right) and Bill Clinton (Twitter)

“There’s certainly nothing wrong with philanthropy and there’s nothing wrong with being Bill Clinton’s close friend, associate and supporter,” Vesely said.

However, Vesely said, Giustra has a global, multi-jurisdictional reputation and there is an American-centric nature to the subject tweets. Vesely also accused Giustra of attempting to choose a court that could deliver him the most-favourable result.

“He was born and raised here, he lives here, but forum-shopping, it applies when one tries to engineer a claim in one’s own jurisdiction,” Vesely said.

Vesely cited a 2018 Supreme Court of Canada decision against what one judge called “libel tourism.” Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article in 2011 about the Canadian owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv FC. The high court stayed Mitchell Goldhar’s lawsuit when it agreed Ontario had jurisdiction, but Israel was a more appropriate venue to try the case.

In March 2018, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted his company had a problem with anonymous users.

“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers,” Dorsey tweeted. “We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.”

More than two years later, Dorsey’s lack of action has led to a lawsuit by a B.C. billionaire and a police complaint by a B.C. government bureaucrat. Both wronged on Twitter.

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Bob Mackin The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security

Bob Mackin

The B.C. NDP government is refusing to say how much it spent on a recent telephone town hall campaign that showcased swing riding candidates and involved the party’s key campaign contractor.

Between June 25 and July 16, the Government Communications and Public Engagement department ran six telephone town halls under the banner of “COVID-19 Recovery Ideas.”

Stratcom’s Penner.

“Final amounts for the telephone town hall will be released during Public Accounts, summer 2021,” said a statement emailed to theBreaker.news by Lisa Leslie of the Finance Ministry.

Contractors were St. Bernadine Mission Communications (creative), Jungle and Vizeum Canada (media buying) and Strategic Communications, which was “supporting the town hall by providing in-house technical resources.”

Strategic Communications is also known as Stratcom, the NDP’s Vancouver-based polling and data analytics agency. During the NDP’s first two years in government, Stratcom billed taxpayers $1.1 million for patronage contracts. Three-quarters of the contracts came from GCPE and the remainder via the NDP caucus in the Legislative Assembly.

The geographically targeted events were hosted by Kim Emerson, a former radio and TV reporter now with GCPE:

  • July 7: Lower Mainland (Finance Minister Carole James, Finance committee chair Bob D’Eith);
  • July 9: Vancouver Island and Coast (Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and Parliamentary Secretary for Seniors Ronna-Rae Leonard);
  • July 14: North, Interior and Kootenays (Jobs Minister Michelle Mungall and Parliamentary Secretary for forestry Ravi Kahlon);
  • July 16 (Environment Minister George Heyman and Tourism Minister Lisa Beare).

Apart from James and Popham, the rest of the above MLAs represent swing ridings.

Leonard won the 2017 election night count in the new Courtenay-Comox riding by a scant nine votes over BC Liberal Jim Benninger; the margin of victory expended to 189 votes after absentee ballots were counted. BC Liberals held the old Comox Valley riding between 2001 and 2017.

D’Eith (Maple Ridge-Mission), Beare (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) and Kahlon (Delta North) are rookie MLAs who beat BC Liberals in swing ridings. Heyman is in his second Vancouver-Fairview term after knocking-off BC Liberal incumbent Margaret MacDiarmid in 2013.

Other virtual town halls were held on themes, with other swing riding winners. June 25 with James, D’Eith and Bowinn Ma (North Vancouver-Lonsdale) on “building B.C.’s recovery together” and July 13 with Mungall and Jinny Sims (Surrey-Panorama) on “supporting small businesses.”

Tourism Minister Lisa Beare (BC Gov)

Sims won the riding after BC Liberal Marvin Hunt moved to Surrey-Cloverdale in 2017. Ma upset BC Liberal incumbent Naomi Yamamoto in 2017.

The BC Liberals won a two-seat edge over the NDP in the 2017 election, but the NDP governs with the support of the two-member Green caucus and former Green leader Andrew Weaver.

Polling in a pandemic 

The Stratcom website trumpets the merits of telephone town halls to identify key supporters.

“The cumulative and individual participant data (including responses to polling questions) can be used to identify the most engaged supporters as well as inform future communications, engagement and fundraising strategies,” it reads.

Stratcom CEO Bob Penner and president Matt Smith did not reply to theBreaker.news.

Besides showcasing various NDP faces on the taxpayer dime, could Stratcom be sharing the data gleaned from the government telephone town halls with the party headquarters at a crucial time?

Various opinion polls indicate the NDP would win a majority if an election were to be held now. But B.C. remains under the coronavirus pandemic state of emergency, which would make an election campaign logistically challenging.

In June, the NDP held a series of training seminars online. The program for the NDP’s Level Up included a seminar on using Facebook for “a socially-distant election.” 

In response, NDP president Craig Keating would not deny his party is preparing for a possible fall 2020 vote. 

On July 23, Premier John Horgan admitted a fall 2020 election is not out of the question, even though his mandate ends in October 2021. “There’s an opportunity this fall, there’s an opportunity next spring, there’s an opportunity next summer,” Horgan said.

Horgan made that statement at a news conference two weeks after the Cullen Commission public inquiry into B.C. money laundering announced witness testimony would run until April 2021. That means it will not meet the original May 2021 final report deadline. Meanwhile, the RCMP continues to investigate corruption in the B.C. Legislature uncovered by Speaker Darryl Plecas and his chief of staff, Alan Mullen. 

Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy did not respond to theBreaker.news for comment about Stratcom’s involvement in the telephone town halls.

His spokeswoman, Michelle Mitchell, would not specifically address the issue of the telephone town halls. She relied on a section of the law that states the commissioner and anyone acting under the commissioner must not disclose any information obtained in performing their duties under the Act.

“The OIPC was aware of the series of telephone town halls,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, the onus is on the public body or organization to ensure its programs comply with B.C.’s privacy laws.”

In the February 2019 report, Full Disclosure: Political Parties, Campaign Data, and Voter Consent, McEvoy wrote: “it is important to recognize the rapid advancement of technological tools to profile and micro-target voters and the temptation for political parties to deploy them. The risks these developments could pose for B.C.’s citizens and our democratic system of governance are significant.”

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy (Mackin)

Penner is a fellow at the Broadbent Institute, the NDP-aligned think-tank that publishes the PressProgress website. He is listed as an expert in campaign strategy, fundraising, public opinion polling and voter contact.

In September 2017, before the NDP government added his company to a list of preferred communications suppliers, Penner penned a “Dear NDP MLAs and Ministers” open letter in The Tyee, suggesting ways they could succeed in government.

Under the second point, “Listen and Research,” Penner suggested the NDP needs to use polls and focus groups to know what people really think and he acknowledged the importance of data.

“Opinion research is not there to decide your agenda or policies of course, but it can help inform them,” Penner wrote. “Good politics shouldn’t be ‘data-driven’ as many people are fond of saying these days, but rather ‘data-informed.’ Listen and understand well, using the tools that work best. But then, armed with this information, make sure decisions are driven by your judgment, strategy, political commitments and overall vision.”

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Bob Mackin The B.C. NDP government is refusing

The spotlight shifted to Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau for his role in the unfolding WE Charity scandal.

Morneau repaid more than $41,000 for free trips he had taken, digging a deeper hole in the early days of the conflict of interest investigation. He was the featured speaker during a House of Commons finance committee hearing on July 22.

Also appearing were Canadaland publisher Jesse Brown and researcher Vivian Krause.

Brown has led the way in revealing what goes on inside the controversial Liberal-friendly charity business that paid the Prime Minister’s mother and brother to speak and then received a $912 million no-bid contract for a student jobs program. The contract has since been cancelled, but not before igniting the scandal.

Krause has taken a magnifying glass to WE’s U.S. tax filings and wonders whether WE provided data about its followers to its sponsors, funders and political friends.

Listen to Morneau, Brown and Krause on this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast. 

Plus Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines and commentary.

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

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

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Morneau on the hot seat over WE scandal
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The spotlight shifted to Liberal Finance Minister

Bob Mackin

At the end of June, an NDP-aligned think tank revealed that the opposition BC Liberals had spent more than $1,700 on ads in a fundamentalist Christian magazine with homophobic content.

The Broadbent Institute’s PressProgress reported 14 BC Liberal constituency offices had contributed to buy ads over the last 18 months in The Light Magazine, which has promoted conversion therapy and opposed sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum in schools.

B.C. NDP minster of state George Chow (third from left) meeting Guangzhou Communist officials (Guangzhou government)

The spending information came from MLAs’ quarterly expense reports on the B.C. Legislature’s website.

A look through the same files shows that elected members of the governing NDP used at least $2,348 of taxpayers’ money to support entities sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party.

The Legislative Assembly expense disclosure file for George Chow, the Minister of State for Trade and MLA for Vancouver-Fairview, shows that there were caucus payments to Dawa Business Group Inc. ($735 on Feb. 5, 2020), Global Chinese Press ($787.50 x 2 on Jan. 31, 2020) and a $38 payment for the Sept. 22, 2019 Chinese Benevolent Association banquet celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

“When the NDP government places advertisements in those media, B.C. is financially supporting pro-CCP media and lending them credibility,” said Ivy Li of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong. “Why would the NDP want to do that?”

NDP ad in Global Chinese Press in February 2019 (GCPNews.com)

Dawa president Zaixin Ma organized the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations’ controversial Chinese National Day ceremony outside Vancouver city hall in 2016. The Chinese flag was raised and national anthem played before the consul-general and politicians sporting CCP Young Pioneer red scarves. Ma is a former reporter with CCP organs People’s Daily and Beijing Youth Daily. 

In August 2019, Dawa marketing director Jennifer Han was at pro-China protests with groups aligned with the Vancouver consulate. One of the protests occurred outside the Tenth Church where a pro-Hong Kong democracy group attended a prayer meeting. Vancouver Police were called to protect the church and escort the worshippers past the gauntlet of flag-waving, camera-toting Mainland Chinese.

Global Chinese Press fired editor in chief Lei Jin in 2017 after he wanted to publish an obituary of Nobel Prize winning Liu Xiaobo. A year earlier, columnist Bing Chen Gao was fired after a criticizing China’s foreign minister, Wan Yi, for berating a journalist at an Ottawa news conference.

Chow did not reply for comment. Neither did NDP caucus communications director Ed May nor communications officer Emily Della Mattia.

Chow is a former president of the CBA and former Vancouver city councillor. CBC president Hilbert Yiu was a guest of the Chinese government in Beijing last fall for 70th anniversary events.

Under Yiu, the CBA has bought ads defending Xi Jinping’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong that has led to the arrest of protesters with flags and signs containing slogans critical of the CCP.

Canada has condemned Beijing’s crackdown on free speech and suspended the extradition treaty with Hong Kong. China is facing growing international pressure over the internment of more than a million Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps and the hostage-taking of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for the 2018 arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport.

Yongtao Chen (left) and Hilbert Yiu (right) at China’s 70th anniversary celebration in Beijing.

“Our governments should be defending our democracy, human rights and Canadian values,” Li said. “For the NDP government to place advertisements in those obviously pro-CCP media is a real mocking of British Columbians’ beliefs of free speech and freedom of press. It is a slap on our face.”

Chow met with Communist Party officials in China in late 2018 to brief them about plans for a Chinese-Canadian history museum in B.C. Last September, he attended events in celebration of 70 years of Communist rule in China, including the consulate’s banquet at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Chow represented the B.C. government at a ceremony in April at the Chinese consulate to receive gifts of masks for hospitals.

BC Liberal MLA Teresa Wat was international trade minister before Chow. Her expense file shows that the BC Liberals have also spent money with the same entities. There are invoices for $388.50 (Feb. 12, 2020), $420 (Feb. 5, 2020) and $525 (Sept. 7, 2019) from Dawa, $76 for the same CBA banquet Chow attended and $787.50 to Global Chinese Press on Aug. 21, 2019. A total of $2,197.

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Bob Mackin At the end of June,

Bob Mackin

The executive director of the Vancouver Economic Commission’s Asia Pacific Centre is gone.

“The pandemic and the ensuing economic challenges have changed the environment around us,” said an email from Joan Elangovan to her contacts. “VEC has had to redesign its mandate and make some hard decisions.”

Joan Elangovan (second from left) in Beijing in 2017 with Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Elangovan wrote that that the Asia Pacific Centre closed July 13.

The 2014-founded centre’s budget has fluctuated, depending on trade missions. Much of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s trade mission spending to China and Europe came from VEC accounts during his 2008 to 2018 tenure in office. Mayor Kennedy Stewart has not travelled offshore since winning the 2018 election.

Last year, the Pacific Rim-focused division spent just over $179,000 on salaries (mostly Elangovan’s). Spokeswoman Ingrid Valou said there are no anticipated cost savings from the closure in 2020.

“We have not yet established a projection for 2021,” Valou said. “Uncertainty around the pandemic continues to present challenges in forecasting and planning international initiatives or events. Much of APC’s resources, including staff, have been reallocated or reassigned to other divisions or projects.”

For the year ended Dec. 31, 2017, the most-recent published on its website, VEC lost $217,709 after spending just over $4.06 million. City taxpayers funded VEC to the tune of $3.48 million.

Vancouver Economic Commission’s old (left) and new (right) logos.

“The VEC continues to refine our services and programs to play our role to meet the businesses needs of the Vancouver economy and we expect to reallocate funding for the Asian Pacific Centre to other strategic initiatives,” said acting CEO Eleena Marley.

VEC’s board chair is Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver’s city manager. Johnston did not reply to theBreaker.news. City hall is struggling with the instant recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment rose to 13% in June, from 10.8% in May.

Meanwhile, VEC has spent $31,810 on rebranding, including $9,260 for a new logo by Tim Hoffpauir and $21,450 for web services from Domain7.

The other directors are chief financial officer Patrice Impey and deputy city manager Paul Mochrie.

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Bob Mackin The executive director of the Vancouver

Bob Mackin

The annual review of B.C. Lottery Corporation’s anti-money laundering activities found several illegal casino transactions.

Of 53 large cash transactions sampled by Deloitte, three broke the law.

A bag of cash from a surveillance video at Starlight Casino, from the German Report in 2018. (BC Gov)

“In these incidents, patrons were able to continue to gamble at a casino, despite their information being incomplete or incorrectly entered,” said a BCLC briefing note obtained under the freedom of information law. ”Deloitte found three instances in which a patron was able to complete a [large cash transaction] without completing a reasonable measures form in full.”

The redacted report by Deloitte was about BCLC anti-money laundering activities is part of an annual review required under the federal proceeds of crime, money laundering and terrorist financing act.

Deloitte interviewed BCLC and casino staff and conducted walkthroughs from July 20, 2019 to Sept. 20, 2019 at five casinos and PlayNow.com, the BCLC online gambling site.

Deloitte also found eight BCLC employees had not completed required anti-money laundering training, though none of the employees were in the BCLC legal, compliance and security team.

BCLC’s anti-money laundering risk register methodology was incomplete and 10 of 26 anti-money laundering-related alerts were not acted upon in a timely manner, Deloitte found.

An Ernst and Young analysis of cheques issued from 2014 to 2016 at Grand Villa Casino found no systemic pattern of money-laundering. EY reviewed 658 cheques of $10,000 or more from table games. It released a similar review in spring 2019 about River Rock Casino Resort.

EY found three cheques issued were the result of staff error. In two cases, the casino issued verified win cheques for the incorrect amount due to errors in recording patron buy-in amounts.

(BCLC)

“In one instance, Grand Villa issued a return of funds cheque for $20,000 from the incorrect cash account,” said a BCLC briefing note. “However, Grand Villa followed all return of funds procedures pertaining to patron identification and transaction reporting.”

Meanwhile, BCLC quietly switched its online gambling contract from Paddy Power to Scientific Games Digital in May.

Ireland-based Paddy Power was contracted in 2012 and extended in 2019 to 2022.

Paddy Power merged with Betfair to form Flutter Entertainment, which acquired The Stars Group, parent of Poker Stars. Stars is not regulated in B.C.

A BCLC briefing note said the change should be seamless because of the vast majority of sporting events were cancelled since March.

“Despite COVID-19 related impacts to sports betting on PlayNow.com, the online gambling site is

experiencing unprecedented growth overall, driven particularly at this time by strong growth in eCasino products.”

In early February, theBreaker.news reported how BCLC increased the limit that gamblers can keep in their PlayNow.com account from $9,999 to $250,000 — an increase of 2,400%. They can also transfer up to $100,000 per week, a substantial 900% increase from the previous $9,999 limit. Online gambling workers were deemed essential service workers during the pandemic by the NDP government.

In April, BCLC also began to expand its GameSense Advisor program to support players by phone and online via chat on PlayNow.com.

Despite casinos closed due to the pandemic, BCLC is spending $1.6 million on a brand ad campaign on broadcast, digital and social media that began June 1 and runs through Aug. 30.

The “With Every Play, We All Benefit” animated ads promote how gambling profits contribute to healthcare, education and community programs. Ad agency is One Twenty Three West (123w) with Hamazaki Wong for ethnic creative. Mediacom is the ad buyer.

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Bob Mackin The annual review of B.C. Lottery

Bob Mackin, theBreaker.news and Ina Mitchell, contributor

Joe Clemente says he never leaves his Salt Spring Island home without his camera.

“You never know what next surprise you’ll catch on video,” Clemente told CTV News Vancouver reporter David Molko in an interview.

Military-style training on Salt Spring Island in 2018 (Joe Clemente)

Artist Clemente is known locally as “Banana Joe,” for growing tropical fruit and plants on the island. He was driving on northern Salt Spring in March 2018 when he came across about 50 people marching in military camouflage fatigues and boots. Clemente’s 35-second video shows they were primarily women, apparently Chinese.

“Not a lot of things shock me, but that shocked me. We don’t have any military bases here,” Clemente said, still wondering if he happened upon training for a cult.

“If it was hippies with dreadlocks I wouldn’t even think twice about it, we have a lot of earthy people out here, I’d say oh just a bunch of hippies out on a march. This was completely different.”

Another area resident, Kathy Weisner, was gardening when she spotted what she thought were cadets training one afternoon the week before Clemente’s experience. Their commander barked instructions in a language other than English.

Clemente said he had heard rumours of a large group booking at Mineral Springs Resort, a secluded, seaside getaway. A joint investigation by theBreaker.news and CTV News Vancouver reveals the owners’ connections to companies and real estate in Langley and Surrey, including a crime scene in Grandview Heights.

Bo Fan, a 41-year-old who came to Canada from China in February 2019, was the victim of murder on June 17. RCMP initially pinpointed a property on 27th Avenue, the headquarters of Create Abundance International Institute Inc., which owns Mineral Springs, the venue for the boot camps.

“That is very strange that it is connected to this place here on our island,” Clemente said. 

Joe Clemente in 2020.

A manager at the resort said he did not have direct contact for the owners, but said he would pass along a request for comment.

A source connected to Peace Arch Hospital told theBreaker.news that Fan had been badly beaten and her injuries included a broken femur, possibly the result of being struck by a vehicle. She had been taken to the emergency ward around 5:30 a.m. by her brother and sister-in-law. Sgt. Frank Jang of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team told Molko that both have co-operated with detectives.

Fan was employed by Create Abundance and its affiliate Golden Touch. The multi-level marketing organizations are based on a spiritual, psychological and financial philosophy book. 

Since releasing photographs of Fan on June 24, Jang said clues have come in, but not enough. Detectives are still trying to piece together her final days and hours. They hope more people — perhaps her clients — will come forward. 

“We’re not as close as we want to be in uncovering what happened to Ms. Fan,” Jang said.

That is not to say they aren’t trying. theBreaker.news has confirmed that, on June 19 and 20, RCMP obtained eight search warrants, all of which are sealed. Residents of a cul-de-sac in a Langley neighbourhood north of Campbell Valley Regional Park say that police were on-site for several days and even set-up a tent in the yard of a house that is connected to Fan’s brother.

Jang wouldn’t comment on the motive for Fan’s murder. As for her injuries, he would only call them “extensive, serious.”

Mineral Springs Resort guests in military gear.

“There’s family members, potentially witnesses, that perhaps are no longer in Canada — they’ve left Canada,” Jang said. “Those are challenges we’re facing, but nothing we can’t overcome.”

A pamphlet for Golden Touch said the philosophy was founded by a woman named Xinyue (Mya), who is also known as Zhang Xinyue, author of Wisdom for Abundance.

An English translation of the pamphlet said Zhang “attained epiphany of mission, through careful research and development, has created a set of a comprehensive, in-depth and efficient system of theories and practice concerning spiritual growth. With all religions integrated, this system uses a variety of professional methods to quickly clean up people, change their selfhoods to enhance the quality of their soul.”

Golden Touch claims to be more than a series of courses, seminars and workshops. It says it is a spiritual growth system and boasts of a network of clubs in major cities across North America, Europe and Asia. The pamphlet said workshop attendees gain inspiration, confidence, influence, charm and wealth: “Your income will magically increase. All your fears and limitations about money will be destroyed.”

The group charged $200 to $300 for admission to seminars at the Richmond Sheraton Airport Hotel. A notice for the two-day course also mentions the Mineral Springs Resort. Other conferences were hosted in an amphitheatre aboard a Pacific Cruises ship.

Create Abundance International Institute Inc. was incorporated in July 2014 at the Grandview Heights address, registered to Zhong Guo “businessperson.” Fellow director Zhang Dazhun listed an address at a $3.5 million-assessed property west of Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley.

Surrey murder victim Bo Fan (IHIT)

Zhang and Guo’s names appear as the two directors of GT Global Corp., a Bahamas-registered company listed in the Panama Papers offshore accounts database.

A source, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution, said the organization has been operating in the Grandview Heights area since 2016. It often drew tour buses and luxury cars for daytime meetings involving “well-heeled” people. One of the houses was a haven of activity, where a couple dozen people were often seen working.

The corporate registry shows five provincially registered companies linked to Golden Touch with the same address at the $3.1 million 27th Avenue property. Two of the companies have business permits from Surrey city hall.

After complaints from neighbours, the buses stopped coming, but people still drove-in, parking at the house on 27th Avenue or a related property on 166A Street, where the Create Abundance sign was seen next to the front door. Gatherings typically took place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., sometimes up to four days a week. There were often stretches of no activity for months. Fan is believed to have driven a White Dodge Charger with a pink “princess on board” decal and managed the house.

A phone number associated with one of the Golden Touch companies, a computer consulting business, appears in several advertisements on Chinese language blogs, for recruiting event planners for party activities in Las Vegas and Seattle and an executive assistant in Surrey.

A man who answered the phone number listed on those blogs on July 15 said he was Peng Fan and that Bo Fan was his older sister. He said his English was poor and asked a reporter to send him an email instead. He has yet to respond to the email, which was translated to Chinese.

Create Abundance logo above the slogan “realize your dreams in an instant!”

In 2017, Zhang trademarked the Chinese characters and the Chinese name for Create Abundance, Chuang Zhao Feng Sheng. The categories of services covered in the Industry Canada application included vocational guidance; travel industry education courses; arranging and conducting financial conferences; art appreciation workshops and seminars; book and review publishing; fitness training; radio and TV production; comedy club services; modelling for artists; psychological consultation, assessment and testing services.

Zhang did not list a Canadian address in the application, but instead one in a hotel complex across from the sprawling campus of Changchun University in China’s northeastern province, Jilin.

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Bob Mackin, theBreaker.news and Ina Mitchell, contributor Joe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is en route to a third conflict of interest strike. But will he be called out?

Last week, Canadians learned that Trudeau’s mother and brother were paid handsomely to speak at WE Day concerts and that the WE Charity appeared to have the inside track for the $912 million student jobs contract. The charity stood to gain more than $43 million, double (and then some) the original profit.

Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher

The sole-sourced contract was cancelled when it got too politically hot to handle. The PM apologized for not recusing himself from the cabinet meeting where this deal was decided, but why should Canadians accept his remorse after he set a higher standard for his caucus when he came to power in 2015.

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, listen to highlights of the scandal and Bob Mackin’s interview with Duff Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch.

Plus, did Rick Hansen, the wheelchair athlete and namesake of the Rick Hansen Foundation, get paid for his multiple appearances on the WE Day stage?

Plus Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines and commentary.

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

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Why the Trudeau family's WE scandal is not a wee scandal
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is en route