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Opinion  

Sound judgment lacking

One of the great things about not knowing exactly what it is you're looking for is the shock that can come when you do find something.

It started with some sponsored advertising content for Mother's Day by the now defunct West Coast Tap House in a May 2012 issue of the Goldstream Gazette.

The surprise, however, came in a Times Colonist article from the year before – Task force tackles Island hot spots in search of gang members – and it drove home the need for B.C. to catch up with its peers when it comes to conflict-of-interest legislation and disclosure rules for senior B.C. government employees.

The Mother's Day ad was from one of the “hot spots” the Vancouver-based Integrated Gang Task Force visited that night.

Here's how the Times Colonist reported it: “the convoy of unmarked vehicles heads out to Langford, stopping at the West Coast Tap House, which is surprisingly dead for a Saturday night.” 

Over the years, the Tap House had served as a polling station in the 2011 federal election, hosted business speed-networking events and community fundraisers. 

It also had another side not always seen by the general public and some interesting pedigree. On some nights it was a microcosm of nearly every social ill imaginable, from gangs to drugs. 

What makes the Tap House so special among the hot spots from that night? 

It's the only one that appears on the government's credit card statements. From 2008-09 to 2013-14, the government charged $10,510 at the establishment. 

It's not just the charges that stick out, it's when they started and – more importantly – when they stopped. 

The Tap House may have had some well-placed cheerleaders. One of the Tap House's co-owners was James L. James, a step-son to the former clerk of the B.C. legislature, Craig James. When the step-son was no longer in the picture, the credit card charges stopped.

It's why those pesky politically exposed person (PEP) designations that many prominent Canadians have found now apply to them may be a nuisance, but the intent is dead on. 

The United Nations Convention against Corruption notes that “the influence and control a PEP has puts them in a position to impact policy decisions, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and finances, which can make them vulnerable to corruption.” 

Other provinces act quickly at the first hint of links between public bodies and organized crime, as Quebec's pension fund – the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec – did recently.

This February, Le Journal de Montreal reported that the spouse of Martine Gaudreault, vice-president of real estate financing at Otéra Capital – a subsidiary of the Caisse – was suspected of having ties with “people related to organized crime.” 

The Caisse suspended Gaudreault and launched “an internal investigation over the allegations.” The four month, $5 million investigation led to the Caisse sacking Gaudreault and three other executives last month. 

As Michael Sabia, chief executive officer of the Caisse, said: “Every day, when I come in to work at the Caisse, I have in my head the question of the importance of our integrity." 

From shadow mortgage brokers to outright mortgage fraud to money laundering, B.C. is dealing with a host of corruption issues, in part, because for too long a few were willing to look the other way and it's time for the government to meet the 2019 standard before it's 2020.

It's the failure to require full transparency from those who have final sign-off on numerous policies impacting on these issues that leaves public officials vulnerable to outside influences, the company you keep dilemma.

There was a story recently in Business in Vancouver that included this line: "With B.C.’s economy partly supported by the proceeds of crime, the whole province could suffer financially if the B.C. government is successful at cutting the flow of dirty money into legitimate assets.” 

Let that sink in, not the suffer part, but the partly supported by reference. 

When government credit cards are used at an establishment where gang members feel at home, it's time to tighten the rules and ensure that the government knows who it is doing business with and whether those business interests intersect with policy makers, because you don't always know the price that can come with those intersecting interests.

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC



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