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Organized crime: It’s a matter of the company you keep


Integrity BC

You can virtually take it to the bank. Getting elected to public office often comes with a whole new set of friends and not always pals that have your best interests at heart. A few of them could be classified as “the undesirables.”

It’s those few that likely played a role in the United Nations Convention against Corruption designating some politicians and senior figures with the term politically exposed persons (PEP).

PEPs are “individuals who are, or have been, entrusted with prominent public functions and their family members and close associates”.

“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.”

B.C. is not immune to the risks.

Julian Sher – co-author with William Marsden on The Road to Hell: How the Biker Gangs are Conquering Canada – told The Tyee in a 2004 interview that “the influence of organized crime in B.C. has never been greater.”

Sher attributed the growth of the Hells to “hot name-recognition – it’s like Nike – and in that name recognition there is a sort of sexiness…I think another factor is that they were also largely ignored and underestimated by the police and by the public and by politicians.”

He was dead on with that last point.

In 2009, Journeyman Pictures released a documentary entitled “The Hells Angels Have Taken Over Vancouver.”

As recent events have shown, things haven’t got any better.

Say what you want about the Hells, but they are masters at ingratiating themselves with celebrities, senior public employees and politicians.

There’s no shortage of illustrations.

On August 13, 2007, Maxime Bernier was sworn in as Canada’s foreign affairs minister. It was also the beginning of the end for that stint in cabinet.

Accompanying Bernier to his swearing-in that day was Julie Couillard, who was linked to the criminal biker underworld at the time.

A little ways down the road, just a few years earlier, an aide to then-PQ leader Jacques Parizeau was being briefed on news that one of the party’s MNAs had an ex-Mafia hitman, Real Simard, on staff.

Simard, using a false name, had been a chauffeur in 1993 to PQ MNA Richard Holden, before being promoted to political adviser, until Parizeau thought better.

There are the ‘trophy shots,’ the photos that are the result of someone’s naïveté or biker ambush.

Former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman found himself the target of scorn and ridicule after a member of the Hells, Tony Biancaflora, spotted him in a hotel lobby and shook hands with the mayor, camera at the ready.

The photo created a furor in both Ontario and Québec. Lastman claimed that he didn’t know the Hells made money from drug trafficking.

The B.C. Rail scandal is back in the news. Yeap, that one.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin reported this week that Bob Virk and Dave Basi will be in Tax Court on June 24 to appeal Revenue Canada’s decision to treat the $6 million the pair received to cover legal fees as taxable income.

Often lost in the scandal is the fact that the original investigation centred on drugs, money-laundering, and organized crime, not passing on insider information.

This February, Le Journal de Montreal reported that the spouse of Martine Gaudreault, vice-president real estate financing at Otéra Capital, a real estate subsidiary of the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, had ties with “people related to organized crime.”

Action was swift.

The Caisse suspended Gaudreault and launched “an internal investigation over the allegations.” The four month, $5 million investigation “involved 120 people, including a team of specialized lawyers, forensic accountants, criminal intelligence experts and other experts in economic intelligence specialized in money laundering issues.”

This week, the Caisse sacked Gaudreault and three other executives. 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.”

B.C. needs to rip a page out of the Caisse’s playbook and step up its game. It starts in Victoria, a city known for one degree of separation between residents.

It’s time to add in another degree or two. A simple question can shed some light on the challenge: does the B.C. government really know who it’s doing business with?

In the case of one establishment, the answer would seem to be no, but that’s a story for another day.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC            

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