Going Gently into the Homicide Night…

On the now widely circulated dash cam footage, on a clear sunny day near the Vancouver International Airport, a black Honda Pilot flies through an intersection, a witness recording the chase excitedly exclaiming that there was a shot fired. A few seconds later, the police car slowly drifts up into the camera angle, to the same intersection, slowly coasting to a stop. A fitting metaphor to the ponderous decline of the abilities of new age policing. The gentler, kinder, softer police up against a rash of gang related homicides which are now plaguing the lower mainland of British Columbia.   

As maddening as it was to watch a police officer give up on a pursuit of these brazen suspects, who had a few seconds before, emptied a clip into Karman Grewal— no apparent inner rage on the part of the officer at having been shot at— it was even more frustrating to watch the spin of the executives of the police brass as they scramble to make the old failed attempts at gang intervention and containment look new. 

One should disregard the ridiculous often asinine media commentary of the last number of days with their simplistic pronouncements and their exclamations of how the police need to do more. The police executive are 21st century conditioned now though, to  always respond to the media inanities, no matter how futile the exercise, while at the same time only capable of trotting out the usual 20th century bromides.  

Spokesperson for the responding Integrated Homicide Team Sgt Frank Jang, in a presser at the Airport, implores those misunderstood gangsters to “Please don’t kill one another”.  In feigned disbelief he laments and states the obvious, that these incorrigibles “are putting us all in jeopardy”. 

Other police responses are equally predictable. “More visible police presence” exclaims the new CFSEU head, Assistant Commissioner Manny Mann, who explains that there are “more gangs than there were 11 years ago” . Don’t fret he says, they are going to counter with ”intelligence led policing”.  

Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, now head of Federal, Investigative Services and Organized Crime (FISOC) assures the public that the police are “working around the clock” to solve the 10 shootings since April. 

Solicitor General Mike Farnsworth had a meeting with all the LMD police executives wherein they “share their collected and unified strategies”. Assuring all that will listen, that there was an “intelligence led enforcement under way” and that they were engaged in “proactive enforcement”. This is followed by the obligatory “your safety is our number one priority”. The subsequent police press release from this meeting signed by all the Chiefs assured us that they will “not waver in our relentless pursuit to prevent, suppress and investigate”. (They should have sent that memo to the police officer in Richmond— at least the part about the relentless pursuit.) 

Over the last number of years as policing transitioned to social work, there was the singular  solution to this mess. Sociological bandages all coming from a friendlier, more understanding and diverse police departments, all playing on the theme of prevention. The need to stop these kids from entering the gangs in the first place was the stated belief. 

“Stop Now and Plan” (SNAP), “Multi-Agency School Support Team” (MAAST-Calgary), “Wraparound”, then “High Fidelity Wraparound” which was “a complex, multi-faceted intervention strategy aimed at youth crime and gang prevention”. “Youth at Risk Development” (YARD- Calgary) “Positive Attention to Youth Gangs” (PAYG), “Regina Anti-Gang Services Project” (RAGS). And in Abbotsford in 2013 the “In it Together” campaign.  

The latest academic treatise which has been making the rounds;  the Irving Spergel Comprehensive Gang Prevention Model (Dr. Spergel is from the University of Chicago). 

None of the above programs could ever be proven to be effective, so they proffer up anecdotal evidence of a young person turning the corner. It should be considered  irrelevant to the gang homicide discussion. No program ever admits defeat however, but if they do it is almost always blamed on a lack of funding or “limited police capacity”. By the way Sgt Jang is now asking parents to report on their kids which is probably not in the spirit of the afore mentioned programs. 

Other most recent solutions include the Vancouver City Police have putting out a poster with several persons they describe as being at “risk”, people you shouldn’t be around. Presumably these are aimed at people who already hang around the chain wearing Mercedes driving bad guys, directing them to run the other way and maybe call CrimeStoppers and see if you can get a reward for their efforts. One has to also wonder the criteria for selection for this recent imitation of a wild west “Wanted” poster, but you can be rest assured that the individuals chosen will see this as a medal and not a blemish on their budding Scarface careers. 

The Delta PD, for their part have recently introduced an “interdiction” team, rather than a target team. When in doubt, change the name. 

The National Police Federation in one of the silliest statements during this time, is urging the new Surrey Police Force to stop recruiting from the other departments as it is hurting in their gang fight. (This is the same NPF who has argued for the last number of months that no one is leaving the RCMP to go to this new outfit)

In 2014 CFSEU was bragging about how their hard work had led to a reduction in gang homicide. So in 2021 should we conclude that they haven’t been working as hard?  Of course not, there are a lot of hard working, albeit frustrated officers running from pillar to post, trying to patch a case together despite all the significant hurdles. 

If one wants to seriously counter some of the gang violence and I am not sure they do, then you must look at and dissect the issues that are impairing the police at this time. 

There are three parts to every homicide, gang related or not. There is the finding and arrest of the suspect;  putting the case together to get charge approval; and, finally leading it through the Courts. 

Unfortunately, while policing has been strapping on body cams to defend against all arrests being racist, these three stages have developed significant barriers to combatting gang related violence. These hurdles have been growing for a number of years in size and scope and this sorry state of affairs has been brought about by senior police managers, the Crown and the Judicial court system. 

Almost all gang related homicides are solved on two fronts. Simply put, by uniform officers working in the patrol cars— and by informants. “Intelligence led policing” would be in a very distant third place. Any significant gang arrests over the years, have been brought about by attentive policing on the street level and by gangsters turning on themselves. 

So to significantly combat the gangs, more uniform officers are needed and they need to be fully supported. They need to be engaged in pro-active checks, confident in their grounds and support of their supervisors and managers. They need to once again gain control “of the streets”  to the point where the gangsters are fearful of being checked with a gun in the car or breaching their probation and parole curfews. This has to be accompanied by a strong physical presence.The managers like to talk about “boots on the ground” however nowhere has there been a re-structuring of the organizations to insure the uniform officer contingent is the most valued, the best staffed, and where one goes to earn those promotions. 

The need for informants. This blog has written previously about the need for “rats” so there is no need to go into it deeper at this time. But the use of informants has to be both condoned and emphasized a practise which has fallen into disrepair in this social worker age. It needs to be re-instated. Funds have to be made available for agents, rewards, and re-location. Most importantly the reporting process for this has to be heavily redacted and stream lined. The RCMP is the biggest offender in this regard and have literally through bureaucratic oversight killed (pardon the pun) the use of paid informants. 

Once the culprits are arrested, you are only part way there. To state it the most simply, Crown needs to come back to the charge approval of “beyond a reasonable doubt”and away from beyond absolute doubt which they seem to have adopted in the last number of years.

This goes hand and glove with the need to address the problems of “disclosure”. In layman’s terms, disclosure is the need for full and frank exposure of all relevant investigative material to the courts and the defence. The police and the Crown have been erring on the side of caution over the last number of years interpreting relevant to mean “all” investigative material and this in combination of digital record keeping have seen files grow in size from a couple of hundred pages to averaging over five thousand pages. It has even morphed into the warrant applications where at one time they were a few pages long to now look they were written by Tolstoy. All of it is time consuming, manpower heavy, and the vast majority of the information produced of no probative value. Cases have become so heavy in terms of disclosure that they have become mired in a state of suspension, never going forward in a timely way and running headlong into the Jordan decision, which requires timely Court proceedings. 

Finally there is a BC Court system, a court system, which has still failed to recognize that the Hells Angels are a criminal organization. 

Lets face it, B.C. is Canada’s version of California, a society highly tolerant of criminal and predatory behaviour.  The billion dollar drug industry and all the violence that comes with it is virtually ignored in this part of the country and this is simply the payback. 

Drugs are the root of the gang wars, control of the turf paramount to their money and stature. The B.C. Government continues to  turn a blind eye, whether it be drugs, the laundering of monies or the street crime on the downtown Eastside. It’s the three pillar approach the social workers and the welfare infrastructure exclaims and points to as the solution.  If any of this is to change the Judges need to be governed by the protection of the public not the welfare of the suspect. In this new age of “defunding the police” this may be the most difficult wall to climb. 

As those inside the system know, the amount of change that is needed is indeed staggering, requiring all levels of government to come together and make real court tested changes. There is a need for strong and formidable police leadership. Advancement of one’s career in policing is now attached to the ability to appease, to talk the talk of diversity and inclusion not the usurping of criminal behaviour. The police executives seem content to absorb themselves in the spin to the public, promoted by keeping the public satisfied, even if it means lying to them. 

The BC government has no problem, in this time of Covid, of directing police resources and breaching the Charter rights, to check for people going camping. A rather laughable effort to stem virus transmission, but have shown no interest in a concerted effort against the gangsters who have been recently opening fire on outside dining spots. 

The officers of IHIT and other homicide agencies are spinning their wheels, albeit making a lot of money doing it, as overtime is driving file costs in the neighbourhood of half a million dollars per file. There are 400 officers in CFSEU, 100 plus officers in IHIT, now being out gunned by teenage hoodie wearing gangsters with under nourished intelligence. It’s frustrating to them and it’s frustrating to the general public.  Prof Gordon of Simon Fraser University, never one to dodge the cameras, when asked when the gangster war will ease said, “probably when they run out of targets”. 

Unfortunately, he’s probably right. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Mika ___ Some Rights Reserved

Royal Flush

Transparency in and around the policing world, is like that old Chinese proverb about interesting times; it is both a curse and a blessing.

It is argued by some that the police being allowed to play out of view, operationally speaking, is a good thing. Others theorize that being hidden from public scrutiny allows the incompetent and mediocre to flourish and opens up the possibilities of fraud, corruption and even criminality. Large government regulatory operations often swell into multi-level layers of authority and can become by their very size –opaque.  

Commissions of Inquiry are one of the few times where the policing world and regulatory  arms of government are forced out of the shadows. The Cullen Commission into money laundering in this Province is proving no exception.

There are three main agencies being talked about: the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), the government Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), and the RCMP section— the Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET). What is somewhat unusual in this inquiry is that all three of these agencies, the ones being called forward to present evidence, are staffed either by cops or ex-cops.  

Even more interesting, is that all the personalities are often pointing accusingly at the others. Their probity on full display, but describe having been burdened by their very own agencies and thwarted in their efforts. 

This Commission is also exposing the raw politics of our duly-elected —and their often limp efforts to expose wrong-doing. 

It is putting on full display inter-agency rivalries, conflicting mandates, and bureaucratic duplication. It is shining a light directly at the upper level managers in the RCMP in British Columbia— who it would appear felt that the subject of criminal activity in gaming was very far down the priority list. One could term this Commission as just another chapter in the lack of effort against white collar crime in this country.

The implementation of legalized gambling in British Columbia a number of years ago was met by public concern. Criminality, it has been well documented, often follows the introduction of gambling. British Columbia with its then well established large underground drug industry was a natural fit, ants to a picnic. Despite this obvious corollary, apparently, some under-estimated its eventual massive economic ripple effect. Was this a general lack of effort, or was it something more sinister? That is the root question facing Mr. Cullen. 

It should be said that the vast majority of the ex-cops testifying are shining examples of former police officers. Old school, still able to recognize right from wrong. It is becoming evident as this commission progresses that it was primarily politics and policy which subsumed any effort to thwart organized crime– not the personalities involved. 

At the same time, one could not help be struck by the level of cronyism which affects these regulatory bodies. Find one Mountie and swing a bag of rocks and you will hit another one, pulled up by their brother and sister officers into these Provincial post-retirement jobs. Those that testified, who may have been armed with the best intentions may have been guilty of having on occasion remained silent in the face of obvious wrong-doing. Content to stay within their assigned mandate. 

Gord Friesen and John Karlovec testified on behalf of the BCLC. Mr Friesen gave an overall picture of the workings and mandate of BCLC and this was echoed by Mr. Karlovec.

They described BCLC as being governed by a mandate which was often termed– to “observe and report”. They provided their information to the police through forms called Itrack (ph)reports to: GPEB,  FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre), CFSEU (Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit), and to IPOC (Integrated Proceeds of Crime) group. BCLC devised the rules and conducted oversight, but they believed that they were not responsible for the enforcement. 

During this time both Karlovec and Friesen stated that the alternate Provincial agency, GPEB, was always insistent that it was they who were the primary “investigators”. When Friesen was asked about any feedback they would receive from GPEB, the answer was “no feedback….none”. This defies common sense. No information was being forwarded as to any criminal elements that would have been frequenting the establishments that BCLC investigators were in turn governing. 

At GPEB was Larry Vander Graff and Joe Schalk (also both former Mounties). Vander Graff was the Director and Schalk his deputy. Both of these individuals also enjoyed good reputations as police officers prior to leaving the RCMP. 

Peter German (former Mountie) who wrote the initial report gives credit to Schalk for having “nailed it” referring to his understanding of the money laundering problem. However, despite the possibility of GPEB playing a leading role, Schalk on more than one occasion is called out by the others as being a little over bearing in his demand to be seen as the single, go-to investigational authority, and the relationship between GPEB and BCLC floundered. 

In fact, the Ministry of Finance in April 2014 in a management audit, stated that the relationship between the two agencies was “so adversarial it has resulted in dysfunction in several levels within the division of BCLC.”. Years earlier, in 2007 during an Assessment Review by Katherine Tait, GPEB had been called “largely ineffective”. (It was also noted that during this time BCLC won a series of ministerial workplace “awards”)

Meanwhile at GPEB Schalk and the team members were pushing hard for greater funding from government, and becoming quite noisy in pushing back at their governmental masters, asking and possibly demanding  policy and practise changes. They were not so subtly inferring that they could not keep up with the job.  

For their apparent efforts both Vander Graff and Schalk were terminated without cause in 2014. 

There should be no mistake however that despite the individual mandates of BCLC and GPEB, everyone was still pointing at the Mounties as being primarily responsible for overall “criminal” investigation. They were the only ones with peace officer status and the much needed resources. That part was true in theory but in reality it was far different. 

Mounties during this time had become smitten with the term “integrated”. “Integration” had become the poster child, the marketed symbol of cohesion and effectiveness. Along came the Integrated Market Enforcement Team, the fore-mentioned Integrated Illegal Gambling Enforcement Team, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, and the Integrated Border Enforcement Team to name a few. 

Over time this exercise has met with very mixed results, some have even been disbanded with some not achieving actual “integration”. The media never caught on, all believing and still believing, that the very title implied a dedication to exceptional effort, co-ordination and unlimited manpower. They could not have been more wrong, especially when referring to the IIGET. 

The sum total of manpower after the formation of IIGET, to deal with the often financially complicated and intricate cases of money laundering— came to a grand total of twelve, with one assigned analyst. None of the personnel had any experience in gaming, but if they were lucky they were sent to Ontario to attend a two week training session. 

S/Sgt Tom Robertson headed this unit and readily admitted in testimony that he had no personal background in gaming, that none of his unit were properly trained, and that the team was spread out over four offices. Realizing quickly that they were severely undermanned and under qualified to take on the more serious money laundering cases, he re-aligned the group to focus on the use of illegal video lottery terminals, illegal bingos, raffles and common gaming houses. 

He underlined the need for political results and to undertake the cases they considered “High” level would risk them getting “tied up” despite that the more serious issues were part of their dictated mandate. During his short stint of about a year, Robertson said there were no prosecutions involving legal casinos other than the identifying of one loan shark who was brought to their attention by the casino security staff. There were no charges even in that single case. 

Robertson at one point talked about the fact that Larry Vander Graff, head of GPEB was worried about “infuriating” casinos and didn’t really want to ruffle any feathers. S/Sgt Robertson after a year, retired himself, and then also became an investigator for GPEB in the Kelowna area, where he stayed for the next nine years. 

Robertson after leaving had turned over the reins of IIGET to the newly assigned S/Sgt Fred Pinnock. Mr. Pinnock during the last few months has loomed large in the media. He has publicly expounded on the lack of effort by all levels in the gaming industry. In fact he asked for but was refused “standing” by the Cullen Commission. His time at IIGET and the build up of frustrations led to him leave the RCMP for medical reasons he testified.  

Mr. Pinnock who is now retired, did not waste his time on the stand and provided some very personal opinions about all that was ailing both in his own unit, IIGIT, and the personalities that made up the other agencies. 

He even outed the inside source who had been feeding the reporter Sam Cooper (now working for Global) who had been doing a series of stories on the money laundering issues in Vancouver. The source was Ross Alderson who was employed by BCLC, left the agency in 2017, and according to Pinnock surreptitiously took most of the in-house BCLC files with him.

Pinnock described having written two separate business case plans, trying to expand his new unit with more manpower and resources, and both were denied, or more accurately ignored.  

He spoke about the fact that IIGET was part of a Consultative Board who were supposedly overseeing all the groups which met twice a year. This group was made up of the CO of E Division, the CEO of BCLC, the Director of GPEB, and Kevin Begg, then the Director of Police Services. He opined that this group was no more than window dressing, a “charade” in his words.

He described issues over mandates between GPEB and IIGET, which became so tainted that he made an application to move their entire unit from the shared office space, which was eventually granted. There were verbal arguments between he and Joe Shalk of GPEB on particular roles which resulted in a “significant enforcement gap”.  He claimed that GPEB never sent any information with regard to loan sharking or money laundering to them or reports of large money transactions. 

Pinnock describes dealing with the upper levels of the RCMP; Supt. Dick Bent, Supt Ward Clapham, Inspector Wayne Hulan and Supt Russ Nash. His immediate boss was Don Adam in the Major Crime Area, but this was during the time of the Pickton investigation which Adam became fully engrossed and therefore Pinnock claims, Adams had little time or interest in the other side of the house and IIGET. 

In another twist, Pinnock who seemed to be talking to anyone who would listen to his plight, was then dating MLA Naomi Yamamoto, who was in 2015 appointed as Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness. It was through her, that Pinnock requested a meeting with Rich Coleman, who was then Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. That specific meeting never took place, although Pinnock, again through his now-wife met Coleman on some later casual occasions.

Larry Vander Graff the Executive Director of GPEB, testified that he too brought up the problem directly to Rich Coleman. When describing $10,000 wrapped in elastic and $20 denominations, Vander Graff says that  Coleman’s disingenuous response was that he knows lots of people with that amount of money in their pockets. Vander Graff also talked about reporting to another integrated unit, IPOC(Integrated Proceeds of Crime unit), but that too was disbanded in 2013.

Mr. Pinnock talked about his relationship with Kash Heed, someone he considered a “friend”, who in the Fall of 2009 was involved in the government. Heed besides being a former Superintendent with the VPD and West Vancouver Chief of Police was then an MLA. In 2010 he would go on to briefly become the Solicitor General, but later  had to resign. Mr. Heed’s career, his often outspoken nature and his willingness to get on the soap box has often led him into the firing line. 

In a meeting with Pinnock in the Fall of 2009, Heed said that any increased enforcement efforts in the gaming end of things fell to Rich Coleman. In Pinnock’s recollection of the conversation, he said that Heed told him that Coleman was “all about the money”. The inference being obvious. He went further in this private conversation with Pinnock wherein Pinnock claims that Heed named three RCMP executives who he thought were “complicit”. Pinnock named them as; C/Supt Dick Bent, Al McIntyre and Gary Bass. He said that Heed called them “puppets” for Rich Coleman. Pinnock says he kept no notes about this meeting and during cross-examination he faltered a bit on whether these were the actual words at the time. 

In 2018 Pinnock was apparently convinced that with the German report upcoming, that he may have to play a role in any inquiries into gambling,  Pinnock had a phone conversation with Heed in 2018 and in that conversation Pinnock hoped to have Heed repeat what he said in 2009. This time Pinnock surreptitiously recorded Heed. Legal, yes. Ethical, maybe not.

Pinnock has now turned over three transcripts to the Commission of his conversations with Heed, which are being redacted and people named have been given the opportunity to respond or make an appearance before the Commission. 

During questioning by the other participants, Pinnock said that he was never contacted by Peter German during his inquiry. He admitted to being “disappointed” that he was not called. In viewing and listening to Mr. Pinnock one does get a sense of him enjoying the cloak of a white knight and often his evidence seems slightly tainted by personal animus. His conversations with Heed with regard to Coleman make for headlines, but they are of course nothing more than political gossip. There is no smoking gun, no direct evidence of anything.

The Commission is proving to be a frustrating exercise for any outside observer. British Columbia is emblematic of the rest of Canada where governments at three levels have become enamoured with increased legalized gambling revenues. Not so dutiful to regulation and enforcement. 

The abilities of governments to pass laws, set up committees, regulatory bodies, or “consultative” boards is their strength. Coffee, bottled water, and chicken wraps flow through the various government committee and board rooms of Federal and Provincial ever growing bureaucracies. The laws and the regulations are often drawn up with little regard for enforcement or oversight. When confronted with the need for action these government groups often flail about drowning in a sea of jurisdictions, interpretations, mandates, and the large bureaucratic structures become a hindrance unto themselves. 

In this case, three regulatory bodies were joined —supposedly in the fight against money laundering. 

BCLC has 900 employees in this Province, in 2013 there were the equivalent of 3600 full time equivalent jobs at GPEB.  IIGET, the agency responsible for the criminal aspect, was allocated by senior management in the RCMP a whopping 12 untrained officers. In addition the three groups didn’t get along and literally stopped talking to each other. The lack of operational results was maddeningly predictable.

As of November 2020, Ken Ackles (also a former RCMP officer), who headed GPEB in 2013, testified that he did not know of any single conviction for money laundering to date.

Clearly there are a few people who gained during this mayhem. Organized crime of course; ex-cops looking for a somewhat lucrative 2nd income, and now the more then 41 lawyers sitting on this Commission. 

Government revenues have exceeded $3.1 billion.

Somewhere, therein lies both the question and the answer. 

Photo courtesy of www.davidbaxendale.com via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

Editorial Note: At the time of this report, Kash Heed has yet to appear to defend himself, nor has Rich Coleman, or the RCMP named managers.