COLUMN: It’s time for a crackdown on white-collar criminals

Justice is expensive, but letting white-collar criminals go unpunished costs society even more.

It’s funny how British Columbia just suddenly started caring about money laundering the last couple years.

We knew it was happening. We watched TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos too. We knew gangs owned certain businesses that weren’t on the up and up. But we didn’t really care. If we – and by “we” I mean both politicians and the public – had given a damn it wouldn’t have been quite so easy.

Certainly, there would have been a little more pressure on casinos to not just accept bags of cash. Municipalities – municipalities! – would have thought a little harder about allowing people to pay tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes with cash. And politicians would have thought to use the issue as a cudgel to beat up on their rivals.

RELATED: Eleven people paid a $10,000-plus Abbotsford tax bill in cash last year

RELATED: City of Vancouver limits cash payments at $10,000 to prevent money laundering

But you never heard accusations of being “soft on money launderers” until recently, because it’s only been in the last year or two that we have seen how dirty money can affect the average person.

Because of how money laundering works, we are unlikely to ever really know the actual impact that money laundering had on property values and the overdose crisis. But what we do know is that billions of dollars of suspicious cash made homes more expensive and cost people their lives.

Even on the low-end of the scale, money laundering likely to have cost anybody entering the property market in recent years thousands upon thousands of dollars. It’s also likely to have facilitated the purchase of drugs that have killed dozens of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons over the last three years.

Which, of course, is why we – and politicians – care about it now and why the cost of a public inquiry seems like money well spent if it can limit future damage.

Hopefully it will mark the start of a reckoning. British Columbia and Canada has traditionally treated money laundering the way it treats most white collar crime: with a tiny, uncaring shrug.

RELATED: Federal plan to ease penalties for corporate crime has drawbacks: internal analysis

Across our province, people get scammed left and right and we have done little. The BC Securities Commission, which is tasked with dealing with wealthy criminals who defraud and scam people out of their hard-earned money every year, levies millions of dollars of fines that then go uncollected, according to an investigation by reporter Gordon Hoekstra. And although these folks have committed fraud – a serious crime – but the RCMP had pretty much given up on actually going after them until Hoekstra shone a light on the matter.

I covered a fellow once who used his investors’ money to buy a big ring – among many other large purchases – for his wife. The BCSC took him to task, but he was never criminally charged, so far as I could tell.

Part of this is because of resources. Police forces have many things they can investigate, and non-violent criminals who require a ton of time to bring to justice get pushed down the priority list. The problem, as we have learned recently, is that, left unchecked and unpoliced, such crime can do serious damage to society. Not only that, but once a culture of permissiveness springs up, a region begins to attract wily criminals from other jurisdictions.

We have known for decades that it’s cheaper to treat someone who is sick in the early stages of the illness, rather than letting them get to the point where they need hospitalization.

But only recently, it seems, are we figuring out that the same principal may apply to how we deal with the rich, non-violent criminals in our midst. You don’t have to be a gun-toting gangster or a bike-stealing prolific offender to leave a trail of ruined lives in your wake. And just because you wear a suit shouldn’t exempt you from justice.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News.

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