by Angelo Persichilli
THE HILL TIMES (Oct. 2nd, 2017)
I learned last week that the federal government is concerned about the popular perception that our institutions are not serious about fighting organized crime in Canada. The office of the justice minister is looking at initiatives to fight this perception and wants to make sure it doesn’t stick in the mind of Canadians.
It’s good Ottawa will finally do something to change the perception, but I hope the fight will go beyond improving perception and be directed at reality. The fact that Canada is not seriously engaging in the fight against organize crime is not new, is real, and is becoming dangerous.
In last week’s interview with The Hill Times, author and worldwide expert on organized crime, Antonio Nicaso said, “the fight against organized crime has never been a priority in Canada.” I remember an interview I had with an Italian judge who was engaged in the fight against corruption and organized crime in Italy. He said that he was having serious difficulties in Canada collecting information about money laundering. He stressed that Canada was one of the countries used by criminals to launder money coming from criminal activities.
Canada has been warned in the past by international organizations and domestic law enforcement agencies like the RCMP, but no serious initiatives were ever adopted. The last stiff warning came over a year ago from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a United Nations organization monitoring illegal financial operations around the world. FATF warned Canada about “an important domestic and foreign money-laundering threat” from many foreign and domestic criminal organizations that launder billions of dollars in this country.
Most concerning, FATF sounded an alarm about the threat against “major financial institutions and some unscrupulous real estate lawyers targeted by criminals involved in laundering money.” Aside from a story in The Toronto Star last October, the dangerous warning was at the time almost completely ignored by the media and politicians, despite international warnings brought to the attention of numerous Canadian politicians who completely disregarded it.
There could be many reasons. The Mafia has infiltrated some institutions and is controlling the flow of information; people who should be in the forefront fighting organized crime are scared to do their job; or sheer ignorance. Or, it might be a bit or all of the above.
Last year, members of the Italian anti Mafia Parliamentary Commission and met with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the RCMP commissioner, and officials from the Justice Department in Ottawa. Not much is known about that meeting but, most likely, what was discussed were the activities of the powerful Calabrian criminal organization known as ‘Ndrangheta, which is considered one of the richest and most powerful organized crime groups in the world, and has strong connections in Canada.
Italian authorities are trying to get more co-operation to fight money laundering. Back to the 1990s, Project Omerta, as I wrote in The Star, revealed that the Caruana and Cuntrera crime families in Canada were acting as a connection in this country for the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, providing drug-trafficking routes and channels for money laundering. FATF, in last year’s report, revealed that “fraud, corruption and bribery, counterfeiting and piracy, illicit drug trafficking, tobacco smuggling and trafficking, as well as tax evasion” are the major domestic sources of illegal profit. While FAFT recognizes that Canada has a strong commitment to combat money laundering, it achieves “good results in some areas but requires further improvements to be fully effective” and requires more political commitment.
Experts like Nicaso are not optimistic and many point to the Charbonneau Commission in Montreal. A widespread pattern of “fraud, conspiracy to commit government fraud, abuse of trust, secret commissions and laundering the proceeds of a crime” was uncovered, but the 60 recommendations made by the commission to prevent such activities, are yet to be implemented.
(Angelo Persichilli is a former prime minister Stephen Harper’s PMO director of Communications, former columnist for Toronto Sun and Toronto Star and former political editor at Corriere Canadese)