The interim leader of the B.C. Liberal party told a provincial inquiry on Thursday that the issue of money laundering in casinos was an "important priority" for the province while she was in charge of gaming, but not the only priority.
Shirley Bond said the government in 2011 was also preoccupied with gang activity, gun violence and civil forfeiture cases during her time as solicitor general and minister of public safety under then-premier Christy Clark.
"[Money laundering] was one of many priorities," Bond told the Cullen Commission during her testimony Thursday. "Gaming is a piece of a very large and complex ministry."
Bond is one of several former cabinet ministers appearing before the inquiry this month as the commission turns its focus to the government's actions over the decade-and-a-half that money laundering worsened in B.C.
Bond was the minister in charge of gaming in the province from March 2011 until February 2012.
Over those 11 months, Bond said she never discussed with then-premier Clark reports of millions of dollars in suspicious cash entering casinos being linked to organized crime and money laundering.
She said she was not informed high-level players were buying-in at casinos for hundreds of thousands of dollars predominantly in $20 bills, nor was she aware casinos in the Lower Mainland were accepting millions in suspicious cash.
"That was never raised with me directly as minister," said Bond.
Delay in creating task force
Bond defended her record, noting she made sure the province implemented nine of 10 recommendations from the 2011 Kroeker report, which looked at steps B.C. should take combat money laundering.
But commission lawyer Patrick McGowan pressed Bond on the delay to act on the report's greatest and final recommendation: the creation of a dedicated, cross-agency task force to investigate suspicious activity.
Bond said "public service" staff told her the first nine measures were doable in the short-term and would make a difference. Given the cost and complexity of a task force, she opted to wait and see how the first nine recommendations affected the problem before acting on a team.
The Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team (JIGIT) wasn't launched until 2015. Money laundering had peaked by then, later reports would show, with millions in dirty cash flowing through the province.
Former premier Clark told the public inquiry on Tuesday the 2015 spike was the first she'd heard of the money laundering problem from within her government.
Money laundering has had long-lasting ramifications for the B.C. economy. It's linked to organized crime, has been connected to the ongoing opioid crisis in B.C. as well as sky-high housing prices across the Lower Mainland.
WATCH | Documents obtained by CBC News in 2011 showed senior RCMP investigators warned the province about money laundering in B.C. casinos:
More cabinet ministers to come
Former B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers Rich Coleman, Mike de Jong and Kash Heed are scheduled to testify before the inquiry later this month. Attorney General David Eby will also appear.
A report in 2018 said a "collective systemic failure" had cleared the way for unwitting casinos to become "laundromats" for proceeds of crime since the early 2000s, with more than $100 million likely cleaned in B.C. over roughly a decade.
The Cullen Commission is examining how B.C. can better address the problem.
Its final report is due Dec. 15.