Investigator with government agency claimed 'moral injury' after employer ignored money-laundering concerns

·4 min read
An investigator at a government agency found that a monetary penalty paid to his employer in cash was 'suggestive that his employer had received proceeds of crime, rendering it liable for prosecution for money laundering,' according to a tribunal decision. (Shutterstock/Stefan Malloch - image credit)
An investigator at a government agency found that a monetary penalty paid to his employer in cash was 'suggestive that his employer had received proceeds of crime, rendering it liable for prosecution for money laundering,' according to a tribunal decision. (Shutterstock/Stefan Malloch - image credit)

A senior investigator with a government agency claimed a "moral injury" after his employer ignored his concerns that an agreement to accept a large amount of cash as part of a negotiated penalty deal amounted to money laundering.

The investigator's complaint is detailed in a B.C. Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal decision from April that also highlights concerns the man, a former police officer, had about his employer's decision to seize products from an Indigenous business in a way that he felt "perpetuated 'obsessive governance' of Indigenous persons."

The man's name and the agency he worked for are redacted from the decision, which also says a manager warned the man their employer had a "long memory" after he repeated his belief the agency had "laundered dirty money."

Both WorkSafeBC and the appeal tribunal rejected the man's claim, finding that none of the events he described were "traumatic" or could be considered "significant stressors" that triggered his pre-existing post traumatic stress disorder.

'Problematic' cash payment

Despite the lack of specific detail, the ruling — written by tribunal vice-chair Anand Banerjee — provides a window into a conflict within government about possible money laundering when the issue is front and centre in British Columbia.

The commissioner of a public inquiry into money laundering released a report Wednesday in which he said the province needs to establish an investigative and intelligence-gathering unit to deal with the problem.

B.C. Supreme Court Austin Cullen said the province should also appoint an anti-money laundering commissioner to oversee B.C.'s strategy to combat the flow of dirty cash through the many sectors of the economy.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

According to the appeal tribunal decision, the investigator who filed the claim used to be a sergeant with an unnamed police force who "served his country and B.C. for 26 years."

He cited three components to his "moral injury" claim.

The first conflict arose in June 2020 when the man learned that a "monetary penalty imposed by his employer against a violator had been negotiated down by approximately 50 per cent, and paid in cash."

"The worker believed this large cash payment to be problematic and indeed suggestive that his employer had received proceeds of crime, rendering it liable for prosecution for money laundering," the decision says.

The agency's executive director told the man the decision had been vetted by legal council and run past the government's Financial Services Branch.

But no matter how many lawyers his employer cited to justify the decision, "it was my opinion as a former police officer that what he had ultimately done was against the law," the man said, according to the tribunal decision.

The next concern involved the seizure from an Indigenous business, which the man conceded was done within the law; nevertheless, he believed it was wrong.

"He has expressed the view that, as a result of his personal 'moral' beliefs, the law should not have been enforced in that case," the decision says.

Finally, the man expressed concern with the way investigation documents were scrutinized by legal counsel and "written and rewritten."

"In this view, this practice 'negated and not truly followed' the principles of procedural fairness and natural justice," the decision says.

'Experience does not amount to expertise'

The worker filed a workplace compensation claim after attending an in-person residential treatment centre in early 2021. According to the decision, he has a long-standing history of PTSD and major depressive order.

The WorkSafeBC officer who first rejected the man's claim acknowledged that the "decision to accept a large cash payment from a debtor and to legally seize [a product] from an Indigenous [business type omitted] store was upsetting to you and against your morals and values."

But the officer didn't find the employer had acted in an "abusive or threatening manner."

In the appeal decision, Banerjee accepted the fact the worker's experience as a police officer might have given him insight into the laws relating to proceeds of crime.

"However, experience does not amount to expertise," Banerjee said, noting it was unclear why the man thought his view of the situation should trump the legal opinion sought by his employer.

At the end of the day, Banerjee found that "the source of the worker's conflict with the employer in all of these matters appears to be a fundamental disagreement with the business and operations of the employer."

He compared the situation to one in which an environmental activist might experience stress and "moral outrage" if they worked for an oil and gas company involved in fracking.

But Banerjee said a moral disagreement wouldn't fall within the category of excessive stress emerging in the "normal pressures or tensions of a worker's employment" — the bar for a claim.

He also said the warning about the employer's "long memory" was not unreasonable in a context where the employee refused to let go of his claims of criminality.

"Just as workers should be free to raise concerns about illegal or unethical behaviour in the workplace without fear of reprisal, employers should not have to be subjected to ongoing allegations of serious criminality by their employees," Banerjee wrote.

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