(This column was published in the North Shore News on April 12, 2000)


Funding fiddled while organized crime grows

By Leo Knight

LAST August, at the annual convention of the Canadian Chiefs of Police, the RCMP announced the formation of the Organized Crime Directorate under the guidance of Deputy Commissioner Giuliano "Zack" Zaccardelli.  


In choosing that forum to make the announcement, with all the attendant media attention, the RCMP demonstrated just how significant the problem has become.  


Last week Zaccardelli said in an interview with the national media that organized crime is threatening our democracy.  


"For the first time, organized crime, serious criminal organizations, are actually threatening the democratic institutions of this country and the values that we hold dear," said Zaccardelli.  


"It is a real threat to the way of life that we have in this country. It is that serious."  


Now this statement comes as no shock to me or to regular readers of this space. The ramifications of organized crime and the inaction of various levels of our governments have long been a bone of contention with me.  


Unfortunately, neither the federal nor provincial government seems to give a tinker's damn about the problem. In fact, their masterful inactivity smacks more of condoning the situation rather than seeking to combat the problem.  


Last week, our newly minted provincial Attorney General, Andrew Petter, made a big splash in announcing an "additional" $3.8 million in funding for the Organized Crime Agency of B.C. (OCA).  


In the accompanying press release, Petter was quoted as saying that "staying ahead of organized crime is an essential element of public safety."  


As stupid as that statement is, and it really is, Petter compounded the ignorance by saying, "This government's commitment was demonstrated last year when we established the agency (OCA) and we are increasing that commitment today by providing new provincial funding to target organized crime groups at their highest level."  


In the first place, it is impossible for us to "stay ahead" of a problem that is spiralling out of sight.  


I spoke to a police officer about this issue the other day. The officer has over 25 years experience, the bulk of that time spent in the fight against organized crime. He scoffed when I read him the quote.  


"We can't stay ahead of something we're merely trying to catch up to," he said.  


As far as "this government's commitment," there is none.  


OCA was formed when CLEU (Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Unit) was put out of its misery after years of being totally dysfunctional under the dubious direction of Peter Engstad, who, since he was fired from CLEU, has been placed as a senior negotiator with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs dealing with treaties.  


Inspires a lot of confidence in the government's ability to get a good deal for B.C. doesn't it?  


Back to OCA though. According to the press release, OCA runs on a $9.8 million operating budget. The additional cash announced by Petter with much fanfare brings the budget to $13.6 million. The operating budget for CLEU at the time of its demise was $13.6 million.  


The Owen Report, which recommended the death of CLEU and the implementation of a new agency, said in its recommendations: "Current levels of public funding for British Columbia's anti-organized crime initiatives should be maintained while the new organizational model recommended in this report is developed and implemented."  


In other words, all Petter has done is what was being done before and following the recommendations of the Owen Report.  


But, in reality, the situation is really much worse than even those sad facts would indicate.  


On March 23, 1999, our erstwhile attorney general, now Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, announced the hiring of RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bev Busson as the head of OCA.  


On that day, at the press conference done with the usual NDP fanfare, Dosanjh said the budget for the new agency would be set at $15.1 million. Any suggestions how we got from $15.1 million down to the $9.8 quoted in Petter's press release? Some commitment!  


It's also interesting to note that Busson left the new agency to take over as commanding officer for the RCMP in British Columbia after only nine months on the job.


Granted, the job as CO of "E" Division is the most senior CO's job in the force and is certainly a good springboard to the commissioner's office, were she so inclined. But why after only nine months?  


There was a rumour going around that she left because the government -- you remember those guys who are committed to fighting organized crime -- cut her budget by $5 million.  


Whenever I tried to get to the bottom of that, I was assured it wasn't true. Given the statement made by Dosanjh last March and the one made by Petter last week, it certainly seems as though there may be more than a little truth in it. Unless my calculator is broken, $15.1 million minus $9.8 million leaves $5.3 million.  


Then there's the last line of Petter's press release. It says, "As part of its expansion strategy the agency will open its first branch in Victoria later this month."  


Far be it from me to underestimate the importance of Victoria, but the majority of the organized criminal activity in B.C. runs through Vancouver. It would make more sense to open an office in Nanaimo, at least they have the Hells Angels and Vietnamese drug dealers. The only thing there is in Victoria is bureaucrats and politicians. Hmmmmm.  


I will leave the final word to the police officer I referred to earlier. "This would be laughable if it weren't so serious."






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