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Public inquiry goes private for big banks

Financial institutions expected to reveal some of the tactics it is using to combat cutting-edge money-laundering techniques
Commissioner Austin Cullen for the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia. Photo by Graeme Wood

Top anti-money laundering officers for three of Canada’s biggest banks will speak privately to the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C. Tuesday afternoon.


Commissioner Austin Cullen ruled Friday that an in camera meeting would be held to hear from these officers from Scotiabank, Royal Bank of Canada and HSBC Canada.

“The evidence will be of a highly sensitive nature and it is expected that it will describe typologies and methods of money laundering – including new and cutting-edge techniques – in some detail,” the commission stated Friday.

Senior Commission Counsel Brock Martland said the inquiry should strive to keep all hearings and evidence before it public, however the information provided by the banks is too sensitive.

“We expect that these experienced people will provide information on what they are seeing in the real world in the context of money laundering efforts, and they will describe what banks are doing in response,” Martland stated. “As I am sure people can understand, there could be a serious negative impact – not just for the banks but also for public interest – to have people learn the specialized knowledge of what money launderers are doing and how banks are addressing the issue.

“It would give rise to a realistic likelihood that bad actors would learn what works and what doesn’t, what the banks do and don’t do, and what gaps exist that they can take advantage of.”

There will be no publicly available video or transcripts for this panel’s testimony at

Speaking to Cullen will be Stuart Davis, Scotiabank; Jay Stark, RBC and Georgia Stavridis, HSBC.

The commission resumed last week with hearings that include testimony from experts from the ATM industry; from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada and Chartered Professional Accountants of BC; and from Nicholas Maxwell, head of the Future of Financial Intelligence Sharing (FFIS) Programme, RUSI Centre for Financial Crime and Securities Studies.

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About the commission

The Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia was announced on May 15, 2019 by Premier John Horgan. It is independent of government. Led by Commissioner Austin Cullen, a judge of the British Columbia Supreme Court, the commission is looking at the full scope of money laundering in British Columbia, including real estate, gaming, financial institutions, and the corporate and professional sectors. The commission is also examining regulatory authorities and barriers to effective law enforcement of money laundering activities. Cullen has the ability to compel witnesses and order the production of documents and records.

The commission’s hearings are expected to conclude in May of 2021 and at that point, the commissioner will seek an extension of time from the Province of British Columbia for submission of the final report.