Report warned illegal gaming would go uninvestigated

The province's anti-illegal gaming team was axed even though an internal government report warned many of those crimes would go uninvestigated as a result. But the minister responsible has outright denied those findings. It's just the latest controversy surrounding the team, a provincially-funded Royal Canadian Mounted Police unit that was setup by the government in 2003 and quietly shuttered six years later.

Before its closure, the government commissioned policy consultant Cathy Tait to review the integrated illegal gaming enforcement team's effectiveness.

The review, which was submitted to government on January 14, 2008 and obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, found the team "had some successes."

But it also found room for improvement, recommending the preparation of a "comprehensive business plan for the continuation and potential expansion of IIGET."

What it didn't recommend, though, was the team's shutdown.

Describing such a decision as "inappropriate" at that point in time, the review stated "no police agency is likely to fill the void left by the RCMP component if IIGET were to disband."

Some illegal gaming targets could "be taken on by local police departments and detachments" - although the government blanked out further details about those targets, claiming the release of such information could be "harmful to law enforcement."

However, according to the review, most staff felt "that local police lack the time and specialized knowledge to undertake these types of investigations."

In addition, the RCMP advised it was "very unlikely" their anti-organized crime unit "would take on major illegal gaming investigations" involving such high-level criminals.

"It is possible that the Co-ordinated Special Forces Enforcement Unit may target some of the same individuals IIGET would target."

"However, the focus of that unit is on particular organizations and individuals rather than on a particular type of activity such as illegal gaming."

In an interview with Public Eye, Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman said that was "just not correct."

He also said illegal gaming is just as well-policed now as it was when the integrated illegal gaming enforcement team was still around.

"What we did is we took the resources and actually integrated it back into policing through our own enforcement people" - a reference to the civil service investigators staffing the government's gaming policy and enforcement branch.

This isn't the first time the minister's statements seem to have been at odds with information in internal government and police documents.

Last year, minister said IIGET's shutdown wasn't a budget decision, instead stating the team was ineffective.

But a message sent to RCMP members cited urgent "funding pressures" as among the reasons for IIGET's closure.

The minister has also said the team "never, ever" submitted a business plan, even though meeting minutes for IIGET's consultative board reference the preparation of two businesses cases.

A government spokesperson later explained there's difference between a business plan and a business case.

And then there're the statements made by the team's former commander Fred Pinnock, who - in an exclusive interview with Public Eye last year - questioned the government's commitment to "meaningful" illegal gaming investigations.

"It seemed the way to remain in favour with government was simply to maintain a statistical, check-the-box-type, radar gun-level of enforcement and not meaningful targeting that would disrupt significant criminal activity," Mr. Pinnock said.

At the time that accusation was levelled, Minister Coleman wasn't available for comment. But, in his absence, Solicitor General Kash Heed stated, "That's that individual's opinion. And he's entitled to his own opinion but not his own set of facts."

All of which is a concern for New Democrat housing and social development critic Shane Simpson.

Speaking with Public Eye, the Vancouver-Hastings MLA said the review, "raises serious questions about whether the government's decision to eliminate IIGET has more to do with trying to save a few dollars than it has to do with enforcing the law."

"The report is pretty explicit in its concerns about the demise of IIGET. The minister should take his head out of the sand and realize that this is a real issue."

The following is a complete copy of the relevant section of Ms. Tait's effectiveness review.

Integrated illegal gaming enforcement team effectiveness review page 32

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