During the Powell River Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, December 11, trustees discussed a letter submitted to the board by Powell River resident John Chan. The letter followed a previous letter sent in October, which called on trustees to submit a response to the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in BC report that found $7.6 billion in dirty money made its way through the BC economy in 2018.
Chan’s letter asked trustees: “What mechanisms are in place to ensure money is not being laundered here?”
Chan, who attended Wednesday’s district meeting, submitted a second letter on December 6. He claimed that, following his first letter, he was assured by trustee Jackie Timothy that trustee Russell Brewer would “look into the matter,” and contact Chan.
The December letter reads: “I still have not heard anything back from Mr. Brewer.”
Brewer took strong exception to that statement.
“I’m confused as to the nature of this letter, and it naming myself as looking into the matter and getting back to the person, which is not the case at all,” said Brewer. “That’s not what was discussed, and I never heard from anyone. The first I heard about this was when someone told me it was posted on Facebook, which is troubling.”
Brewer noted his contact information is on the school district website, and that anyone can reach out to him “anytime.”
Board members said they did not think it was necessary to formally respond to the concerns raised in the letter, since dirty cash in the education system primarily worked its way through post-secondary institutions.
Facilities department manager Steve Hopkins noted the commission requested post-secondary institutions to review their policies with respect to cash payments and fraud, because college students might be able to launder money by paying for tuition with cash, and then withdrawing from a program with a partial refund.
That danger, said Hopkins, does not apply to the kindergarten to Grade 12 system.
“I’m not aware of anything tying that danger to our system; in our program, outside of extenuating circumstances, we don’t provide refunds because people don’t withdraw,” he added. “We don’t normally take cash. In the K-12 system, in order to be accepted you have to have pre-applied, and prepaid prior to arriving in Powell River.”
Notwithstanding, trustee Lawson moved that the board instruct staff to submit a response to Chan’s letter. The motion carried.
Reid then invited Chan to offer comments.
“I appreciate the clarification, because I certainly didn’t hear that over the phone,” said Chan.
However, he continued, “what propositions are currently being negotiated involving large sums of offshore money into any of our school programs, any time in the past, or currently being negotiated? Like Sino Bright school, for example?”
Superintendent of schools Jay Yule said the Sino Bright land acquisition had “nothing to do” with the school district.
Chan suggested the board set up a review committee consisting of trustees, the city and citizens to “review any potential offshore investment related to the school board in the future.”
Reid responded to Chan’s suggestion.
“I think that would be something we would look at if that program was going to be happening, but it’s not currently,” said Reid, “so I don’t really see the need for it at this time.”