Every Chinese person in Sam Cooper’s world is either a Communist infiltrator, a murderous criminal, a triad drug dealer, an arms smuggler, a casino money launderer, a gambling addict, a politician who abuses human rights, a housing speculator, or a helpless victim of all of the above. These people have made their way into Canada and the West, according to his best-selling book Wilful Blindness.
Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights activist, has written a two-page defence of this portrayal in case readers believe it is racist. Teng assures readers in the introduction on page xv that conflating anti-Chinese “racist narratives” with criticism of Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party is “ridiculous” (CCP).
Cooper is freed from political correctness with that disclaimer to frame Canada’s China Question as an outright battle between good and evil. There are no nuances or cautionary reflections in his 460-page book. There is no discussion of Canada’s long history of systemic racism and Sinophobia, nor of the current anti-Asian hate that is sweeping North America and Australia. Sinophobia is really a fabrication of the CCP’s propaganda.
It is all but impossible to accuse the Global News star investigative reporter of balanced, thoughtful writing.
The “Vancouver Model”: China’s plot for revenge
To sell his “Vancouver Model” of the Chinese Threat, Sam Cooper builds on Project Sidewinder. The RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) developed a series of intelligence reports, called Sidewinder, in the late 1990s, concluding that Chinese state agents and their assets had infiltrated and “corrupted Canada’s institutions and markets” (page 63). For reasons not fully known, Project Sidewinder faded away and was largely forgotten until recently.
In the Vancouver Model version, the CCP’s United Front Works (UFW) Department is the mastermind of the new elevated threat to the West. The UFW controls a global network of agents, spies, influencers, tycoons, criminals, and pro-CCP elements that Cooper argues has thoroughly infiltrated Canadian society since the late 1980s.
China is prosecuting “the Opium Wars in reverse,” according to an anonymous source cited throughout his book (page 49). According to the source, the CCP is planning a long-term revenge against the West for dividing and colonizing China during the two Opium Wars in the 19th century. The infiltrators—Chinese government officials, tycoons, criminals, and some members of the diaspora—aim to weaken western civilizations while strengthening China by selling narcotics to their host countries, while enriching themselves in the process.
According to Cooper, the proceeds of crime are laundered through Metro Vancouver’s casinos and real estate markets, resulting in more “threat-financing” profits to fund the UFW’s operations (page 341). The UFW has bribed or influenced Canadian authorities at all levels, from the prime minister down, to look the other way for more than three decades. In brief, Canada is completely compromised, and “the Chinese” are taking over the country.
According to Cooper, the CCP began implementing its master plan following the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver, when the British Columbia government courted rich Asian immigrants to invest in the province. The CCP took advantage of the chance to mobilize Chinese tycoons, triad members, money launderers, and diaspora members to carry out its dirty operations in Canada.
He writes on page 43 that “The Vancouver Model couldn’t function without the blessing of officials inside China.”
I will address Wilful Blindness’s Chinese-scapegoating messaging and insidious Sinophobia another time. In this review, my critique is focused on the wilful blindness of Cooper’s selective reporting.
Wilful Blindness, published by Optimum Publishing in May 2021, has received positive feedback from some influential people.
The book is remarkable for its astonishing number of sweeping statements that are unsubstantiated, distorted, exaggerated, or downright false. Because there are so many, I’ll only go through a few of them here.
These nuggets of disinformation are buried between long paragraphs of detail and are intended for easy consumption. They have the effect of distorting and sensationalizing an already difficult discourse about China and the Chinese Question.
Here is a selection of endorsements that is helping to sell Cooper’s wilful disinformation.
Cooper’s “relentless painstaking work” in building the Vancouver Model was praised in the foreword by Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat and proclaimed China expert.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Alex Joske, a well-known China analyst, praised it for its “eye-opening examination of Chinese organized crime and the Chinese Communist Party.”
Cooper was described as a “terrific investigative journalist, with scoop after scoop” by Clive Hamilton, an Australian academic who has written about the CCP’s “silent invasion.”
Paul Finch, treasurer for the powerful British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), wants Wilful Blindness to be mandatory reading for anyone interested in Canadian politics and economics.
James Cohen, a leading anticorruption figure who heads Transparency International Canada, said he had “the pleasure of reading an advance copy of…Wilful Blindness”.
Meena Wong, a former Chinese Canadian politician, tweeted that “Sam’s book” made her angry with its revelations about CCP infiltration and money laundering.
Terry Glavin, a Canadian writer who collaborated with the author during the book’s early stages, said that “Hollywood…hasn’t already signed him for a big-screen treatment of this story.”
Margaret McCauig-Johnston, a Chinese-fluent analyst, agrees and wants Netflix to turn the book into a miniseries.
The Vancouver Sun’s self-proclaimed “diversity expert” Douglas Todd gushes over the book being a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.ca while the National Post’s Sabrina Maddeaux uses it to beat the federal Liberal Party government for letting “a narco state to fester under their noses”.
China’s oil trade
Cooper writes on page 125 that Chinese criminal boss Lai Changxing “was allowed to monopolize China’s oil trade with his access to the country’s military vessels and ports”.
This is false. China’s oil trade has never been monopolized by any company. Given the importance of oil to China’s national security, Beijing will never allow a single entity to control the supply of energy, particularly one run by an out-of-control maverick entrepreneur turned criminal.
The world’s biggest money launderers
“Baccarat was the primary channel for money-laundering in B.C. casinos.” (page 179)
So, what happened when the B.C. government raised the bet limits for baccarat card gambling from $25 per hand to $500 in 1997 and to $100,000 in 2014?
According to Wilful Blindness, “if you raised bet limits, you opened the flood-gates wider and attracted the world’s biggest money launderers.”
This raises some interesting questions.
Is Cooper aware of who the “world’s biggest money launderers” were in 2014 and who they are now? Did they all go to the casinos in Metro Vancouver when the betting limit was lifted? Can he confirm that baccarat is their “primary channel” for laundering money in B.C. casinos?
Why would “the world’s biggest launderers” hustle over $100,000 card games in Vancouver when they can wash billions through the capital markets or the arms trade, which are worth trillions of dollars, considerably more efficiently—as they have always done? Also, why would all these huge money-laundering bosses show up in person at casinos if they know they’ll be tagged and captured on surveillance cameras?
The world’s richest and most powerful people
On pages 2 and 3, Cooper reports that 100 foreign VIP patrons came to gamble at Metro Vancouver’s main casinos in 2015.
He declares that “These visitors were among the richest and most powerful in the world.”
Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim, Jack Ma, Warren Buffett, Charles and David Koch, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, George Soros, Prince Alwaleed, and Rupert Murdoch were among the world’s the world’s richest people in 2015, according to Forbes.
Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Pope Francis, Xi Jinping, Janet Yellen, David Cameron, Narendra Modi, Mario Draghi, and other politicians represented the most powerful (in 2015).
According to Google checks, none of the world’s richest or most powerful people visited Metro Vancouver casinos in 2015. Could they have snuck into the River Rock Casino in disguise to play a desperate game of baccarat with the other the rest of the rich and powerful? Imagine the Pope, Bill Gates, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, Michael Bloomberg, and Rupert Murdoch gathered together in a smoky room, trying to hustle each other at their favorite card game.
The “epicentre” of money laundering
Cooper’s most popular stories regarding the Chinese Threat include the alleged “mind-blowing” money-laundering activities at the River Rock Casino in Richmond City. His reporting was so alarming that it contributed to the B.C. government’s 2019 decision to launch an inquiry into money-laundering in the province, with the casinos a major focus. In the same year, he and his colleagues won the Jack Webster award for “Excellence in Feature/Enterprise Reporting.”
On page 280, Cooper reiterates his winning theme: “B.C.’s River Rock Casino has been called the epicentre of money-laundering by international organized crime groups.”
Who are these international crime groups? He doesn’t name any of them, nor does he say whether they’re willing to share evidence to prove his claim that the River Rock is the epicenter of money laundering. Another of his unsubstantiated sweeping claims must be accepted by the reader.
Even when the sources are identified, the information published in Wilful Blindness is beyond dubious.
Muriel Labine, a supervisor at River Rock Casino, started keeping a journal in 1997.
On page 95, citing her journal, Cooper writes: “A senior shark would have 40 to 50 boys working as runners to distribute heroin cash to high-rollers.” This implies there was more than one senior shark, each with his own team of up to 50 runners.
According to Labine, the runners earned about $10,000 each month, indicating that maintaining a team would cost at least $500,000 per month, even before other expenses are counted.
She adds that a senior shark must “return” $3 million in laundered funds to the cartel every month, meaning that his total operating costs might possibly exceed $4 million.
None of these numbers have been verified.
Then she writes that the senior shark “was allowed $2 million in ‘overhead’ for gambling losses”.
This is a real head-scratcher. Why $2 million, and not 50 cents or $3 million? What’s to stop the senior shark from taking in $2 million in monthly “gambling losses”? How does the triad make money if its sharks are permitted to take such a large loss on top of the runners’ salaries and the cartel’s monthly return of $3 million in laundered funds?
Cooper does not explain the peculiar, concocted economics of this high-risk, labour-intensive money-laundering operation.
Labine’s method of gathering information would be alarming for any serious publication. Not for Wilful Blindness and its publisher. She is quoted on page 95 as attributing important information in her journal to “an unnamed coworker” who is “close to a senior loan shark” who allegedly cites a “high-ranking Big Circle Boy” gang member. In other words, she depended on hearsay and gossip. All of this, though, is fantastic material for Cooper, who, in his wilful blindness, quickly accepts her word as authoritative. Readers should be aware that one of Canada’s award-winning reporters is passing this off as investigative journalism.
For helping him fill up the blanks about the Richmond casino scene in the late 1990s, he immortalizes Labine on page 90: “She was on the frontlines of a major geopolitical shift.”
Ross Alderson, the former anti-money-laundering director of the B.C. Lottery Corporation, recounts his interview with a whale gambler who lost $57 million at the casino over a two-year period on page 267. The man, who lives in Canada and owns mining corporations in China, did not seem to be able to explain why he was willing to gamble and lose so much money.
He was not the only one. According to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), there were 60 to 80 whales who gambled between $100,000 and $1 million per session. They would gamble for a few months, return to China, and come back again.
An incredulous-sounding Cooper asks on page 268: “What kind of businessman would bet like this?”
The inference is that these wealthy Chinese people were most likely criminals or drug dealers who were laundering money behind their backs.His assumption is that no rational rich people gambled to lose.
Did Alderson and Cooper consider the reality that casinos attract people who are addicted to gambling? This would include bored Chinese tycoons willing to fly in, play big, and lose big.
He said that “The staff at River Rock was allowing this, and BC Lottery Corp wasn’t doing anything. I believe it was being encouraged. They were flying people in.”
Indeed, they probably were flying these whales in. Sadly, that is the nature of the business. Casinos hit the jackpot when they can lure people, especially the wealthy, to gamble with abandon. Some could well be criminals, but the majority are likely not.
Did Alderson or the BCLC study the profile of Metro Vancouver’s casino whales, particularly the 60 to 80 mentioned by the GPEB, given their concerns about crime? How many people were discovered to have a problem with an addiction? Why haven’t any studies been conducted? It would be surprising if Alderson, as an experienced investigator and law enforcer, did not attempt to discover as much as he could about these people, especially if it is such a small group of 60 to 80.
As for Cooper, has he ever addressed the scourge of gambling addiction in his casino stories? Every big gambler, especially if it’s a whale, is assumed to be a criminal and Chinese, according to his reporting. Could addiction be a significantly greater threat to Canadian society than money laundering, given the rise of online gambling and casinos in the last two decades? Would uncontrolled Internet-based gambling, rather than a casino, be a better way to launder money?
In November 2018, Attorney General David Eby was surprised to find that federal prosecutors and the British Columbia RCMP would not support his high-profile campaign to prosecute what would have been the province’s largest money-laundering case in history. Silver International Investments Limited, based in Richmond, and its two directors, Paul King Jin and Caixuan Qin, were arrested in 2017 and were expected to be charged in early 2019 for a variety of criminal activities, including money laundering.
For the B.C. government and law enforcers, the collapsed case represented a huge loss after years of investigations. Until that point, Cooper’s and other journalists’ media reports had pointed to an imminent public relations victory for the ambitious attorney general.
According to the CBC, Public Prosecution Service of Canada spokeswoman Nathalie Houle said the charges did not pass the prosecution test, which requires a reasonable conviction rate based on evidence expected to be available at trial and that it would best serve the public interest.
Federal prosecutors have not explained why and how the charges failed to pass the prosecution test, but Cooper believes a key informant’s safety was at risk.
While the real reasons may never be known, I’m curious if Cooper’s sensational stories about Silver International could provide a clue. In Wilful Blindness, he mentions a hidden audio recording of RCMP Inspector Bruce Ward giving a private briefing to an audience comprising U.S. Secret Service agents, financial professionals, and Canadian police.
On page 273, citing the briefing, Cooper describes Silver International as “a financial juggernaut allegedly capable of laundering and moving over $1 billion per year for the import and export of drugs”.
In the pages that follow, he demonstrates how easy and risk-free it is to run a global money-laundering business for drug dealers. Not to mention highly profitable, given that it is managed by a one staff member working out of a downtown Richmond office.
Ward said that “A single woman standing behind a desk with a cellphone and a ledger. That was it—no bodyguards with a gun,”
The unidentified woman is also highly efficient and reliable. She assists drug dealers in Canada in “instantly make mountains of dirty cash” that “materialize in bank accounts in China, Mexico, or Peru.”
Cooper faithfully reports this without question or comment.
Ward plays a video of “a typical event” that shows a drug dealer bringing in a duffel bag containing $1.4 million in cash ready for washing. Most of the money is in $20 notes, the rest are $100s and $50s.
“She receives a call, she goes out to receive a trusted customer,” he is quoted as saying on page 274.
Criminals, according to Cooper, are completely honest and cooperative. She has already wire-transferred the credit to China “before the cash even comes in the door,” showing her trust.
He writes that she counts all of the $1.4 million “by hand.” It means she processes the entire amount in one day—anything between 14,000 (if all are in $100 notes) and 70,000 (in $20s)—within the same day.
After writing the amount down in her ledger, she even “double checks” the money.
Just like that.
If this operation is laundering over $1 billion a year, how many cash notes will that staff have to count “by hand” every day? And, that is not the end of her work. After the counting, she has to put in more hours to bundle, stack, and pack all those notes.
She has at least 255 working days after deducting 110 weekend days from the calendar year. In order to turn over $1 billion in a year, she will have to process $4 million in hard cash “by hand” every day, assuming she does not take vacation, medical, or emergency leave. Every day from Monday to Friday, between 40,000 and 200,000 notes, if they are all in $100s, and between 40,000 and 200,000 notes, if they are all in $20s.
Is it really possible for one person to count so much money in a nine-hour office day? What are the possibilities that she will make a mistake such as undercounting or overcounting the amount? What are the processes for fixing mistakes and resolving disputes? When there is a discrepancy in the money count that cannot be reported to the police, who mediates?
Ward’s story, as told in the book, is clearly absurd, but the reader is expected to accept it as undisputed fact. Cooper does not ask questions or comment. Questions have a nasty habit of ruining the flow of exciting stories.
Regardless, the holes in Ward’s story are just too big to ignore.
Despite dealing with daily “mountains of dirty cash,” neither the employee nor Silver International appear to be afraid of being robbed.
Ward said that “Five minutes later is the end of her shift. And she walks out and locks the door. There is no need for security because no one would know it is there or dare rob that place.”
This is truly astounding in a city notorious for never-ending violent turf wars and deadly gangland shootings.
How bizarre is Ward’s claim that “no one knows it is there” if street-smart gangs have been using this office every day to launder over $1 billion a year? Another remarkable contradiction may be found on Page 259 in the description of Paul King Jin’s fleet of Sienna vans.
The vans were being driven “in an incredible beehive of daily activity” to transfer cash from the Richmond office to casinos and other locations. How does any violent, money-grabbing, drug-dealing gangster not know about this heavy traffic of easy cash flowing in and out of a particular office in downtown Richmond?
“This was global drug crime at the highest echelons,” Cooper declares of Silver International’s operations on page 16. It is another of his hyperbolic statements made without evidence.
Thankfully, his wilfully blind fans will not question it. So eager are they to believe the threat of Chinese money-laundering through B.C.’s casinos that they will do anything, including pay $39.95 for a compilation of “true” detective stories.
Others, on the other hand, may not be so fawning. Perhaps there’s another side to the Silver International story that explains why Ottawa discontinued the charges against Silver International.
What if the corporation was processing far, far less cash than Eby, Cooper, and the rest of the media wanted the public to believe? Was the corporation involved in any shady dealings? Who knows, but did the prosecution go too far in claiming that Silver International was operating at the “highest echelons of global drug crime”?
The Hells Angels sleeping on park benches
In a book that purports to describe Canada’s booming narcotics trade, some of the country’s most powerful and well-established organized crime groups are barely mentioned. This is a weird situation. It’s like talking about 9/11 without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or George W. Bush, or a physics lecture with barely a nod to Sir Isaac Newton.
The first grudging mention of the Hells Angels and a few local gangs comes on page 78. Apparently like out-of-shape Canadian manufacturers, they too could not compete against their more efficient Chinese rivals.
By the late 1990s, Cooper claims, the Hells Angels “didn’t run Vancouver anymore”. Their members were tragically reduced to “sleeping on park benches”.
A decade after the Expo 1986 event in Vancouver, Chinese criminals had grown so fast and powerful that they “were taking over in western Canada” and forcing the Hells Angels out as “they had mastered drug importation and distribution.”
Cooper does not explain how the CCP sidelined illegal motorcycle gangs in order to take over the Canadian crime market, which is vital to the Vancouver Model plot. Why did Canada’s ruthless organized crime groups surrender their lucrative turf to a few newly arrived Chinese immigrants who hardly spoke English? Did the CCP co-opt the bikers and other gangs into its Vancouver Model to try take down Canada? Do you think the CCP bullied Canada’s toughest guys into submission?
Cooper appears to have a low opinion of the Hells Angels, as well as other gangs such as the Red Scorpions, the United Nations, and the Canadian Mafia. From pages 429 to 437, they aren’t even listed in his book’s index.
Thankfully for the Angels and their reputation, two reporters and the U.S. Department of Justice provide a different picture to contradict Cooper’s account.
the Vancouver Sun’s veteran crime reporter, Kim Bolan, wrote in July 2018 that “Hells Angels still expanding after 35 years in B.C.”
B.C. anti-gang police officer Lindsey Houghton told Bolan that “They are still expanding, they are still looking to shore up their power base and ensure that they maintain the highest levels of influence and intimidation within the criminal landscape, the organized crime landscape.”
In 2016, Patrick Lejtenyi wrote a story for Vice News entitled “How the Hells Angels Conquered Canada” and “why they’ll continue to be at the top of Canada’s organized crime hierarchy.”
“The Hells Angels have a capacity to adapt to change,” former RCMP analyst Pierre de Champlain told Lejtenyi.
“It’s something they learned from the Mafia. They can adapt to situations that are not necessarily favourable, mostly by going underground and staying quiet for a while.”
The Hells Angels had developed since their founding in Canada in 1948, according to these two journalists, and were still growing 70 years later. Neither mentioned the group losing ground to the Chinese, feeling threatened by the CCP, or having their members sleep on park benches.
The United States published their most recent report on April 29, 2021. The Angels’ status as one of the world’s most powerful organized criminal groups was affirmed by the Department of Justice.
According to the report, “the Hells Angels pose a criminal threat on six continents” and have members in 26 countries, including Canada.
According to the Department of Justice assessment, the group is certainly far more formidable than any Chinese gang since its members in North America have experience with a wide range of crimes, including international narcotics, money laundering, extortion, and homicide. No wonder Wilful Blindness steered clear of analyzing the Hells Angels and other Canadian gangs.
Cooper has fired up his career by informing Canadians that there is a big silent army of Chinese infiltrators living among them, ready to rise up against their adopted country if Beijing gives the order. Wilful Blindness’ commercial success indicates he’s gaining progress in his fearmongering.
For all its hyping of the Vancouver Model of the Chinese Threat, the book can only name just over 90 Chinese individuals who are criminals or alleged ones operating in Canada, stretched over the last 35 years.
This is a microscopic number for a 38-million population and a C$2.2-trillion economy. It gives a sense of the size of the Chinese organized crime problem in Canada. With Xi Jinping’s China involved in a new Cold War with the West, it’s only logical for the Vancouver Model narrative to include the CCP to make the Chinese threat looks pervasive and overwhelming.
“There is very little light between Chinese organized crime and the CCP,” Cooper cites another anonymous source on page 69.
The warning regarding Chinese officials collusion with the triads is not completely without basis. Through centuries, secret societies have been known to take sides in China’s numerous power struggles.
For their role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911, scholar Martin Pubrick has referred to “the perceived patriotism of triads.” Deng Xiaoping, China’s famous reformist leader, recently stated that “not all triads are bad; many are patriots.”
The issue is not whether Chinese government officials collude with shady characters. This is like asking if the CIA works with corrupt politicians, crooked businessmen, and organized crime.
Rather, the focus should be on the “quality” of their collusion: how extensive, effective, and durable? This is central to the Vancouver Model thesis.
When bilateral relations were in their honeymoon phase, many of the criminals and alleged criminals named in Wilful Blindness immigrated from China to Canada. They moved to Canada to take advantage of the open environment to expand their business after finding no development prospects in a tightly controlled China. The majority are opportunists whose primary purpose was and remains profit-seeking. Some worked with Chinese officials along the way, but were they actually part of the CCP’s big plan to infiltrate and take down the West?
Cooper’s narrative does not include Lai Changxing’s sensational story. He moved to Canada in 1999 to avoid arrest by Chinese police for running a massive smuggling ring and bribing public officials after developing a business empire in Fujian province in the 1990s. Why was Beijing so eager to bring him down if he was a part of the CCP’s Vancouver Model plan while in Canada? It took 12 years of negotiations before Canada allowed his extradition back to China where he is now serving a life sentence.
Cooper wants his readers to believe that the CCP is in charge of a well-oiled Vancouver Model machine of Chinese nationalists comprising officials, tycoons, and criminals. However, because these are people who aren’t recognized for being the most trustworthy, especially toward one another, so it raises questions about the viability of the strategy.
How far do Chinese officials entrust the underworld to do their dirty work? What are the dangers of these criminals making arrangements with third parties or, worse, serving as double agents for Western intelligence? Will the triads’ patrons and handlers sell them out if the political wind in Beijing shifts, as it frequently does? Any gangster knows that blind loyalty to politicians is a bad idea, and vice versa. When will the tycoons tire of the constant threats posed by collaborations with criminals and corrupt government officials and cut their losses? How frequently do these collaborators turn on one another?
Nobody knows for sure, but these are important questions that Wilful Blindness avoids answering. It assumes that just because someone is Chinese does not mean they are all patriots who believe and act in the same way. Palace intrigues, factional infighting, and bloody civil wars exist in China’s long history, suggesting that the country’s shadowy collusions are more likely to be opportunistic, unpredictable, and short-lived than systemic and coordinated.
It starts at the top where the politics among China’s elite is treacherous and merciless. When Mao Zedong, the founder of communist China, felt threatened, he had no qualms about eliminating his closest comrades. The CCP’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is just as ruthless and insecure. Since taking power in 2012, he has eliminated influential rivals and purged over a million officials on accusations of criminal activity and subversion. On suspicion of corruption and colluding with criminals, tycoons have been executed, their assets seized, and top military generals have been arrested and hounded to death.
It’s risky for any Chinese official, no matter how powerful, to keep close ties with shady tycoons and triad leaders for too long in the face of such distrust and rivalry. How long will the Vancouver Model be sustainable and effective if its participants are continuously threatened by one another?
The Vancouver Model of casino money-laundering
Cooper describes how easy it is to launder money through a casino using an underground banker with accounts in both Richmond and China on pages 265 to 267. He cites the hypothetical case of a Chinese VIP gambler visiting Canada who receives $100,000 in cash from a Vancouver underground banker to play at the River Rock casino. Simultaneously, he deposits $105,000 in a Chinese banker’s account. The $5,000 difference represents the banker’s 5 percent commission.
This method of transferring money across borders is well-documented, and has been in use ever since banking became globalized. Using this method, Cooper claims the Chinese have been laundering “mind-blowing” amounts of money into Canada.
After receiving the $100,000 from the underground banker, the gambler goes into a casino to buy an equivalent amount of gambling chips. He limits his gambling as he plans to convert most of the chips back to regular money.
“The VIPs could cash their…casino chips for casino cheques…and deposit the funds in Canadian banks to buy Vancouver real estate,” Cooper writes on page 267.
There are problems with this story.
Why go through a casino at all? If the VIP’s purpose is to transfer money from China to Canada, he should simply take the money from the underground banker, skip the casino, and buy real estate. When he goes into the casino with a large amount of cash, his identity is captured, and he risks being called up for questioning.
The underlying issue, and a significant hurdle for money launderers, is that most businesses, including casinos, are required by law to report and reject large cash transactions. There have been a few breaches, but they have all been discovered. Over several months in 2010, the CBC revealed unusual cash-and-chip transactions worth millions of dollars in casinos. According to CTV, River Rock Casino accepted $13.5 million in $20 bills from “unknown persons or persons” under suspicious circumstances in July 2015.
Over time, the laws and enforcement controlling large cash transactions have become more severe. Drake, a Canadian celebrity rapper, discovered this when he tried to pay for chips with $10,000 in cash at the Parq Casino in Vancouver in November 2018. Casinos will also not write a large-sum cheque out to a VIP gambler unless it is for a confirmed winning.
Cooper’s concept that a money launderer might get a cheque from a casino for unused chips and use it to buy real estate is simplistic. That fact that past cases have come to light shows that these were anomalies, and they were quickly shut down.
But it wasn’t simply the facts that undermined his claim that casinos are the epicenter of money laundering in British Columbia. Sam Cooper will turn out to be his own enemy in the following section.
Wilful Inconsistency: the “Secret Police Study”
Cooper drops a bombshell by contradicting his prized narrative after years of selling whopper casino stories.
He writes in a Global News story in November 2018 jointly authored with two colleagues that “B.C. Lottery casinos serve as a vital conduit in the underground transactions. But the money laundered through gambling is insignificant in comparison to the sums flowing through real estate,”
He puts the casinos on shaky ground with the adjective, “miniscule,” without warning. They were no longer his glamour villain.
A “secret police study” claiming Chinese organized crime was responsible for more than $1 billion in high-end Vancouver real estate transactions in 2016 appears to have turned his head.
On page 302, he hails the study for its “blistering indictment of B.C.’s economy.”
So, what happened to those $100,000-per-hand baccarat games that supposedly attracted “the world’s richest and most powerful people” to launder “mind-blowing” amounts of money through Metro Vancouver’s casinos?
Why did the B.C. NDP government spend so much political capital and public resources on an inquiry that mostly focused on events at the River Rock Casino prior to 2015, if the casino’s dirty money flow was “miniscule” all along?
Recall Wilful Blindess’s dramatic opening pitch on page 1: “…it was insane how these gamblers were allowed to lug bags of cash into the casinos every day. All you had to do was watch the casino surveillance footage. Mind-blowing.”
More than 300 pages later, the reader is told the casinos were really a bit player.
Cooper launches into an immediate hard sell of the “secret police study”. On page 301, he praises its methodology as “elegant and robust”.
A closer read reveals the mysterious study is far from elegant and robust.
It’s a phantom, like Wilful Blindness’ many anonymous sources, and its author(s) are also unknown. B.C. Attorney General David Eby, the mastermind behind the province’s money-laundering investigation, said he only found out about it because of a Global News story. It’s unclear whether he’s seen it yet. has seen it yet. Apparently, the rest of the Canadian media have not seen it either.
According to Cooper, the author(s) focused on 1,200 luxury homes, or around 3% of Metro Vancouver’s almost 40,000 total home sales in 2016.
He says on page 302 that over 10% of the 1,200 properties were sold to people with criminal backgrounds, with 95% of them “believed by police intelligence” to be related to mainland China crime networks. In absolute terms, this indicates that 120 of the homes were bought by criminals, with 114 of them possibly having ties to Chinese gangs.
Because the study itself is not available to be scrutinized, these reported conclusions should be viewed with care. The claim that many of the Chinese homeowners have gang ties should be handled with the same skepticism that many of Cooper’s casino stories have been.
Even if reported accurately by Global News, the data must also be seen in the context that it was for a single year, and only covered homes costing between $3 million and $35 million. For a more accurate finding that Chinese gangs have been laundering money through Vancouver’s properties, the study would have to cover several years, and a broader segment of the market covering properties worth less than $3 million.
How much of “believed by police intelligence” can be trusted? What if 2016 was an anomaly, representing the high point of claimed Chinese criminal ownership of luxury homes throughout the 2010s? In addition, the investigators must check the ownership of real estate by Canadian criminals. Has the RCMP studied how much B.C. real estate is owned by outlaw motorcycle gangs? Canadian criminals have the advantage of incumbency, and knowledge of local laws and conditions.
On page 302, Cooper attempts to defend the study’s narrow focus: “The RCMP could only afford to study the high-end.”
If a limited study is all the RCMP can afford, does that justify declaring its finding “a conclusive result” that “significant money-laundering was pouring into Vancouver homes” from Chinese gangs? (page 301)
Perhaps this is why the RCMP has kept the “study” a well guarded secret, making it available only to a trusted journalist “in a secure and confidential transfer of information” (page 302). Could that “study” be nothing more than a few spreadsheets of data that won’t stand up to detailed questioning?
Cooper, on the other hand, hasn’t stopped from providing his favourite conclusion.
“It was a mind-blowing finding,” he declares on page 302. It is the same adjective he used on the casinos on page 1.
The facts and storylines may have changed but his use of “mind-blowing” is as consistent as can be.
Canada’s China challenge
Wilfulness Blindness fills a voidvacuum at a time when Canadians are trying to understand China’s challenge to the United States-led global order. That order, which has been in place since the end of WWII, is crumbling, but what will replace it is uncertain.
Because of the uncertainty, there is a huge and rising market for ideas that address the China challenge. Politicians everywhere are grappling for answers to reckon with a new China under Xi Jinping that is clearly not a benign force.
Some of the ideas will be considered and nuanced. Most will try to find ways to reach a peaceful conclusion.
However, keep an eye out for those who have little to offer other than a wilful blindness to spread misinformation and stoke fear. It is critical to call them out as soon as possible, or the early days of the post-2020 order will become even worse.