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HomeBusinessEx-speaker Barisoff testifies in B.C. Legislature corruption trial

Ex-speaker Barisoff testifies in B.C. Legislature corruption trial

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Bob Mackin

The Crown expects to wrap its fraud and breach of trust case against Craig James this week, Special Prosecutor Brock Martland said in B.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 14. 

It is not yet known if James, the Clerk from 2011 to 2018, will testify on his own behalf or if his the defence lawyers will call any witnesses.

Then-Speaker Bill Barisoff (left) and Clerk Craig James during a Feb. 14, 2012 ceremony at the Parliament Buildings in Victoria. That was the same week Barisoff approved a $258,000 payment to James. (BC Gov/Flickr)

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes heard Feb. 14 from Bill Barisoff. Barisoff, a BC Liberal MLA who was speaker from 2005 to 2013, appeared via video link from a courtroom at the Penticton Provincial courthouse. 

In 2012, James and three others took so-called long-service award payments under a pension scheme that had been discontinued. Kate Ryan-Lloyd, James’s successor, turned hers back in early 2013 before a scathing report by the Office of the Auditor General. James kept his $258,000 package, which is the subject of one of the five charges to which he has pleaded not guilty. 

Martland asked Barisoff whether he was concerned about the ethics of the payments. 

“Were you concerned at the time about the appearance, the optics of Mr. James having been involved in the process of moving forward the payment of these large payments and then receiving one in short order himself?” 

Barisoff: “If I remember right. My biggest concern at the time was what was happening was [clerk assistant] Robert Vaive…  that he was dying of cancer and was attached to this money as we’re going around in circles.”

Martland asked Barisoff if he sought any advice, including from the conflict of interest commissioner, Paul Fraser. He said he had no recollection of speaking to anyone, including Fraser. 

Martland: “Did you trust and rely on the integrity of the people who dealt with this issue? Why?”

Barisoff: “Because if you didn’t have to trust the people that you work with, it’s pretty difficult to run the operation.”

Martland also asked Barisoff about James’s visits to his house, which were revealed in then-Speaker Darryl Plecas’s 2019 bombshell report that exposed corruption at the Legislature. 

Martland: “With respect to your relationship with Mr. James, I think you said earlier that you had not been to his house, has he been to your house? How many times?” 

Barisoff: “I can’t remember, but I always think of that was on business.”

Martland: “Give us a ballpark sense of whether that’s five times, 10 times, two times, 20 times Five? 

Barisoff: “Five.”

How many were during versus after his tenure as speaker? Sorry, I just can’t. I can’t remember,” Barisoff said. 

Martland said that there are documents on some of the visits, including June 2013 and April 2017. Martland prompted Barisoff to recall a delivery of items stored in his Legislature office during the former visit. He did not recall how many days James stayed. 

In the Plecas report, there was evidence of a $370 cheque dated June 26, 2013 from Barisoff with a memo “wine purchase” after James had trucked a quantity of alcohol worth as much as $10,000 from the Legislature to Barisoff. The haul also included a desk and chair. James stayed overnight at the Penticton Lakeside Inn, which was billed to taxpayers. 

The trial continues. 

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