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HomeBusinessUpdated: What we know about the B.C. Legislature scandal

Updated: What we know about the B.C. Legislature scandal

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Bob Mackin

The Bombshell

NDP Government House Leader Mike Farnworth, who is also Solicitor General, rose at 11:06 a.m. on Nov. 20 in the Legislature after Question Period, to interrupt the start of a committee hearing on environmental assessments.

The six-term Port Coquitlam MLA and veteran cabinet minister’s hands were trembling, as he looked down to read from a single page. An announcement of this sort had never been made in the 147-year history of British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly. 

“By leave, I move: That Mr. Craig James, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, and Mr. Gary Lenz, Sergeant at Arms, are placed on administrative leave with pay and benefits, effective immediately.

Mike Farnworth announcing the suspension of the B.C. Legislature clerk and sergeant-at-arms (Hansard TV).

“During the period of administrative leave, and as a consequence of an outstanding investigation, Mr. James and Mr. Lenz must not access Legislative Assembly network equipment, systems or services and must not be present within any building that is part of the Legislative Precinct as defined in section 1 of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 258.

“This resolution is subject to periodic review and modification by the Legislative Assembly.”

No one objected. The motion passed unanimously.

Farnworth had waited until both James and Lenz had left the chamber to make the announcement. He even took a walk outside the chamber, after both had left.

Premier John Horgan sat beside Farnworth, looking glum. Horgan later said outside the Legislature that he had been briefed yesterday and had spoken to Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson. He claimed to know very little about the investigation.

In the minutes after the bombshell, there was communications chaos in Victoria.

Craig James (standing left) and Gary Lenz (back to camera) minutes before their suspension was announced in the B.C. Legislature (Hansard TV)

theBreaker contacted Farnworth on his cell phone to find out more, and specifically asked if police were involved. After a pregnant pause, Farnworth declined to answer. He only repeated that the two men were on administrative leave and referred theBreaker to Attorney General David Eby. Eby subsequently referred theBreaker to the Clerk’s Office. Sage Aaron, a spokeswoman for Horgan, referred theBreaker to the Speaker’s Office.

James, carrying personal belongings, told reporters that neither he nor Lenz knew what was going on and were equally shocked. TV cameras showed him escorted out of the building. James left in a silver Buick sedan driven by Lenz.

Later, during the noon hour, an aide to Speaker Darryl Plecas, Alan Mullen announced that there was a police investigation into a criminal matter and that a special prosecutor had been appointed.

Mullen said it was unprecedented. “It’s disturbing, it’s disruptive,” he said. 

When the province’s public prosecution service issued a statement, it said there were two special prosecutors. An investigation had been active for at least two months. 

A single independent special prosecutor is appointed if an investigation or prosecution contains a significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in prosecutorial decision making. In this highly unusual case, two were appointed, because of “the potential size and scope of the investigation.”

The statement said Peter Juk, the assistant deputy attorney general, was asked by the RCMP on Sept. 28 to consider retaining a special prosecutor. David Butcher and Brock Martland were appointed Oct. 1.

Special prosecutor David Butcher

Butcher was the special prosecutor on the Quick Wins investigation, in which BC Liberal operative Brian Bonney pleaded guilty to breach of trust related to the multicultural outreach strategy under Premier Christy Clark. Butcher was also the March 2017-appointed special prosecutor on the investigation of political donations by lobbyists.

During a break in Bonney’s sentencing hearing last January, Butcher told reporters that he would be finishing his report by March. After Butcher’s new appointment was revealed Nov. 20, theBreaker asked Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel with the Public Prosecution Service, about the status of Butcher’s previous assignment. McLaughlin reiterated the original statement made March 30, 2017, which concluded: “As the matter is currently subject to an ongoing investigation, neither the Criminal Justice Branch nor Mr. Butcher will comment further or release any additional information at this time.”

“The B.C. Prosecution Service has nothing to add at this time,” McLaughlin told theBreaker.

He did not answer whether Butcher’s assignment to investigate James and Lenz had any crossover with the previous probe.

Martland, meanwhile, is a criminal defence lawyer who represented convicted Surrey Six murderer Matthew Johnston.

Martland’s practice website says his specialties include criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials, criminal appeals, violent crimes, drug offences, sexual offences and white-collar crimes. He was a law clerk to Supreme Court of Canada Justice John Major.

There is no official information about the allegations yet.

Special prosecutor Brock Martland

“The RCMP has an active investigation underway, with respect to allegations pertaining to their administrative duties, and we are not in a position to provide any other details or specifics. A thorough investigation is underway and will take the time necessary,” said Sgt. Janelle Shoihet of the RCMP E Division headquarters.

A report in the National Post on Nov. 21, which was based on unnamed sources, claimed that the RCMP investigation was about allegations of fraud and theft. 

“More details could be disclosed,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “It seems like the only reason not to would be if others in the Legislature are involved in the alleged wrongdoing and they are worried that those people may destroy evidence that is within the Legislature.”

Who Are They?

Craig James: As clerk of the Legislature, he is akin to the CEO.

James started his 40-year career in parliamentary institutions in 1978 in Saskatchewan. He came to B.C. in 1987 as the first Clerk of Committees. He became the acting chief electoral officer 14 years later and, in 2012, the 12th Clerk of the B.C. House.

James was the acting head of Elections BC from summer 2010 to summer 2011, including the period of the HST referendum. 

In 2012, James came under fire for his lavish travel spending, including junkets to Nairobi, Kenya (for a Commonwealth Parliamentary conference), Washington, D.C. and Phoenix. He spent $43,295 in public money between August and December 2010. Auditor General John Doyle slammed the Legislature for financial mismanagement, including missing receipts and failure to produce financial statements.

James was paid $347,090 and billed $51,349 in expenses for the year ended March 31, 2018.

Craig James (left) and Gary Lenz (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)

Gary Lenz: As sergeant-at-arms of the Legislature, he is akin to the COO.

Lenz’s job put him in charge of security, operations and maintenance of the Legislative precinct. Lenz, who was raised in Manitoba, is the former detachment commander for the Sidney-North Saanich RCMP.

Lenz was paid $218,167 and expensed $23,079 last year.

Has This Happened Before?

theBreaker is endeavouring to find out if anything like this has happened in a Canadian legislature or elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Esteemed Canadian history professor and author Jack Granatstein said he was unaware of a similar incident.

Not since Dec. 28, 2003, when police carted away boxes and boxes of documents related to the BC Rail privatization investigation, had anything like this happened at the B.C. Legislature.

What next? 

Your guess is as good as any. 

Mullen described himself as a friend of Plecas’s and a former manager at Kent Institution in Agassiz, where Plecas had acted as a prison judge. Mullen said he had been hired as a $75,000 aide for Plecas in his Abbotsford constituency and in the Speaker’s Office, but lacked legal training.

After the focus shifted to Mullen, Plecas vowed to set the record straight. “You will find it interesting what I have to say this afternoon,” he told reporters on Nov. 22. “I will be making a statement.”

Plecas cancelled his statement. Instead, Mullen made another appearance when he announced former BC Liberal attorney general and former B.C. Supreme Court judge Wally Oppal would join as Plecas’s second special advisor. Oppal revealed the next day that he was behind the cancellation of Plecas’s statement and he defended Plecas as an “honourable person” with an academic background as a criminology professor.

“These things take time, there’s a very complex criminal matter going on,” Oppal said.

BC Liberal house leader Mary Polak demanded Plecas call a meeting of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee. In October, the draft schedule included a Dec. 6 meeting.

A separate letter from Polak, but signed by BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, contained 11 questions about the process. Questions surround the role of Mullen, whether the Attorney General’s ministry was consulted for legal advice, and who the lawyer was that attended the Monday night meeting convened by the speaker for the house leaders to be briefed on the situation.

Polak’s letter referred to one sent by Mark Andrews of the Vancouver firm Fasken, who James and Lenz retained. Andrews heads the firm’s commercial litigation group and was the lead lawyer on BC Hydro’s successful court defence of various challenges of the Site C dam.

Andrews wrote in the Nov. 23 letter to the three party house leaders that his clients deny any wrongdoing but will cooperate with the investigation. Andrews demanded the all-party motion for their suspension be rescinded so that they can be reinstated. Andrews’s letter also said Plecas had no constitutional authority to carry out an investigation or hire a special advisor to do so.

“They are entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty,” Andrews wrote. “They are the most senior and long-serving and loyal servants of the Legislative Assembly whose reputations are in the process of being destroyed by these events.”

Suffice to say, more to come…

Watch highlights of the Nov. 20 B.C. Legislature drama below. 

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