One of the special prosecutors in the fraud and breach of trust trial of Craig James described the former B.C. Legislature clerk as a corrupt official who should have known better than to breach the public trust.
“Our position is that the public’s trust was violated repeatedly and extensively by Craig James,” Brock Martland said March in B.C. Supreme Court.
During the first day of closing arguments, Martland said that James, only five months into the job, “cleverly maneuvered to engineer a quarter-million dollar windfall payment, so-called retirement benefits.”
James had worked at the assembly since 1987 and was appointed by the BC Liberal majority, instead of an all-party committee, in June 2011. He formally began in September 2011.
“He was far from the newcomer, he was far from a new arrival or a junior. He had a long knowledge of the operations of the [Parliament] buildings and the systems that were in place, including the weaknesses of those systems,” Martland said. “He was clerk from 2011 to 2018. Our position is that in that time, he used his senior-most position to enrich himself in a manner that is glaring and outrageous.”
Martland said that James took steps that were “strange and unconventional for the equivalent of a CEO.” Such as driving off in his truck to pick up a $13,000 wood splitter and trailer that he took to his house for roughly a year, instead of storing them at the Legislature where they were allegedly needed in case of catastrophic emergency.
“In doing so, he put his own personal interests ahead of the Legislature’s and ahead of the interests of the people of this province. He violated the public’s trust.”
Furthermore, Martland told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes, James seemed to have been “constitutionally incapable of walking past the gift shop without going in and purchasing souvenirs, which he kept for himself, but charged to his employer.”
Martland said James violated the most basic kinds of rules, so self-evident they did not need to be articulated in a policy manual.
“Work purchases are for work. They must presumptively be for the workplace. You must be honest about making claims for reimbursement. You cannot ignore obvious conflicts of interest. You cannot involve yourself in the process that sees you unjustly enriching yourself anyway, let alone to the magnitude of a quarter-million dollars.”
James, he said, had a particular duty to guard public funds and not abuse power. But he did the opposite.
“As the top permanent officer of the Legislature, he was entrusted with managing money, making sure it was probably spent. We say that he breached that trust over and over again.”
Martland said public trust is critical to a proper functioning democracy. Citizens rely on trust for systems and institutions to operate properly, whether it’s a public or private entity.
“We trust that when someone says they took a step, they did actually do that. You’re not telling a story or spinning out something untruthful,” Martland said. “We trust that when an official is assigned to do something, they will do their best to try and do it properly and ethically. We trust workers to work, we trust leaders to lead, we trust the people on the public payroll will not embezzle or steal or misappropriate money or things.”
Martland said that he, and David Butcher, introduced 535 exhibits and 20 witnesses, in order to present a case against James that is beyond a reasonable doubt.
James pleaded not guilty on Jan. 24. Through his lawyer, Gavin Cameron, James opted Feb. 22 not to testify in his own defence.
Martland expects the Crown to finish its final submissions on the morning of March 2.
James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended immediately by vote of the Legislature on Nov. 18, 2018 and escorted away from the Parliament Buildings. They were under RCMP investigation after then-Speaker Darryl Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen found evidence of corruption. James and Lenz demanded their jobs back and claimed they did no wrong. But, after separate investigations in 2019, they resigned. They did not repay taxpayers.
James, but not Lenz, was charged criminally in December 2020.
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