The disgraced former Clerk of British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly has been charged with breach of trust and fraud.
B.C. Prosecution Service announced Dec. 18 that Craig Harley James is facing four counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud over $5,000 after more than two years under investigation. The indictment was filed Dec. 17 and James made his first appearance in Victoria Provincial Court on Dec. 18. His next appearance is Jan. 27, 2021.
The charges relate to James’s $257,988.38 pension allowance, the purchase of a wood splitter and trailer, and submitting travel expense claims for personal travel.
James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were immediately suspended and escorted out of the Legislature on Nov. 20, 2018. On that day, B.C. learned that Speaker Darryl Plecas had called the RCMP after he and Chief of Staff Alan Mullen found corruption in the offices of the two most-senior permanent officers at the seat of government. Two special prosecutors, Brock Martland and David Butcher, had been appointed to the file.
No charges were announced for Lenz on Dec. 18. A source not authorized to speak about the investigation said it is not over.
“As it is before the courts and at the earliest of stages, I do not consider it proper to issue any comment at this time,” James’s lawyer, Gavin Cameron, told theBreaker.news.
In January 2019, Plecas tabled a report at a meeting of the all-party committee that manages the Legislature showing the reasons why he called in the RCMP: James and Lenz were engaged in a major spending scandal that lasted several years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The duo had used public money to buy themselves suits, luggage, jewelry and other items. James removed bulk liquor from the Legislature without accounting for it and Lenz did nothing to stop him. James also bought a wood splitter and trailer that he said were for use at the Legislature for firewood in case of emergency. James actually kept the $13,000 combo at his house in a Saanich cul-de-sac. The wood splitter eventually became the symbol of the scandal.
James also crafted a retirement allowance in February 2012 that he used to pay himself $257,988.
Yet he was allowed to retire without paying back a penny.
Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, was hired in early 2019 to investigate for misconduct and ruled James committed four types. James negotiated his retirement the night before the May 16, 2019 release of McLachlin’s report. The three house leaders let James off the hook from a financial standpoint and agreed to a broad non-disparaging clause that even restricts offspring of MLAs from criticizing James.
McLachlin found no misconduct by Lenz, but she was not empowered to order testimony under oath. Lenz was eventually found in violation of the Police Act by former Deputy Vancouver Police Chief Doug LePard. He retired before the October 2019 release of LePard’s report.
James and Lenz originally demanded their jobs back and pleaded innocence. At a Nov. 26, 2019 news conference in Vancouver, James said: “I can think of nothing that I have done that would disqualify me from carrying on with my office while this investigation is completed.”
CTV News reporter St. John Alexander asked: “What do you think it could have been [that sparked the suspension]?”
“I have no idea,” James said.
“There was no money moved that shouldn’t have been moved?” Alexander asked.
“None at all,” James replied. “I have established processes in the Legislative Assembly that are essentially bulletproof.”
James became the clerk in 2011 by vote of the BC Liberal caucus, contrary to the standard procedure of an all-party committee vetting applicants and recommending a candidate to the Legislature.
Plecas was elected twice as the BC Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South, but became an independent in 2017 when he was acclaimed as the 39th Speaker in B.C. history. After the 2017 election, at a caucus retreat in Penticton, he successfully challenged ex-Premier Christy Clark to step down.
Former BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who agreed to support the NDP minority government under John Horgan after the 2017 election, Tweeted: “Today there are many members of the B.C. Legislature Press Gallery, and past and present house leaders, who owe a sincere and public apology to [Mullen and Plecas]. Thank you Darryl and Alan for providing a beacon of ethical leadership in the B.C. Legislature.”
Plecas chose not to run in the snap Oct. 24 election. He published a final report about his tenure on Dec. 11, urging lawmakers to carry on his anti-corruption campaign.
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