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HomeBusinessDisgraced ex-Clerk Craig James breached public trust, but avoids jail

Disgraced ex-Clerk Craig James breached public trust, but avoids jail

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Bob Mackin

Disgraced former B.C. Legislature Clerk Craig James was sentenced July 8 to one month of house arrest in his Saanich home and two months of 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes found James guilty May 19 of fraud and breach of public trust. He was sentenced only for breach of public trust, because of rulings against multiple convictions for the same circumstances.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court.

The Crown cited previous breach of trust judgments and wanted a year in jail or a similar combination of house arrest and curfew for James, the equivalent of chief executive at the seat of government from 2011 to 2018. 

James’s lawyers wanted a conditional discharge and community service work.  

In B.C. Supreme Court, Holmes rejected a conditional discharge and jail for James, a 71-year-old with no prior criminal record. 

“I conclude that the conditional sentence order in this case should be shorter than those in the cases on which the Crown relies,” Holmes said. “However, it should be long enough to show even taking account of the harsh publicity Mr. James has endured, that violations of the public’s trust, particularly at the heart of a body supporting one of our key institutions, are treated as very serious indeed.”

Holmes ordered James to repay $1,886.72 for the cost of the custom shirts and suit that he illegally bought for himself with public funds. She also assessed a $200 victim fine surcharge.

Despite the court-imposed conditions, James is allowed to leave his house for urgent medical care or a medical appointment for himself, his wife and daughter, to attend weekly mass and for a maximum two-hour grocery shopping trip per week. 

Holmes said James had the highest level of responsibility, apart from the speaker, “within a public institution, on which society fundamentally depends.” He received a generous $347,090-a-year salary and benefits. James also received a $258,000 long-service bonus in 2012; Holmes ruled in May that the bonus was not criminal, but James was likely not entitled to the sum and his involvement in obtaining it was a conflict of interest.

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

Holmes said James’s attitude showed a disrespect for his duties to lead and protect the Legislative Assembly. He deliberately made false statements in three separate expense claims at different times in 2018. 

“Mr. James was specifically responsible for among other things, the management of [the Legislative Assembly of B.C.] public funds are very funds from which he drew for his own personal purposes in committing the offence. Mr. James’s motivation for the offence can only have been personal gain,” she said.

Holmes said there were many mitigating circumstances, including the relatively low dollar value of the offence, James’s age and loss of job, his lack of criminal record, prior good reputation, mental suffering and scathing media attention after he was suspended. She also mentioned James’s plans for the future, including supporting his daughter and hopes to resume traveling with his wife. 

“However, in my view, public criticism and blame through the media cannot entirely displace the court’s own role in denouncing conduct and in deterring others through the sentence it imposes,” Holmes said. 

James stood trial on three charges of breach of trust by a public official and two charges of fraud over $5,000 from Jan. 24 to March 3 in Vancouver. He did not testify in his defence. Holmes acquitted James for the purchase of a $13,000 woodsplitter and trailer that he kept at his Saanich home and for receiving the $258,000 payment. 

The native of Moose Jaw, Sask., came to B.C. in 1987 after working nine years at the Saskatchewan Parliament. The BC Liberal caucus under then-Premier Christy Clark named him clerk in June 2011 rather than allow an all-party committee to decide the appointment. 

James was suddenly suspended along with Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, on Nov. 18, 2020. Then-Speaker Darryl Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen had called in the RCMP to investigate corruption.

The top two permanent officers of the Legislature both claimed they did no wrong and demanded their jobs back, but retired in disgrace in 2019 without reimbursing taxpayers. 

In May of that year, James was found to have committed four types of misconduct. Lenz quit five months later to avoid discipline under the Police Act for breaching his oath. Only James was charged under the Criminal Code in late 2020.

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