A judge will announce July 8 whether the former Clerk of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly will be sent to jail, serve house arrest or be conditionally discharged with community service work.
Craig James stood trial on three charges of breach of trust by a public official and two charges of fraud over $5,000 before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes from Jan. 24 to March 3 in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. On May 19, Holmes found James guilty of fraud and breach of trust, but is sentencing him on the latter for buying almost $1,900 in custom shirts and a suit for personal use. The fraud conviction was stayed because Canadian law says a person cannot be convicted more than once on the same facts from the same criminal act.
On July 4, Holmes heard from the two Special Prosecutors who want James to be jailed for around a year or sentenced to a combination of house arrest and curfew. James’s defence lawyer wants a conditional discharge, meaning no criminal record after a period of time, and 150 hours of community service work.
Both sides agreed he should repay the $1,886.72 to the Legislature.
Special Prosecutor Brock Martland said that James, who was the equivalent of the chief executive officer of the seat of government from 2011 to 2018, harmed both the institution and the public. He said James was “the person to whom one could reasonably be expected that everyone in the building looks up to for moral leadership and ethical guidance.”
Instead, James enriched himself and helped increase public cynicism in such a way that the average man on the street could say “Well, they’re all crooked, they’re all stealing. They’re all on the take.”
Martland said the Crown wants a jail sentence in the range of a year, based on legal precedents. If Holmes opts for a conditional sentence, he said it should be two-thirds house arrest and one-third curfew. Such a sentence would help deter those officials who might misconduct themselves. Martland called a conditional discharge contrary to public interest because James took advantage of his position of significant trust for personal gain.
“The offence here is a breach of trust by the most senior public official, in an important institution to parliamentary democracy,” Martland said. “And while it’s fair to say that there’s not a massive dollar figure involved in the conduct underlying the conviction, we say that the sentencing requires a clear and unequivocal denunciation.”
Martland conceded the 71-year-old had no prior criminal record and shows little or no risk to reoffend, but he had not shown any remorse. James had pleaded not guilty to all charges and did not testify in his defence at the trial.
James’s lawyer Gavin Cameron said his client’s reputation had been “eviscerated” when he was suddenly suspended from his $347,090-a-year job. He told Holmes that senior courts have found a judge must find alternatives to incarceration for someone guilty of their first offence. Jail, he said, would be “unduly punitive to Mr. James.”
“He is imperfect, he concedes that, he made decisions that he wishes he could change,” Cameron said.
Further, Cameron said James had already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion after being led away from the Parliament Buildings in front of TV cameras in 2018.
“This isn’t a plea for sympathy for Mr. James. I’m not saying feel sorry for Mr. James, because the newspapers were mean to him for four years. But I am saying that denunciation and specific and general deterrence have all been accomplished in spades. What happened outside of this courtroom, and continues to happen outside of this courtroom, is a form of punishment, and a form of deterrence.”
Cameron said a week after James had been suspended from the Legislature, he was prescribed anti-anxiety medication by Dr. Keith McQueen of Victoria, who provided a sworn statement to the court. Cameron also submitted character reference letters from two of James’s Saanich neighbours and four recognizable names: ex-B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell, ex-Attorney General Geoff Plant, former Senate Speaker Gary O’Brien and former B.C. Speaker John Reynolds.
Reynolds was to be a Crown witness at the trial, but was excused because of his age and health. He is now a co-chair of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown’s bid for the Conservative party leadership. Plant and James met 14 times in 2017 and 2018 and Plant billed the Legislature $156,000 for legal services.
In the gallery was James’s daughter and third wife (he broke up with his first wife who came from Saskatchewan and his second wife died of breast cancer in 2000). Court also heard that his stepson from the first marriage died of suicide in 2013.
Holmes asked both sides about the $258,000 retirement allowance that James received in 2012. She had ruled James did not obtain the money criminally, but she did decide that he may not have been entitled to the sum.
“Our position was and would be that the money should not have gone to the accused, shouldn’t really be seen as compensation properly obtained, it was in fact retained,” Martland said. “I haven’t heard of repayment.”
On the retirement allowance, Cameron said it would be an error to take it into account during sentencing because he was not convicted on that account. Holmes, however, said there was no doubt that James took the allowance. Holmes also asked Cameron whether James was receiving a pension, to which Cameron paused and said “he had to be very careful with that.”
“I can tell you Mr. James is not and has not been receiving any employment income, period and full stop,” Cameron said. “I can say that.“
James, a 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 appointed him clerk in June 2011 rather than allow an all-party committee to decide the appointment. James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suddenly suspended in November 2018 after then-Speaker Darryl Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen 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.
Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.