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HomeBusinessB.C. Legislature corruption trial begins

B.C. Legislature corruption trial begins

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Bob Mackin

The former clerk of British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly went on trial at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver Jan. 24, three years and three days after then-Speaker Darryl Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen’s damning report alleging corruption at the seat of government.

Clerk Craig James swore Christy Clark in as Westside-Kelowna MLA in 2013, near Clark’s Vancouver office. (Facebook)

Craig Harley James, who was charged in late 2020, formally pleaded not guilty to three charges of breach of public trust and two charges of fraud over $5,000 before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes. Holmes is expected to hear 27 witnesses over the next six weeks.

“Mr. James was no ordinary employee,” Special Prosecutor David Butcher told the court. “As the parliamentary equivalent of the CEO, he had responsibility to the institution, the people of British Columbia to manage the affairs and resources of the legislature in an exemplary manner. The Crown alleges that Mr. James’s conduct at different times, and in different ways, was a marked departure from the standard of responsible management expected of a person occupying one of the highest offices in the province.” 

Butcher said the case against James has three facets, because the Crown alleges he broke the law by:

  • Making a claim for more than $250,000 in February 2012 for a retirement allowance to which he was not entitled;

Special prosecutor David Butcher (Mackin)

  • Filing travel expense claims throughout his tenure for clothing and souvenir purchases to which he was not entitled, and;
  • The 2017 purchase of a woodsplitter and trailer that he stored at his home in Saanich for a year. 

Butcher said the woodsplitter was bought under the guise of emergency preparedness when the assembly had a budget surplus. But, he said, “Mr. James took both pieces of equipment his house in suburban Victoria, which is 13.4 kilometres from the legislature. The equipment would have been utterly useless in an emergency once stored in his residence.”

Butcher pointed to the “scathing” July 2012 report by then-Auditor General John Doyle that found assembly financial reporting for 2009-2011 to be insufficient. 

“He found that the LABC fell well short of the financial management and accounting standards established for the rest of government. He said that the internal control deficiencies were serious and pervasive,” Butcher said.

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

“If Mr. James’s response to the allegations is that there were no or insufficient policies or standards to guide his conduct, the Crown says that he was a career parliamentarian who was on full notice of the institutional shortcomings. And as the most senior person he had the ability and obligation to correct the deficiencies identified… if that is his position, the Crown says he has full knowledge of the absence of effective control took advantage of that by using public funds for personal benefit.”

The first witness is scheduled to be Kate Ryan-Lloyd, who was James’s successor after serving as deputy clerk under him. Ryan-Lloyd took a $180,000 retirement allowance in early 2012, but returned the money a year later. 

The list of witnesses also includes former speakers John Reynolds and Bill Barisoff, but not Plecas, who did not run in the snap 2020 provincial election.

James was appointed clerk in June 2011 by the B.C Liberal majority. Then-NDP house leader John Horgan and NDP leader Adrian Dix expressed their disapproval of the partisan departure from the traditional hire by an all-party committee.

James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were immediately suspended and escorted out of the Legislature on Nov. 20, 2018. On that day, British Columbians learned that Plecas and Mullen called-in the RCMP and that two special prosecutors had been appointed.

James and Lenz both demanded their jobs back, but they retired in disgrace in 2019 after separate investigations found they committed wrongdoing. They kept their pension entitlements, but they were not forced to repay taxpayers. 

Lenz was not charged.

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