The two highest-ranking unelected officials in British Columbia’s legislature were escorted out of their offices on Tuesday by Victoria Police as the politicians they served learned of a sweeping RCMP criminal investigation that has required the appointment of two special prosecutors.
The legislature’s Clerk of the House, Craig James, and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were whisked out of the House and into the Speaker’s office immediately after Question Period, where they watched on a television screen as MLAs voted to suspend them from their duties pending an investigation.
Government House Leader Mike Farnworth, his voice hoarse, read the motion to the House asking to have the two officials suspended with pay. The Speaker of the House, Darryl Plecas, briefed the political parties' house leaders on Monday on need for the motion, but elected officials were otherwise told little.
After Tuesday’s vote, MLAs learned the two had been under a criminal investigation for matters directly related to their administrative duties, and that the RCMP had approached the B.C. Prosecution Service – an arms-length branch of the justice ministry – in late September asking for a special prosecutor to assess any charges that arise.
British Columbia appoints prosecutors from outside government in cases where there is a significant potential for real or perceived improper political influence on the administration of criminal justice. Typically, they are appointed when politicians – or someone close to them – are under a police investigation.
“Given the potential size and scope of the investigation,” the B.C. Prosecution Service announced in a statement, two senior counsel outside of government have been appointed to manage the file.
Mr. James, who has served the legislature for decades, expressed bewilderment when he spoke with reporters as he departed his office. Clutching his bicycle-riding gear but still wearing his official black-and-white clerk’s uniform, Mr. James said he had “no idea” what he was accused of, and said he intended to seek legal counsel.
“Somebody knows something,” he said. “It’s very unfair ... I think the Sergeant-at-Arms is equally shocked.”
Mr. James has been a long-time fixture in the Clerk’s Office, rising to the senior position in 2011 after serving as deputy clerk, and at one point, B.C.'s chief electoral officer. Mr. Lenz would not speak to reporters. He had a lengthy career in the RCMP before coming to the legislature.
As Speaker of the House, Mr. Plecas would be responsible for any concerns raised about the operations of the legislature, which means it is likely any complaint would have been relayed to the RCMP through his office. However, Mr. Plecas did not speak to reporters, instead sending out his special adviser Alan Mullen to explain the unusual events. Mr. Mullen offered few details on the allegations, citing concerns about impeding the RCMP investigation.
“This is absolutely not political,” he said. He declined to say how long the Speaker was aware of the police investigation, and described Mr. Plecas’ role as simply “delivering information.”
The RCMP’s E-Division, which covers British Columbia, confirmed it is looking into the situation.
“The RCMP has an active investigation under way, with respect to allegations pertaining to their administrative duties,” Sergeant Janelle Shoihet said in a statement, referring to the two officers of the legislature.
Premier John Horgan was advised of the existence of the police investigation on Monday, and told reporters on Tuesday he did not know the details of any alleged wrongdoing. “I do know both Gary and Craig, I have worked with them for years, I hold them in high esteem. I am unaware of what has led to the events of today."
The Clerk is responsible for management and administrative services within the legislative assembly and serves as Clerk to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which governs spending for the legislature operations. The Sergeant-at-Arms has a ceremonial role and is responsible for protective services in the legislature and security for all MLAs' constituency offices.
Mr. Farnworth’s motion puts the two men on administrative leave with pay and benefits pending the outcome of the investigation. “During the period of administrative leave and as a consequence of an outstanding investigation," the motion states, "Mr. James and Mr. Lenz must not access legislative assembly equipment, systems or services and must not be present in any building that is part of the legislative precinct.”
Gerald Baier, a politics professor at the University of British Columbia, said Tuesday’s developments were unlike anything he had seen in the province, and more striking because administrators, rather than politicians, are the focus. Mr. Baier also said he was struck by the “spectacle” of the two men being escorted from the legislature rather than being allowed a more discreet exit.
In 2003, RCMP officers and Victoria police took boxes of documents from the B.C. legislature in a probe into the sale of B.C. Rail. Former premier Glen Clark was forced to resign in 1999 after police raided his house over allegations he acted improperly in a casino licence application by a onetime friend. Mr. Clark was later cleared.