A former clerk of the B.C. Legislature has been charged with four counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud in excess of $5,000.
Craig James made a first court appearance in Victoria on Friday and is next scheduled to appear on Jan. 27.
The charges were approved by a pair of special prosecutors assigned to the case, following what the BC Prosecution Service described in a statement as an “extensive RCMP investigation into the activities of senior staff at the British Columbia Legislature.”
Gavin Cameron, lawyer for Mr. James, said in an e-mail exchange that he could not comment on the matter because it is before the courts and at a “preliminary stage.”
The BC Prosecution Service said in a statement that it could not elaborate on any aspect of the case.
The charges are the latest turn in a series of events that began in 2018 when Mr. James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suspended from their jobs amid questions about the operation of the legislature. The pair were placed on administrative leave by a unanimous legislature vote.
In 2018, the RCMP said they were investigating staff at the B.C. Legislature, but did not identify the targets of their probe.
Special prosecutors – lawyers David Butcher and Brock Martland – were appointed by the assistant deputy attorney general for the prosecution service to provide legal advice for the Mounties, conduct a charge assessment and handle the prosecution in the event of charges.
Spokesperson Daniel McLaughlin declined to comment when asked about the absence of Mr. Lenz’s name in Friday’s developments and whether the prosecution had reached any conclusion related to him.
After the two men went on leave, former legislature speaker Darryl Plecas produced a report in January, 2019, outlining allegations of misspending at the legislative assembly.
He alleged that Mr. Lenz and Mr. James engaged in inappropriate spending on personal items and foreign trips. His report also alleged inappropriate vacation payouts and retirement allowances.
Mr. James replied with a 24-page statement that said the report by Mr. Plecas was going “out of its way to smear my character.”
Mr. Lenz said in his 62-page response that the expenses he charged were legitimate and reasonable.
Beverley McLachlin, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was appointed after Mr. Plecas’s report was released to look into the allegations against Mr. James and Mr. Lenz.
In a report, she said Mr. James improperly claimed benefits and used legislature property for personal reasons, but that Mr. Lenz did not engage in misconduct.
Her report also said there was a lack of clarity in authority over expenses and administrative matters that were central to her investigation.
She said Mr. James claimed expenses for suits, luggage and a private life-insurance premium for himself. Ms. McLachlin also alleged Mr. James engaged in misconduct by directing the creation of benefits for his personal advantage, including retirement and resignation benefits.
Mr. James said in a statement in May, 2019, announcing his retirement that he has been in public service for more than four decades and has fond memories of his time at the legislature, but he’d “had enough.”
Mr. Lenz decided to retire in October, 2019, saying he did so with “sincere regret.”
On Friday, Government House Leader Mike Farnworth said there was little he could add to the statement from the prosecution service.
Asked about the delay in the special prosecutors reaching a conclusion, Mr. Farnworth said, “I know whenever there is a prosecution of this nature, the special prosecutors do their due diligence. They have to look at everything so it does take time.”
He said there have been significant changes at the legislature in the operations of the clerks and speakers on transparency around the disclosure of expenses.
In a statement, BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said the Liberal caucus will have no further comment because the matter is before the courts.
Mr. Plecas said in an interview on Friday that it was a “terrible day” because charges have been laid alleging untoward activity within the legislature.
With a report from The Canadian Press.
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