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B.C. Legislature fraud and breach of trust trial set to commence next week

Former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Craig James faces five criminal counts for alleged abuse of power
Former B.C. Legislature clerk Craig James is accused of committing fraud and breach of trust.

The criminal fraud and breach of trust trial for former B.C. Legislature clerk Craig James will begin Monday, following a pre-trial conference that set the stage for public access amid the widespread COVID-19 surge that’s otherwise handcuffed the courts.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather J. Holmes gathered with special Crown prosecutors Brock Martland, David Butcher and Elliot Holzman and James’ defence attorneys Gavin Cameron and Kevin Westell on Tuesday to discuss logistics.

Holmes said she would know by tomorrow if the proceedings would begin in person or via an online video conference. 

The trial is expected to last six weeks, and will hear evidence from the prosecutors who believe James committed fraud and breach of trust during his time as the chief officer of the B.C. Legislature.

The special prosecutors approved unprecedented criminal charges against James for breach of trust by a public officer (three charges) and fraud in excess of $5,000 (two charges) on Dec. 18, 2020, stemming from a police investigation into alleged personal spending by senior staff at the legislature.

That spending extended to the legislature’s former top cop, sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, who was subject to the investigation but was cleared of wrongdoing.

The charges allege that James improperly obtained and kept a long-service award in the amount of $257,988.38, bought a wood splitter and trailer with public funds and used it for his benefit, and made fraudulent travel-expense claims.

James and Lenz also allegedly took numerous expensive junkets and bought personal items on the taxpayer’s dime, a January 2019 report outlined from then-Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas. 

Police escorted the two senior managers out of the legislature in November 2018. Butcher and Martland were appointed to prevent a conflict of interest within the government.

James is alleged to have used his position to advance his interests over the public good between Sept. 10, 2011, and Nov. 21, 2018.

The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, as James was officially known, is responsible for the overall direction and administration of the B.C. Legislature.

His position (and the entire legislature) is not subject to Freedom of Information laws; ergo, public and media scrutiny has been limited through the years. The alleged infractions took place during successive BC Liberal governments. While the BC NDP vowed to broaden access to government information and improve FOI transparency, it has instead chosen to apply a $10 application fee for each request.

James has pleaded not guilty to all five charges and elected a judge, not a jury, to run the trial.

While Lenz won’t face any possible criminal sanctions, an independent report in 2019 found he committed “very serious misconduct” by providing “untruthful oral and written statements” to Justice Beverley McLachlin, who did clear Lenz of administrative misconduct allegations by Plecas.

Some improper conduct even extended to the Speaker position itself. Before 2017, now-retired Liberal MLA Linda Reid served the role. However, she was forced to pay back money to the legislature after she had taxpayers fund her husband’s travel to South Africa for a legislature junket. Reid refused to respond directly to his questions, instead choosing to use her lawyer.

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