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B.C. legislature clerk guilty of fraud

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 19 May, 2022 09:48 AM
  • B.C. legislature clerk guilty of fraud

VANCOUVER - British Columbia’s former clerk of the legislature dishonestly claimed expenses for work attire and received payment on a false basis, a judge said Thursday in finding Craig James guilty of fraud and breach of trust.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court said James beached the standard of conduct expected of him in his public position in a "serious and marked way" when he claimed expenses for dress shirts, a tie and a suit bought in Vancouver and London in 2018.

"And he knew that would deprive the legislative assembly of funds he ought not to have been reimbursed," Holmes said of nearly $1,900 in clothing James claimed was chamber attire. "His purpose was a dishonest one, to benefit himself at the public's expense."

But because the breach of trust and fraud charges were related to the same set of evidence, the judge entered a stay on the fraud count, telling James no conviction for that would be entered, despite the finding of guilt.

There would be a conditional stay of proceedings in relation to the fraud charge, Holmes said.

James was found not guilty on three other counts of breach of trust related to a $258,000 retirement benefit, which Crown prosecutors alleged he received improperly by taking advantage of weak policies.

He was also found not guilty of fraud for buying a wood splitter and trailer that were kept at his home and which James said were purchased for emergency preparedness at the legislature. The Crown alleged they would have been useless for that purpose.

Neither James nor his lawyers spoke outside court after the judge's ruling. A sentencing date is expected to be set on May 26.

James was suspended with pay in November 2018, along with then sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, following allegations of misspending that prompted an RCMP escort out of the B.C. legislature.

Lenz was not charged and initially asked to be reinstated, but later said he would be retiring.

James's defence team told court their client did not stand to personally gain from any of the allegations and some decisions involving finances were based on subjective views in the absence of a clear, written policy.

Defence lawyer Kevin Westell said at the trial that the wood splitter and trailer were bought in 2017 after discussions about the need for emergency preparedness in case of an earthquake or other natural disaster that required wood, rebar and concrete to be cut so people at the legislature could be rescued.

James took the equipment home after conversations with others about a lack of suitable storage space at the legislature and suggestions that leaving it in an area close to the street could have had the public using it as a garbage receptacle, he said.

Westell said then-Speaker Darryl Plecas was "the head of the pyramid" among at least three others who gave approval for the purchase of the wood splitter and trailer.

However, Crown prosecutor Brock Martland argued the Speaker's role included constituency duties, not day-to-day management of the legislature, for which James was responsible.

Martland said even if others fell short, James had no excuse for conduct involving improper claims that should not have been advanced.

He said James had a "consistent theme of misrepresentation" on invoices for some items like dress shirts, though he wore so-called "tabs" in the legislature, similar to the attire of lawyers in some courts.

The allegations against James and Lenz were outlined in a January 2019 report by Plecas, who conducted his own confidential investigation alleging the two men spent money inappropriately on personal items, foreign trips, vacation payouts and retirement allowances.

Beverley McLachlin, retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was appointed in March 2019 to conduct an independent review into Plecas's allegations.

McLachlin said in a report released two months later that James improperly claimed benefits, including expensive suits, trips abroad, and a private life insurance premium for himself, and used legislature property, including the wood splitter.

She also said there was a lack of clarity in authority over expenses and administrative matters at the legislature, but that Lenz did not engage in misconduct.

James announced his resignation after McLachlin's findings, saying in a statement that he had been "publicly ridiculed and vilified."

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