Hands in the cookie jar
Two senior officers of the B.C. legislature who were publicly escorted out of the building in Victoria this week amid a criminal probe are being investigated for possible fraud and theft involving public funds, two sources told Postmedia News Wednesday.
The investigation is being handled by the financial integrity unit of the B.C. RCMP, and more specifically its sensitive investigations branch, which looks into allegations of government misbehaviour and corruption, one of the sources said.
The sources, both of whom have knowledge of the investigation but who spoke on the condition they not be named because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said it was too early to say what the breadth of the alleged financial improprieties were. When asked who the alleged victims were, one source answered “You and I” — a reference to taxpayers.
Craig James, clerk of the legislature, and Gary Lenz, the sergeant-at-arms were suspended with pay on Tuesday following a unanimous vote in the legislature.
The pair were then escorted from the legislature by police. As he was leaving the building, James told reporters he didn’t know the reason why he was placed on leave.
Reached Wednesday night about the allegations, James said he had no comment.
Lenz has not commented since his suspension and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
At this stage of the investigation there are no other suspects, one source said. There have been no arrests and no charges have been filed or tested in court. Indeed, charges may never be laid.
British Columbians will recall the scathing indictment by B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke of the then Liberal government’s firing in 2012 of eight researches with the Ministry of Health. The government claimed the eight were being investigated for the misuse of public health data. No charges were ever laid and, in his December 2017 report, Chalke found that none of the researchers deserved to be fired. The government eventually apologized to them all.
Two special prosecutors — David Butcher and Brock Martland — have been assigned to help RCMP investigators with legal advice, according to the B.C. Prosecution Service.
“Given the potential size and scope of the investigation,” B.C.’s assistant deputy attorney general, Peter Juk, decided to go with two special prosecutors, the service said Tuesday.
Special prosecutors are appointed in cases “where some aspect of an investigation, or prosecution file, carries a significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in prosecutorial decision making.” They work independently of the government or ministry of the attorney general.
The lack of information about the case prompted frenzied speculation on social media and complaints by some members of the press that authorities should be more forthcoming with details.
Alan Mullen, special adviser to the Speaker of the legislature, told The Canadian Press Wednesday the investigation was examining the pair’s roles and administrative duties but would not elaborate.
“It’s to do with their roles as clerk and sergeant-at-arms and it’s to do with their administrative duties,” he said. “We’re looking at a lot of different things but I couldn’t comment further because the investigation is ongoing.”
Mullen told reporters he was hired in January by Speaker Darryl Plecas to work on issues of concern, which included issues related to the legislature investigation. Mullen did not provide details of what information has been gathered since January but said it was provided to the RCMP in late August.
Mullen said he and Plecas know each other professionally and are friends after working together at federal prisons in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
Plecas, who has yet to comment on the investigation, is a criminologist.
— With files from The Canadian Press