British Columbia

Clerk of B.C. legislature testifies at predecessor's breach of trust trial

The woman who oversees the administration of B.C.'s legislative assembly took the stand Wednesday at the breach of trust trial of her predecessor.

Craig James is accused of breach of trust and fraud in connection with dozens of improper expenses

Former B.C. legislative assembly clerk Craig James is pictured leaving B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, where he is on trial for breach of trust. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The woman who oversees the administration of B.C.'s legislative assembly took the stand Wednesday at the breach of trust trial of her predecessor.

Kate Ryan-Lloyd stepped into the clerk position Craig James vacated in November 2018 when he was suspended from his job and led off the grounds of the legislature by police under a cloud of spending-related suspicion.

Ryan-Lloyd told the judge overseeing James' trial she felt it important to introduce new policies concerning standards of conduct and accountability in the wake of her old boss' departure.

"I felt it was very important to articulate and express explicitly these values which many legislative assembly employees very much shared and reflected," Ryan-Lloyd testified.

"However the [old policy] was not as detailed, did not provide the same breadth of information that was necessary to restore confidence. With respect to those policy provisions, we wanted to make them as clear and strong as possible."

Improper expenses and a missing woodsplitter

James is charged with three counts of breach of trust and two counts of fraud in connection with allegations that he used his role as clerk of the legislature for personal gain — improperly claiming a quarter-million dollar retirement benefit and numerous expenses.

He's also accused of storing a woodsplitter bought with public funds at his home instead of the legislature, where it was intended for emergency use.

Former B.C. legislative assembly clerk Craig James' wife returned these items to the legislature after he was suspended from his job in 2018. They were carted off on a trolley. (B.C. Supreme Court)

Ryan-Lloyd said she had been to James' house once for dinner but that they did not socialize, though their daughters attended school together and remained friends.

Her testimony began with a primer on the functions of the legislative assembly as both a seat of political power and a workplace staffed by 300 non-partisan employees who assist politicians who sit on committees and enact laws.

Ryan-Lloyd became deputy clerk of the legislative assembly in September 2011, at the same time James was promoted to clerk — a role Crown prosecutor David Butcher described as the "chief executive officer" of the legislative assembly.

They sat together on a working group struck in July 2012 after a scathing Auditor General's report found "significant deficiencies in the financial control and governance of the legislative assembly's financial affairs" — which James oversaw. 

Ryan-Lloyd said James was the chair of the working group.

Butcher asked Ryan-Lloyd about the policies in place when James was working, prior to the ones she introduced which demand employees "act with integrity, honesty, loyalty, accountability ... and not bring the legislative assembly into disrepute."

"The general policy is not inconsistent with the original policy in terms of the same values," Ryan-Lloyd said.

"But it is explained in more detail."

Five Escape Brexit Island

Ryan-Lloyd's testimony followed nearly two days spent logging physical items and photographs of the numerous purchases James is accused of charging to taxpayers during business trips to the United Kingdom.

Those include his and hers mugs for a 'Chief Whip' and an 'Honourable Lady' as well as a Union Jack pillow embroidered with the words "God Save The Queen" and books on beekeeping and whiskey.

Former B.C. legislative assembly clerk Craig James is accused of claiming items like these his and hers mugs as expenses on a trip to the United Kingdom. (B.C. Supreme Court)

The proceedings bordered on farce at certain points as Butcher read aloud the plot of an Enid Blyton book called Five Escape Brexit Island.

"Join Julian, Dick, Ann and Tommy the dog as they attempt to escape a mysterious detention facility off the Dorset coast," read Butcher.

"Can they pass the British citizenship test? If not, will their British pluck help them survive the seven seas? And who's been writing all of these crazy messages in bottles?"

Ryan-Lloyd was asked about one of the exhibits — a photograph of her and James in a procession on the first sitting day of the legislature after he was sworn in as clerk and she was sworn in as his deputy.

She described the uniforms clerks always wear in the legislature, consisting of a black robe, black waistcoat, white collared shirt with tabs, grey pinstriped skirt or pants and black shoes.

Among the items James is accused of expensing are dress shirts from Brooks Brothers and braces with palm trees on them.

"Did you ever hear Mr. James discussing a potential change from the formal legal type attire to business suit attire for the chamber?" Butcher asked.

"No," Ryan-Lloyd replied.

Ryan-Lloyd's testimony will continue Thursday.

She is likely to be asked about her decision to voluntarily return a retirement payout written out to her at the same time as James received a $257,988.38 benefit under a program that prosecutors claim had been long-terminated.

In a letter to James entered into evidence, she wrote: "I continue to be uncomfortable with accepting such a sizeable payment as a long-service award. Therefore I am confirming that, for personal reasons, I am hereby returning to the Legislative Assembly, the funds received."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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