British Columbia

'Exculpatory' document surfaces at trial of B.C. Legislature's former clerk of the house

A last minute disclosure of documents described by a Crown prosecutor as "potentially significantly exculpatory" rocked the breach of trust trial Thursday of former B.C. legislative assembly clerk Craig James.

Executive financial officer of legislature disclosed documents Wednesday night concerning Craig James

Former B.C. legislative assembly clerk Craig James is pictured leaving B.C. Supreme Court during the first week of his breach of trust trial. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A last minute disclosure of documents described by the Crown as "potentially significantly exculpatory" rocked the breach of trust trial Thursday of former B.C. legislative assembly clerk of the house Craig James.

Prosecutor David Butcher began what was supposed to have been the second day of testimony from James' successor as clerk of the legislature — Kate Ryan-Lloyd — by telling B.C. Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes the legislature's chief financial officer only sent him the recently discovered documents Wednesday night.

Butcher said he was hoping to ask Ryan-Lloyd about the documents.

The surprise announcement led to a back and forth with James' defence lawyer — who said he had no idea Butcher was going to raise the issue of the new material, which the Crown had forwarded to him after receiving them.

"I'm shadow-boxing right now," Gavin Cameron told the judge. "I'm concerned with where I think we're going, but I don't know where we're going."

'It did not make sense'

James is charged with breach of trust and fraud in relation to allegations that he improperly claimed $257,988.38 for long-time service and submitted numerous expenses for personal items like suits and cushions.

He's also accused of storing a woodsplitter purchased with legislature funds at his home.

The content of the new documents was not immediately revealed.

"One of the documents would be exculpatory in nature," Butcher said. "It is copied to Ms. Ryan Lloyd."

The unusual situation resulted in an agreement between Crown and defence that saw the court stand down for the morning while a police officer was brought in to interview Ryan-Lloyd about the documents.

Kate Ryan-Lloyd is the clerk of B.C.'s legislative assembly. She is testifying at the breach of trust trial of her predecessor, Craig James. (Twitter/B.C. Legislature)

When court resumed in the afternoon, Butcher said the interview had taken 49 minutes — much longer than originally estimated — meaning neither defence nor the Crown had been able to review a transcript of the answers by the time Ryan-Lloyd took the stand again.

Butcher continued with questioning about other issues relevant to the accusations against James instead — including the decision to buy the woodsplitter and trailer for use in emergencies.

Ryan-Lloyd was on the audit committee that has discussed the purchase of the items in October 2017, along with chainsaws and other equipment, using surplus capital funds. But she said she assumed the woodsplitter was a small piece of metal used to drive a wedge into a tree — not a major piece of machinery.

She said she learned from former legislature speaker Darryl Plecas that the equipment was being stored at James' home in Saanich, 13 kilometres away from the legislature.

"Mr. Plecas asked me not to speak to Mr. James about this concern," Ryan-Lloyd said.

James ultimately delivered the woodsplitter to the legislature nearly a year after he picked it up, and Ryan-Lloyd said the trailer was later returned through police.

She said the legislature is now looking at selling both items. She questioned the purchases to begin with.

"It did not make sense to me at all," Ryan-Lloyd said.

"And I learned upon further inquiries that the trailer that was purchased could not even be used with vehicles that the legislative assembly faciltiies services utilizes ... none of them had an appropriate hitch."   

'She had found more documents'

The revelations about the documents revealed the size and intensity of the investigation into James which followed his suspension from his job in November 2018.

Butcher said the documents came from the woman who was supposed to have been the Crown's last witness, legislature executive financial officer Hilary Woodward.

He said she was interviewed in August 2021 and prosecutors then met her again during a tour of the legislature in December, when she handed over more documents relating to the case.

This wood splitter was kept at former clerk Craig James's home for nearly a year before he returned it to the legislature in Victoria. James is on trial for breach of trust. (Dirk Meissner/Canadian Press)

"Last night, I conducted a Zoom interview of her and she advised me that she had found more documents," Butcher said.

"At least one of them is potentially significantly exculpatory."

'Where are you going with this?'

Cameron said he received a series of forwarded emails on Wednesday night "with no context beyond various attachments that I tried to decipher."

The defence lawyer said Woodward had been interviewed nine separate times by RCMP or other investigators and Crown counsel and he said Ryan-Lloyd has also been interviewed 10 times — including once by him.

"There's a team of well more than half a dozen RCMP officers on this, and there has been for years," Cameron continued — shortly before Holmes cut him off by asking, "Where are you going with this?"

Cameron replied that it "was not fair" to show Ryan-Lloyd the document at that point — which led to the agreement which saw the police officer brought in for a last minute interview.

The impact on the trial was uncertain as of Thursday morning.

In addition to assuming James' role as clerk of the legislature, Ryan-Lloyd is also expected to testify about her decision to voluntarily return a $118,915.84 long-time service benefit that was paid to her in February 2012 when she was deputy clerk — at the same time the quarter-million payout was issued to James.

Crown prosecutors say the program the money was issued through had been terminated in 1987.

According to a letter entered into evidence at the trial, Ryan-Lloyd gave the money back a year later, writing a letter to James in February 2013 in which she said: "I continue to be uncomfortable with accepting such a sizeable payment as a long-service award."

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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