British Columbia

'There was no need for us to keep it': Premier defends shredding of spending scandal document

B.C. Premier John Horgan is defending his actions when he was alerted to allegations of misconduct against two legislative staffers, saying the matter was not part of his responsibilities and getting involved would have opened him up to accusations of bias.

John Horgan's chief-of-staff says he shredded his copy once he knew the allegations had been taken to police

John Horgan defends his chief-of-staff who shredded documents months before senior officials were suspended. (Tanya Fletcher / CBC)

B.C. Premier John Horgan is defending his actions after he was alerted to misconduct allegations against two legislative staffers, saying the matter was not part of his responsibilities and getting involved would have opened him up to accusations of bias.

A report released Tuesday revealed the premier's office was made aware of the allegations against then-Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz nearly four months before the two senior staffers were marched out of the building and placed on paid administrative leave.

Horgan's chief-of-staff, Geoff Meggs, later shredded copies of the 40-50 page document that was left behind containing the detailed allegations. 

But Horgan's office said Wednesday that the papers were duplicates, not originals, and they weren't shredded until they'd been provided to the RCMP.

"It was in the hands of the police. There was no need for us to keep it," Horgan told reporters.

He said the matter was outside his purview as premier, and he was aware there might be a perception of bias if he got involved, because he voted against James's appointment as clerk.

"I said I do not want to be involved in any way in allegations against the clerk of this place, because it was well known that I didn't like the guy and I didn't think he should be appointed. It turned out, I was prescient in that matter," Horgan said.

Watch: B.C. premier defends shredding of duplicate report

B.C. Premier John Horgan says once the information in the documents was passed on to police, there was no reason for his government to keep them on file. 5:40

The allegations were outlined in a draft report by Speaker Darryl Plecas, who took his concerns to the premier's office in a meeting on July 30, 2018. 

Horgan said he asked Plecas to meet with Meggs about the matter instead. After their meeting, Meggs advised Plecas to take his concerns to the police.

In a written statement, Meggs said he was in no position to verify the allegations in Plecas's report, and the premier's office is not involved in administration of the legislative assembly.

"For those reasons and because of the seriousness of the allegations, I urged the speaker to provide his information to the police. I was later advised by Deputy Speaker Raj Choujan that the speaker had done so," Meggs said.

Liberals call for Meggs to be fired

The opposition Liberals, however, are arguing that the premier's office should have gone to the police and House leaders immediately. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is calling for Meggs to be fired.

"When someone who is the senior political staffer to the premier of British Columbia receives a report alleging criminal wrongdoing, his obligation is to inform the police and to inform the premier," Wilkinson told reporters. 

Former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The report released Tuesday focused on the actions of Lenz, the former sergeant-at-arms, and was written by Doug LePard, former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department.

LePard found that Lenz had committed "very serious misconduct" by lying to investigators about his knowledge of allegations about the misappropriation of a truckload of liquor by the legislative clerk. 

'I was out of town,' says former Speaker 

LePard's report also revealed former Speaker Linda Reid, a B.C. Liberal, refused to participate in his Police Act investigation as requested.

"Ms. Reid declined, through her legal counsel, to be interviewed," LePard wrote in his report. In January, Reid vowed to make herself "fully available" in any investigations related to the spending scandal.

When questioned by reporters at the legislature Thursday, Reid said she did cooperate by answering LePard's questions through written statements from her lawyer. 

"I was out of town for two or three weeks at a time," Reid replied when asked why she didn't deal with LePard directly as part of his investigation.

Watch: Former Speaker Linda Reid says the incident involving alcohol didn't happen when she was in the role

Former Speaker Linda Reid said she answered the investigation's questions through her lawyer because she was out of town, despite promising earlier this year to "make herself fully available." 1:15

Reid was incoming Speaker in 2013 — shortly after Bill Barisoff retired from the position — at the same time a truckload of alcohol at the centre of the investigation was taken from the legislature.

Lenz resigned from his position last week, before the report was released and nearly a year after he was placed on paid administrative leave.

James stepped down as clerk in May after another report found that he had engaged in misconduct in multiple ways, including by expensing pricey suits and luggage for his personal use during trips to the U.K. and the improper acceptance of a $257,988 payout from a retirement benefit program in 2012.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing. An RCMP investigation is still underway.

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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