British Columbia

Suspended legislature officials deny committing any wrongdoing

The lawyer representing two top officials suspended and escorted from the B.C. Legislature days ago says his clients did nothing wrong and still don't know why they're under investigation.

Letter sent to House leaders says sergeant-at-arms and House clerk don't know why they're being investigated

B.C. Legislature Clerk of the House Craig James, right, and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, shown here in an earlier photo, were both put on administrative leave on Tuesday. (CBC)

The lawyer representing two top officials suspended and escorted from the B.C. Legislature days ago says his clients did nothing wrong and still don't know why they're under investigation. 

In a letter provided to the CBC by a source, lawyer Mark D. Andrews also condemned the "hasty" suspensions of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James, calling for their immediate reinstatement.

Escorted out by police

On Tuesday, House leaders voted unanimously to pass a motion putting Lenz and James on indefinite leave, pending an RCMP investigation. Police escorted the men from the legislature immediately after the motion passed.

Clerk of the House Craig James is escorted from the legislature

4 years ago
Duration 1:00
James and B.C. Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz are the subject of a criminal investigation.

Andrews sent the letter to House leaders on Friday, saying his clients haven't been given any explanation for "this extreme treatment."

"Craig James and Gary Lenz deny having committed any wrongdoing. They are entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. As a matter of basic fairness, they deserved to be told what it is alleged that they have done and to be given an opportunity to respond to those allegations," reads the letter.

Politicians still uninformed

Andrews noted in the letter that media statements have made it clear politicians don't have any information on the probe either — making it inappropriate to vote on their suspensions.

"This was improper. You should have been provided with sufficient information to form a considered judgment on the motion and the necessity of taking such draconian action," Andrews continued.

"The mere fact that there is an investigation is not a sufficient basis to suspend them from their posts."

House leaders confirmed to CBC they'd received copies of the letter.

B.C.'s Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, centre, is escorted out of the legislature by security after he and Clerk of the House Craig James — two key officials at British Columbia's legislature — were placed on indefinite leave pending a criminal investigation on Tuesday. (Dirk Meissner/Canadian Press)

Andrews said one of the special prosecutors assigned to the investigation, David Butcher, has said special prosecutors and the RCMP had not asked for Lenz and James to be removed from their roles in the House.

Immediate action demanded

At the end of the letter, Andrews implores the House leaders to take "immediate" action to rescind Tuesday's motion.

"Time is of the essence if some of the damage to our clients ... is to be undone," the lawyer wrote.

Andrew also compared Lenz and James' situation to the wrongful firings of eight Ministry of Health employees in 2012. Those "rushed" dismissals, Andrew said, had been guided by "suspicion and a flawed investigation."

"We respectfully suggest that it appears that those mistakes are being repeated," the lawyer wrote.

Read the full letter below:

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Liberals demand answers

Later Friday, Opposition House Leader Mary Polak issued a letter of her own addressed to House Speaker Darryl Plecas calling for an emergency meeting of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee.

That all-party body exists for "developing policies for the administration and financial management of the Legislative Assembly." A Liberal spokesperson said that meeting did not happen.

A few hours after Polak's letter, the Liberals sent a second letter, this time addressed to NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth and Green Party House Leader Sonia Furstenau.

That letter asked a series of questions about the government's handling of the affair so far.

Read the full letter below:

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Officials tight-lipped

RCMP haven't released any details as to the nature of the investigation surrounding Lenz and James, but a clearer timeline as what led to their bombshell suspensions began to emerge Wednesday.

During a news conference, Alan Mullen — a special adviser to Plecas — said Plecas hired him in January, citing concerns about Lenz and James.

Mullen quietly investigated the men for seven months and reported his findings to the RCMP in August. The RCMP contacted the Crown the following month, and two special prosecutors have since been appointed to the case.

On Thursday, Polak revealed another twist to the scandal: she read a sworn affidavit aloud to reporters saying Plecas had on Monday, a day before the suspensions, asked that Mullen be appointed as Lenz's temporary replacement.

'It's not appropriate': Mary Polak describes meeting with speaker earlier this week

4 years ago
Duration 0:53
Opposition leaders raise concerns about speaker's plan to appoint friend as sergeant-at-arms.

Polak said she, Farnworth and  Furstenau immediately denied Plecas' request.

Wally Oppal appointed

After Polak's announcement, Plecas avoided the media — but Mullen emerged from the Speaker's office to announce that a second special adviser had been appointed to guide Plecas' on "legal matters."

Special Adviser Alan Mullen announces the appointment of Wally Oppal

4 years ago
Duration 0:32
Mullen announced Thursday afternoon that former judge and attorney general Wally Oppal has been appointed as second special adviser to to the speaker.

Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal has stepped into that role.

Current Deputy Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd has been appointed as acting clerk and current Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Randy Ennis as sergeant-at-arms pending the investigation.

With files from Tanya Fletcher