B.C. legislature clerk, sergeant-at-arms suspended; RCMP probe allegations

Two special prosecutors have been appointed to look into “unprecedented” criminal allegations against two senior officers of the B.C. legislature.

Clerk of the legislature Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz have been suspended with pay pending an RCMP investigation regarding their administrative duties.

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Two special prosecutors, David Butcher and Brock Martland, were assigned to the case on Oct. 1.

A motion to put the men on administrative leave was read by government house leader Mike Farnworth during question period. It passed unanimously.

Around the same time, the two men were called into Speaker Darryl Plecas’s office and told their suspensions were effective immediately.

James and Lenz were escorted from the building by Victoria police officers and will not be allowed to return during the investigation. Their work cellphones were confiscated and they will not have access to government servers, emails or documents.

Alan Mullen, special adviser to the Speaker, did not give details about the criminal investigation or how long it has been underway, saying he did not want to jeopardize the RCMP’s work. Mullen said the criminal investigation into two senior legislative officers is “absolutely unprecedented.”

“If I can be frank, it’s disturbing, it’s disruptive,” Mullen said.

No criminal charges have been laid. Mullen would not say who decided to forward the allegations to police.

In an interview with reporters before he left the building, James said he was stunned by the investigation.

He said neither he nor Lenz has any idea what the investigation is about. In their meeting in the Speaker’s office, Plecas was unable to give details on the focus of the investigation.

“He looked quite distressed and wasn’t able to convey anything to me,” James said.

James said he and Lenz will seek legal advice. “Somebody knows something, and I think out of fairness, both Gary and I should have been informed before we were placed on administrative leave [about] exactly what it involves,” James said.

“I think it’s very unfair, very unfortunate and very disappointing. We have no idea what’s going on.”

James held his cycling clothes under one arm and said Lenz would give him a ride home because he was too distraught to cycle.

Lenz, a former Sidney/North Saanich RCMP staff sergeant, is in charge of protective services at the B.C. legislature, which includes security for MLAs and their constituency offices. Last year, Lenz was paid a salary of $218,167 and claimed $23,606 in expenses.

Lenz implemented increased security measures at the B.C. legislature in the aftermath of a foiled terrorist attack on Canada Day in 2013. In 2016, he organized a meeting of top security officials from across North America to discuss how to prevent threats against people working inside legislative buildings.

James, who has been clerk since 2011 and has a lifetime appointment to the position, is the chief administrative officer for the legislative assembly.

He’s responsible for its $70-million annual budget and procedural matters. Last year, he was paid a salary of $347,090 and claimed $51,649 in expenses.

James led an effort to make public MLA expenses, even after coming under fire for his own use of public funds. In 2012, James was criticized after IntegrityBC released documents showing he claimed $43,295 in travel expenses between August and December 2010, when he was acting chief electoral officer.

The Speaker of the house has a role that’s akin to a chair of a board of directors, Mullen said, making Plecas effectively in charge of the legislature’s finances.

Mullen said the suspensions are “absolutely not political” in nature.

“It is not politically driven. This is because of an ongoing and active criminal investigation.”

In an email, RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said: “The RCMP has an active investigation underway, with respect to allegations pertaining to their administrative duties, and we are not in a position to provide any other details or specifics.

“A thorough investigation is underway and will take the time necessary,” she said. “Given the nature and the roles of the individuals involved, the RCMP sought the appointment of a special prosecutor.”

Victoria police said in a statement that, at the request of the Speaker, its officers were sent to the legislature to stand by during the suspension and removal of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms. The department was made aware of the initial allegations but since then, the RCMP has become the primary investigative agency for the case.

In a statement, the B.C. Prosecution Service said that assistant deputy attorney general Peter Juk received a formal request from the RCMP on Sept. 28 that he consider appointing a special prosecutor to provide police with legal advice during the course of their investigation.

Juk decided to appoint a special prosecutor and determined because of the “potential size and scope of the investigation” that two special prosecutors would be needed.

A special prosecutor, who is independent from government, is appointed when there is a significant potential for perceived or real improper influence in prosecutorial decision-making in a given case, according to the B.C. Prosecution Service. “The paramount consideration is the need to maintain public confidence in the administration of criminal justice,” the agency says.

The special prosecutors will offer legal advice to the RCMP, conduct an independent assessment of any report to Crown counsel that might be submitted and decide on whether charges should be laid. They will provide a written report to the assistant deputy attorney general on their charge assessment and reasons for the decision.

Farnworth, who is also minister of public safety and solicitor general, would not comment on the investigation or the reason for the suspensions.

Premier John Horgan said he was briefed by Farnworth on the criminal investigation and the special prosecutor on Monday.

“It was shocking, to be sure,” Horgan said. “I am certainly very concerned that whatever investigation that’s underway is completed as quickly as possible, for the individuals involved but also for our institutions.”

Kate Ryan-Lloyd is deputy clerk of the legislature but no announcement has been made as to whether she’ll be made acting clerk.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from Louise Dickson and Lindsay KinesL

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