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Expense policies examined at B.C. legislature spending trial

Ex-clerk Craig James faces charges of breach of trust and fraud
Craig James has pleaded not guilty to five criminal charges.

Special Crown prosecutors targeted an unexplained pattern of knick-knack spending Monday in their ongoing fraud and breach of trust case against B.C.’s former legislative clerk.

Craig James, who spent eight years as the head of the Parliament Buildings, is accused of purchasing scores of souvenirs from trips, particularly from England, for his personal pleasure. His defense team has yet to argue what purpose many of those items served the legislature.

Karen Aitken, director of the parliamentary education office, took to the witness stand Monday to explain what were acceptable items to be sold at the gift shop. The store is located on the first floor of the Parliament Buildings.

Aitken explained gift shop items are typically unique to the B.C. legislature and that knick-knack items such as books and stationery are branded. In her 20 years at the legislature, Aitken said no British monarchy items (such as those allegedly purchased and expensed by James) would be found in the gift shop.

Aiken told defence counsel Gavin Cameron that James did take an interest in some gift shop items, such as special “clerk” and “speaker” chocolates and coffee.

Polla Savage, the gift shop coordinator under Aitken, told prosecutors James never came to her with items to display at the gift shop, or ideas to display. When asked, she said she would never take gift shop items to her home. The defense did not cross-examine Savage.

The Crown then turned to Brian Urquhart, the former legislature director of financial services during James’ time as clerk between 2011 and 2018.

Urquhart was instrumental in drafting expenditure policies, the court heard.

Prosecutor David Butcher asked why, in 2015, the legislature was drafting expense policies. Urquhart explained a 2012 report from the auditor general recommended better financial oversight.

“The idea was to make clear who had authority to make those decisions have a clear audit trail,” said Urquhart, who described legislature policies as "incomplete."

In the absence of such policies, Butcher asked Urquhart what was suitable for reimbursement. Asked specifically about clothing (as James allegedly expensed casual business suits), Urquhart stated he viewed his work clothes as personal items. Urquhart said they nevertheless approved such expenses, specifically citing a suit for former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.

James has pleaded not guilty to five criminal charges: two counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of breach of trust for alleged improper spending. He is also accused of an improper $257,988 retirement benefit payout.

The trial continues Tuesday.

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