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Former B.C. legislature clerk Craig James won't testify at criminal trial

Former Clerk of the House is leaving the criminal case against him in he hands of a judge
Former clerk of the B.C. legislature Craig James denies three counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud.

Former legislature clerk Craig James will not testify at his criminal fraud and breach of trust trial, nor present a defence case after special Crown prosecutors concluded their evidence against him Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court.

James is accused by the Crown of two counts of fraud and three counts of breach of trust. 

It's alleged he expensed personal items such as souvenirs, suits and books from September 2011 to November 2018 while travelling to 57 destinations during his time as Clerk of the House. That same November, he was escorted from the Parliament Buildings following an independent investigation by then-Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas.

James is also accused of using legislature property, such as a wood splitter and trailer, for personal reasons, and of using his position as the legislature’s de facto CEO to approve a $257,988 retroactive retirement benefit.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is presumed innocent.

On Tuesday, Prosecutors Brock Martland and David Butcher ended four weeks of submissions and testimony with the legislature’s executive financial officer Hilary Woodward on the witness stand explaining the personal expenses James submitted for reimbursement.

Woodward testified that while there were no policies outlining travel expenses, she found some of James' questionable. Defence lawyer Gavin Cameron concluded his interview of Woodward by outlining perceived discrepancies in her statements.

“I can appreciate how your story has changed,” he told Woodward in one of the more confrontational moments of the trial.

The onus is on prosecutors to show that crimes were committed and that they were intentionally committed by James. They have called several past legislature officers, including Woodward, in an effort to question whether James' expenses were unreasonable and an abuse of power in the absence of expense policies.

James' successor Kate Ryan-Lloyd was also called to testify about some of the discrepancies in expenses that allegedly occurred, as was former longtime Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff, who largely was questioned about the alleged retirement benefit.

Court also heard evidence on how James was directly involved in producing a legal opinion from the legislature’s lawyer Donald Farquhar to justify the payment in February 2012. Farquhar testified that he did submit such an oral opinion to Barisoff at the time.

Several former legislature employees also testified in court that they would never have contemplated expensing business suits as James allegedly did.

Plecas, who forwarded his findings to the police, did not testify.

On several occasions, Cameron and defence partner Kevin Westell questioned witnesses who were chartered professional accountants working at the legislature and who would have been duty-bound to report unlawful activity contrary to the public interest. Cameron noted how James never faced any formal complaints while submitting such expenses as clerk.

James’ use of a wood splitter garnered significant media attention following his termination as clerk. Whereas prosecutors attempted to show he orchestrated its purchase for personal use, Cameron and Westell have pointed out the equipment was stored at his home for practical reasons, such as there being no immediate parking space at the legislature.

The prosecutors will submit their final argument on March 1, at which point James’ defence team has the option to outline potential weaknesses in the prosecution.

Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes will have to pour over thousands of pages of documents, many vetted by RCMP during the course of its investigation. 

James could face a jail sentence if he is found guilty of some or all of the charges.

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