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Clerk, sergeant-at-arms suspended amid criminal probe
A massive shakeup in the senior leadership at the B.C. Legislature was announced Tuesday morning.
The House unanimously passed a motion to suspend the clerk of the Legislative Assembly and the sergeant-at-arms pending an RCMP investigation.
Few details are known, but Solicitor General Mike Farnworth put forward a motion that Craig James and Gary Lenz be placed on administrative leave. Both were escorted out of the building, James by a Victoria police officer.
Officials have not yet provided a reason for their suspension, but Farnworth said they're not allowed to access Legislative Assembly network equipment, systems or services. They cannot attend any legislative precinct building.
They will be getting pay and benefits during their leave, which is effective immediately.
He declined to provide further details, saying questions should be directed to Attorney General David Eby.
The RCMP has said only that the investigation is underway "with respect to allegations pertaining to their administrative duties, and we are not in a position to provide any other details or specifics."
So far, the nature of the investigation is not yet known, nor have officials said who contacted the RCMP.
Two special prosecutors were appointed to the case following a request from the RCMP on Sept. 28, the B.C. Prosecution Service confirmed. The BCPS said three days later, David Butcher and Brock Martland were appointed to provide police with legal advice during the investigation.
Special prosecutors are appointed when it is in the public interest to do so – when some aspect of an investigation carries significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in decision making. These prosecutors work independently from the government, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the BCPS.
Given the potential size and scope of the investigation, it was determined that two were required in this case.
"It is an ongoing and active criminal investigation. It would be inappropriate at this time to say anymore because we do not want to jeopardize any investigation that the RCMP have ongoing," Special Advisor to the Speaker Alan Mullen said.
"We will have further information as it rolls out."
Calling the announcement "shocking for sure," Premier John Horgan said he was briefed on the investigation Monday, but said he had very little information including what the allegations are.
Speaking to reporters immediately after the announcement, James said he and Lenz did not know the reason behind their ousting.
"I think we have a right to know what it is," James said.
"There has to be cause under the Constitution Act, and if they've got cause then I suppose that would be sufficient. But I don't know what the cause would be in order to put the clerk of the Legislative Assembly on administrative leave, or the sergeant-at-arms."
He said he and Lenz were called to the speaker's office where they were informed of the leave. James said he'd be seeking legal counsel.
When asked what was going through his head, he said, "Shock more than anything else."
Mullen was asked why James and Lenz weren't informed prior to the motion being put forward.
"Those two positions are appointed… therefore it has to be a motion by the members to remove or to place on administrative leave," he said.
James has served as clerk since 2011, a role that involves supporting MLAs and reporting to the province's chief permanent officer. In addition, his job includes overall direction and administrative duties for the legislative assembly.
As sergeant-at-arms, Lenz is responsible for the security of the parliament buildings and legislative grounds. He also has a ceremonial role which includes carrying the mace into and out of the Chamber during daily sittings. More information on both roles is available on the Legislative Assembly website.
Six years ago, James was under the political microscope for racking up $43,000 in travel expenses when serving as acting chief of Elections BC.
IntegrityBC released documents in 2012 obtained under a freedom of information request detailing the expenses incurred between August and December of 2010 through visits to locations including a private club in Washington, D.C. and an Arizona resort. Also within that timeframe he brought his wife along when he went to a conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
James defended the expenses at the time, denying they were lavish or exclusive. He said he often saves money because political and financial organizations cover some of his costs, and that he'd gotten a deal on the flight to Africa.
At the time, Elections BC allowed splitting airfare costs with another person such as a spouse, and his stay in Arizona was for a conference held at the resort, he said.
With files from CTV Vancouver Island