Criminal investigation into clerk, sergeant-at-arms active since January
Allegations against the Legislative Assembly clerk and sergeant-at-arms date back until at least January.
An official said Wednesday that an investigation into the actions of Craig James and Gary Lenz has been ongoing since at least the start of the year, prompted by concerns brought forward by Speaker Darryl Plecas.
Special Advisor to the Speaker Alan Mullen spoke to reporters the day after the senior civil servants were ousted from the B.C. Legislature.
He said no search warrants have been executed so far, and acknowledged a lack of official information is leading to speculation from the public.
"The rumour mill is rampant. We need to clearly identify which unit of the RCMP is investigating so we can get rid of that speculation and look towards getting resolution to this," he told reporters in Victoria.
But he said the RCMP is guiding what information is made public because of the seriousness of the allegations.
"Currently, unfortunately we can't comment further. It's a police investigation, it's a criminal investigation, and the last thing we want to do is do anything to jeopardize that," Mullen said Wednesday morning.
"The police have to do their thing, and we have to allow that to happen."
He held a news conference later in the day after getting an update from RCMP, but said he was still unable to provide further details on the case.
"They're not providing anything until they have something concrete," he said prior to the conference.
Still, he said the goal is transparency, especially when it comes to criminal allegations in politics.
"This place is the people's house. They are members elected by the people, and the people have a right to know," he said.
Mullen maintained that their suspension was necessary, but did not provide details on why. Mullen said it occurred when it did because the speaker had just presented information from the RCMP to the House leaders.
They then voted unanimously in favour of the suspension.
"We're never going to go off in a fashion that's going to accuse somebody of something, that's why it's taken time, that's why police were involved, and that's why it's taken this amount of time before a special prosecutor was assigned," Mullen said.
He said there were concerns at least as far back as the start of the year, but would not say exactly when they were actually raised.
Later, Mullen told reporters, "As the months went on, we gathered more information, and that just got passed off."
He said the Office of the Speaker will not issue any more statements on the matter.
Attorney General David Eby said he too could not comment on the nature of the allegations or the investigation.
"I think that the public definitely deserves as much information as we can give them. The reality is right now there's an active investigation and we can't comment on this matter," he said.
The head of political watchdog Integrity BC was critical of how the case has been handled so far, saying it wasn't fair to the public or to the accused.
"Any time we see an investigation in the justice system, we usually get that transparency. Yet there seems to be a very special class in British Columbia that gets special treatment by the justice system without a good justification for it," he said in an interview.
"If you hold up a convenience store, you don't get that treatment, when the charges are laid, and I think that we have to make certain that if we're going to say no one is above the law then the law applies equally to all of them."
It is not yet known what James and Lenz are alleged to have done, but RCMP confirmed Tuesday they were called to investigate in September. Mounties have not provided further details other than to say their investigation is criminal and involves "allegations pertaining to their administrative duties."
The B.C. Prosecution Service appointed two special prosecutors last month to aid police in their investigation.
James and Lenz were escorted out of the legislature Tuesday morning following the motion from Solicitor General Mike Farnworth that called for their immediate suspension. Both will receive full pay and benefits, pending the results of the investigation.
In addition to being off work, neither is allowed to access the Legislative Assembly network equipment, systems or services. They cannot attend any legislative precinct building.
Farnworth and Mullen declined to provide further details on the allegations, and James himself told reporters he didn't know what prompted their suspension.
"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 Tuesday.
He said he and Lenz found out that morning after being called to the speaker's office. Mullen said he could not speak to what James does or does not know.
James has served as clerk since 2011, a role that includes overall direction and administrative duties for the assembly. As sergeant-at-arms, Lenz is responsible for the security of the parliament buildings and legislative grounds.
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. Documents released by Integrity BC in 2012 showed three trips – including one to Kenya – in the span of five months.
He defended the trips at the time, denying claims they were lavish or exclusive.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Penny Daflos