Lawyers for suspended clerk, sergeant-at-arms demand they be reinstated
Published Friday, November 23, 2018 12:34PM PST Last Updated Friday, November 23, 2018 7:10PM PST
The lawyers representing the Legislative Assembly clerk and sergeant-at-arms who were placed on administrative leave this week amid a criminal investigation are calling for their clients to be placed back on active duty.
An official has said 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.
Few details are known, but Solicitor General Mike Farnworth put forward a motion Tuesday that James and Lenz be placed on administrative leave. Both were escorted out of the building, James by a Victoria police officer.
In a scathing letter to Farnworth, Opposition house leader Mary Polak and MLA Sonia Furstenau, lawyers with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP called the treatment of James and Lenz unfair, citing an "absence of cogent facts" to prove that the suspensions were warranted.
"Neither of clients were provided with any advance notice of this motion. Instead, immediately afterwards, they were ejected from the Legislature in what appears to have been a deliberately public and humiliating manner, on the basis secret allegation," the letter read.
"Unless there is something specific in the facts allegedly brought to light in this case that makes it impossible for Mr. James or Mr. Lenz to carry out their duties, the only way that the injustice now unfolding from the passage of the motion can be mitigated pending the outcome of the investigation, and public confidence restored, is for the motion to be rescinded."
In the letter, James and Lenz denied have any knowledge of the nature of the investigation or having committed any wrongdoing.
"They are entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty," their lawyers wrote. "They are the most senior and long-serving and loyal servants of the Legislative Assembly whose reputations are in the process of being destroyed by these events."
The Fasken attorneys also criticized the process through which the motion came about, saying the Speaker doesn't have the constitutional authority to carry out the investigation or to hire special advisers to do so.
"To be clear: our clients are not asking for the investigation to be stopped," they added. "The will co-operate with the investigation and any reasonable terms connected therewith, and wish it to proceed with dispatch."
In the three days since James and Lenz's suspension, the shakeup at the Legislature has taken as many twists and turns, all while the details of the investigation remain a mystery.
On Wednesday, Special Advisor to the Speaker Alan Mullen confirmed the allegations against the clerk and sergeant-at-arms date back until at least January.
According to the B.C. Prosecution Service, two special prosecutors were appointed to the case following a request from the RCMP on Sept. 28. Days later, David Butcher and Brock Martland were appointed to provide police with legal advice during the investigation.
On Thursday, Plecas came under fire from his former party, the BC Liberals, who claimed the Speaker recently suggested Mullen himself serve as interim sergeant-at-arms.
Opposition house leader Mary Polak said the decision to suspend James and Lenz was discussed was at a meeting Monday night between her, Plecas, a lawyer and the NDP and Green house leaders.
An affidavit signed by Polak says Plecas "stated his wish" that Mullen be appointed acting sergeant-at-arms, an interim position. Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, Polak called the suggestion "not appropriate."
Hours after the allegation was made, Mullen announced Plecas had hired Wally Oppal as a second adviser in the case.
The former attorney general spoke to reporters Friday morning, defending the Speaker's actions.
"One thing that the public needs to know is the Speaker comes here from a spending academic background," Oppal said. "He's an honourable person and whatever he's done and said has been said as a result of advice that he received."
Oppal was tight-lipped about the details of the investigation, but said he'd had a "productive" meeting with Plecas that morning.
Friday's letter drew even more criticism from the Liberals.
"We have to take it on faith that the people who are asking for the motion, that is the Speaker, have done their homework," party Leader Andrew Wilkinson told CTV. "Now we’ve got grave concerns about how we were possibly taken for a ride."
Later in the day, the Liberals also released a list of 11 questions the party said need to be answered urgently, including "Was the Ministry of the Attorney General aware of the lawyer advising the Speaker, and did the Ministry agree to the retainer of that lawyer?"
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith
Read the full letter below.Viewing this on mobile? Click here to see the document.