Two key officials at B.C. legislature on leave amid criminal probe

Dirk Meissner - The Canadian Press

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Two key officials at British Columbia’s legislature have been placed on indefinite leave over what an official says is an ongoing criminal investigation, but details surrounding an RCMP probe of the senior staff at the legislature remained a mystery Tuesday.

Two special prosecutors were appointed to oversee the RCMP investigation in the case on Oct. 1, the B.C. Prosecution Service said in a news release.

Parliament building in Victoria, B.C. (Shutterstock)

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth introduced a motion at the end of question period on Tuesday that said both the clerk of the house, Craig James, and its sergeant-at-arms, Gary Lenz, were being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

“During the period of administrative leave, and as a consequence of an outstanding investigation, Mr. James and Mr. Lenz must not access legislative assembly network equipment, systems or services and must not be present within any building that is part of the ‘Legislative Precinct,’ ” stated the motion, which passed unanimously.

Alan Mullen, a special adviser to the Speaker of the legislature, said there is an investigation by the RCMP and both men are on paid leave. He wouldn’t release any details about the investigation.

“It is an ongoing and active criminal investigation,” he told reporters. “It would be inappropriate at this time to say any more because we do not want to jeopardize any investigation the RCMP have ongoing. I’m not prepared to get into details.”

The prosecution service said the special prosecutors have been appointed to provide legal assistance and advice to the RCMP “in relation to an investigation being conducted into the activities of senior staff at the British Columbia legislature.”

Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said the RCMP asked for the appointment because of “the nature and the roles of the individuals involved.”

“The RCMP has an active investigation underway, with respect to allegations pertaining to their administrative duties, and we are not in a position to provide any other details or specifics,” Shoihet said in a statement. “A thorough investigation is underway and will take the time necessary.”

James and Lenz walked out of the legislature separately and left the parking lot together in a vehicle driven by Lenz. James told reporters he didn’t know why he was placed on leave.

“I have no idea but I’m sure I’ll find out in due course,” said James, who spoke briefly with reporters outside his legislature office. “I think we have a right to know immediately what it is, and I hope that we soon find out what it is and we can go from there.”

Lenz did not comment as he walked out of the building, escorted by a uniformed security officer and a plainclothes police official. He could not be reached for comment later.

The sergeant-at-arms is responsible for maintaining order in the legislative chamber and other areas used for the business of the house. The clerk of the house gives non-partisan advice to the Speaker, can be consulted on procedural matters and maintains a record of all the legislature’s proceedings.

Assistant deputy attorney general Peter Juk appointed lawyers David Butcher and Brock Martland as special prosecutors about seven weeks ago. Both lawyers work in private practice in Vancouver.

“Given the potential size and scope of the investigation, the (assistant deputy attorney general) determined that two special prosecutors would be appointed,” the prosecution service said in a news release.

Special prosecutors are appointed when an investigation or prosecution file carries “a significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in prosecutorial decision making” and they work independently from the government, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the prosecution service, it said.

Lenz, a former RCMP detachment commander in nearby Sidney, B.C., was appointed the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms in February 2009. His salary was $218,167 in the 2017-18 fiscal year, government accounting records show.

Lenz recommended and helped implement enhanced security measures at B.C.’s legislature in 2014 following shooting incidents in Ottawa where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot dead at the National War Memorial and gunman Michale Zihaf Bibeau stormed onto Parliament Hill. Bibeau was shot dead by the former sergeant-at-arms for the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers.

James was appointed legislature clerk in 2011 after a split vote along party lines.

The New Democrats, who were in opposition in 2011, accused the Liberal government at the time of using its majority to appoint the clerk without proper debate. Then NDP leader Adrian Dix, who is now the province’s health minister, said at the time James was an excellent candidate but his appointment should have been done through a hiring competition.

James promised to bring financial accountability to the legislature following a report in 2012 by a former auditor general who said the state of the legislature’s books was a mess, with credit card bills for members of the house being paid without receipts and a lack of financial records.

Shortly after, James was criticized over $43,000 in travel expenses he spent in 2010 while he was acting chief of Elections BC, the province’s elections monitor. James said his wife accompanied him on business trips to Africa and the United States, but there was nothing lavish or exclusive about their travel costs.

B.C. government documents indicate his 2017-18 salary was $347,090.