B.C.’s legislature deputy clerk told to trust advice on retirement payment: trial
By Amy Smart
VANCOUVER — The former deputy clerk of the British Columbia legislative assembly told a trial that she returned a retirement allowance despite receiving assurances from government officials that it was a valid claim.
The $258,000 retirement allowance that her then-boss, former clerk Craig James, also received in 2012 is the largest among several payments that are subject to criminal allegations of misspending that James denies.
The B.C. Supreme Court trial has heard outstanding claims to the 1984 benefit were paid out to protect the legislative assembly from liability and that the auditor general’s office was critical of the substantial payments in a 2013 report.
Kate Ryan-Lloyd was James’s junior at the time but is now clerk of the legislature. She told the court that when she became concerned about her eligibility for a $118,000 payment, she approached both then-Speaker Bill Barisoff and George McMinn, James’s predecessor.
Ryan-Lloyd testified under cross-examination that McMinn told her she should trust James if he had consulted both a lawyer and the Speaker, while Barisoff said her eligibility was based on “sound legal advice.”
“After speaking with Mr. McMinn, you spoke with Mr. Barisoff and he assured you he was supportive to terminate the retirement benefit and had legal advice you were eligible. The Speaker gave you the impression this was the correct step to take and he was a careful steward of public funds, is that fair,” defence lawyer Gavin Cameron asked Ryan-Lloyd.
“Yes,” she responded.
Ryan-Lloyd has testified that she returned the funds in 2013 after James didn’t give her a copy of a written legal opinion supporting the payouts even though she’d asked several times for the information.
She felt “uncomfortable” with the large payment and that it was “not right,” she has said.
She did not try to contact the lawyer consulted by James directly, she said under cross-examination.
Ryan-Lloyd has said she saw a written summary of verbal advice provided to James by the lawyer dated months after she returned her allotment, but it was not the thorough documentation she was looking for.
James has pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of breach of trust by a public officer.
The allegations stem from his time serving as clerk from 2011 until he was placed on administrative leave in 2018.
The Crown is arguing the case against him rests on three main areas: his claim to the retirement benefit, the purchase with public funds of a trailer and wood splitter, and travel expense claims.
The court has heard the $3,200 wood splitter and $10,000 trailer were purchased in the name of emergency preparedness so they could be used in case of an earthquake or other disaster to build fires, shelters and remove debris.
Crown prosecutor David Butcher has argued that their storage at James’s home would make them “utterly useless” in case of emergency at the legislature.
One of James’s neighbours, James Cassels, testified Monday that he saw both a trailer and wood splitter on the property across from his home. He never saw or heard the wood splitter being used by James, he said.
Ryan-Lloyd told the court that after she began serving as clerk, she introduced written policies regarding allowable expense claims to make clear expectations and obligations.
“It was important to address the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that had been taking place,” she said.
She agreed people interpreted what was acceptable in different ways before they were written, as Cameron gave her examples such as former Speaker Linda Reid’s approval of a TV lounge and snack rack for MLAs in 2017.
She also acknowledged that some previously unwritten policies should have been widely understood, such as if an employee saw wrongdoing that it should be reported.
Plecas, who published a report outlining a report of misspending allegations against James in 2019, asked her not to alert James to the investigation, Ryan-Lloyd said.
Cameron asked her if it was true that Plecas was annoyed when James returned the trailer to the legislature grounds in October 2018 — one month before James was placed on leave — because he worried James had caught wind of the probe.
Ryan-Lloyd said that was true.
She agreed that in May 2019, Plecas collected hard drives from legislative staff.
“Mr. Plecas believed he had absolute power over the table officers and other staff to do what he saw fit, correct?” Cameron asked.
“Yes,” Ryan-Lloyd said.
“Certainly, if the Speaker had a problem with one of Mr. James’s expenses, your understanding is he had the power and could have said something and done something contemporaneously, correct?” Cameron said.
“There were different options that would have been available, yes.”
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