B.C.’s legislature deputy clerk told to trust advice on retirement payment: trial

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Published January 31, 2022 at 5:41 pm

VANCOUVER — The former deputy clerk of the British Columbia legislative assembly told a trial that before she returned a retirement allowance she had received assurances from government officials that it was a valid claim. 

The $258,000 retirement allowance that her then-boss, former clerk Craig James, 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 raised concerns about the substantial payments in 2013. 

Kate Ryan-Lloyd, who was James’ junior at the time but now holds the top title of clerk, 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.”

She previously 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.  

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Ryan-Lloyd has said she felt “uncomfortable” with the large payment and that it was “not right.”

“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.

She did not try to contact the lawyer consulted by James directly, she said. 

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, a role likened in court to the CEO of the legislature, 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 said he never saw or heard the wood splitter being used by James. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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