The criminal fraud and breach of trust trial for former B.C. legislature clerk Craig James began in a Vancouver courtroom on Monday.
A special prosecutor said the former clerk took advantage of his position as one of province’s most senior public officials to allegedly use government funds for personal benefit.
On the first day of his trial, James pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of breach of trust by a public officer in B.C. Supreme Court.
Special prosecutor David Butcher said the allegations against James relate to a retirement allowance of more than $250,000, the purchase of a wood splitter and trailer, as well as travel expenses and personal mementoes.
Butcher told the court the personal items range from books on topics like beekeeping and whisky to cufflinks and a cushion decorated with the Union Jack and the words “God Save the Queen.”
Former Sergeant at Arms, Gary Lenz, who was suspended with James when news of the alleged spending scandal broke in November 2018, was not charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
James has elected to be tried by a judge alone and his defence lawyers have not yet presented arguments in court.
Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes is hearing the case, which is expected to hear testimony from 27 witnesses over at least three weeks.
James had originally been charged with six counts, but in a ruling posted online, Holmes quashed the first breach of trust charge for several reasons, including that it duplicated other charges and could prejudice the trial process.
At a hearing in May 2021, James’ lawyers argued that the first count alleging the breach in connection with his duties was a duplicate charge and would only confuse the jury at trial.
The clerk is the senior officer of the house, responsible for advising the Speaker on parliamentary procedure and performing the key administration functions of the legislature.
James was suspended from the post in 2018 after an RCMP investigation into allegations of spending on personal expenses at the legislature.
“Crown alleges that Mr. James’s conduct at different times and in different ways was a marked departure from the standard of responsible management expected of a person occupying one of the highest offices in the province,” Butcher told the court.
With files from The Canadian Press