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Crown seeks prison time for former B.C. legislature clerk

Former Premier Gordon Campbell wrote a character reference to court for ex-clerk Craig James.
Craig James was found guilty on May 19, 2022 of fraud and breach of trust by a public official.

Crown prosecutors argued during a sentencing hearing that former B.C. legislature clerk Craig James should face prison time.

James was found guilty in May of one count each of breach of trust and fraud under $5,000 related to misspending at the Legislative Assembly of B.C. from September 2011 to November 2018.

During his six-week trial, Crown prosecutors had alleged James used "public money as his personal slush fund of seemingly limitless depth" to pay for clothing, books and travel items. It was determined he was not guilty of breach of trust allegations of improperly obtaining and keeping a $258,000 retirement benefit. James was also determined to be innocent of breach of trust and fraud allegations that he improperly purchased and used a wood-splitter for personal reasons.

Special Crown prosecutors seek a sentence of up to one year for James, while his defence lawyers ask for a conditional discharge.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes is scheduled to rule on James' punishment on Friday.

James was supposed to uphold integrity of important democratic institution: Crown

Crown prosecutor Brock Martland argued before Holmes that James' crimes required "a clear and unique denunciation" compared to a "run of the mill" sentencing.

The prosecutors sought a prison sentence of up to one year but noted a conditional sentence was within the court's purview. Were the sentence conditional, Martland suggested to Holmes a mix of house arrest and curfew. Prosecutors sought 100 hours of community service in their submission.

While James is 71, and there is no likely chance of recidivism, Martland said he was in a position akin to the chief executive officer in an important institution for democracy and the rule of law. As such, he was entrusted by the public but took a "serious and marked departure" from his position when, as Holmes had ruled, he committed "deliberate and plainly dishonest fraud."

Citing case law, Martland noted how James' misconduct erodes the public's trust and confidence in government, which is a societal problem.

"These crimes are against all of us and against our country. They destroy the kinds of conditions we would want to pass on to our children," Martland said.

James' actions, said Martland, support "the man on the street who says, 'They're all crooked, they're all on the take,'" at a time when there exist real risks of increasing public cynicism on democratic institutions.

Media coverage led to 'shaming and hectoring' of James in court of public opinion

Defence attorney Gavin Cameron argued two key points in seeking a conditional discharge plus 12 months of probation and 150 hours of community service. First, that deterrence and denunciation have been met by the "shaming and hectoring" James received stemming from significant media coverage since police escorted him from the legislature grounds on Nov. 20, 2018.

Cameron said James received "significant stigma" due to unproven allegations; thus, deterrence and denunciation have been met.

Cameron noted news coverage of James' trial and an anxiety condition he is experiencing.

"I'm not saying feel sorry for Mr. James for the newspapers being mean to him," however, media coverage is a form of deterrence far more powerful than a conditional prison sentence, said Cameron. "No person will take the chance to seek reimbursement for a suit and a shirt after seeing what's happened here."

Cameron then pointed out James' wife and daughter sitting in the court and noted some life challenges James has faced, including the loss of his first wife to cancer and a stepson to suicide.

He presented Holmes with six letters of character references from people close to James, including neighbours and former Attorney General Geoff Plant and former Premier Gordon Campbell.

Campbell wrote James was a well-respected person in the legislature, working as an assistant clerk during his time as premier and a "man of integrity."

Cameron said James had identified community service related to suicide prevention and Alzheimer's disease, considering those matters impacted his personal life.