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Tale of two clerks: New legislature boss Ryan-Lloyd testifies at corruption trial

New legislature clerk faces old clerk in B.C. Supreme Court corruption trial
Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas conducted an internal investigation into Craig James and then Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, eventually deeming corruption had occurred.

Kate Ryan-Lloyd, the clerk of the Legislative Assembly of B.C., took to the stand in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday to testify for special Crown prosecutors in their case against her predecessor Craig James, who faces fraud and breach of trust charges.

Prompted by prosecutor David Butcher, Ryan-Lloyd stated that at no point during her time as deputy clerk did she receive direction that chamber attire — her robe, jacket and white shirt — could be interchanged with business attire.

The seemingly mundane detail relates to allegations of improper spending by James, including business suits he expensed with public funds.

Ryan-Lloyd is among several key figures in James' time as clerk, from 2011 until November 2018, when police escorted him out of the building, leaving then deputy clerk Ryan-Lloyd as the acting clerk until her official permanent appointment in March 2020.

Ryan-Lloyd became deputy clerk in 2011 when James was appointed clerk, following the retirement of longstanding clerk George MacMinn. It was shortly after that, in February 2012, when James received a $257,988 retirement benefit — now the subject of a breach of trust allegation — whereas Ryan-Lloyd declined her own.

As the legislature's de facto chief executive officer, at issue is whether James skirted policies and/or improperly approved the benefit.

James is also accused of fraud in excess of $5,000 for personal expenditures billed to the legislature, including allegations he procured a wood splitter and a trailer — costing more than $13,000 total — as emergency equipment for the capital buildings but used it for personal use.

The allegations against James came to light in November 2018 after Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas conducted an internal investigation into James and then Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, eventually deeming corruption had occurred. Lenz is not facing charges.

A May 2019 independent fact-finding report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Beverley McLachlin for the Legislative Assembly substantiated four of Plecas' five allegations against James. McLachlin found James used public money to buy expensive suits and luggage for personal use, removed alcohol from the Parliament Buildings and made personal use of a wood-splitter purchased with public funds. She stated James also "turned a blind eye" to whether or not the retirement bonus had any foundation to it. 

The criminal allegations have not been proven. Whether or not they meet that threshold rests with presiding judge Associate Chief Justice Heather J. Holmes.

Butcher spent much of the first part of his examination establishing the roles and responsibilities of the Legislative Assembly, the non-partisan, autonomous entity with 300 staff members, headed by the clerk, who oversees the provincial government's legislative process inside the capital buildings in Victoria.

The clerk has administrative (CEO-type) duties and assists in legislative procedures conducted by the Speaker of the House over the elected members, Ryan-Lloyd confirmed.

Butcher raised to Ryan-Lloyd how, in October 2019, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee laid out the clerk's responsibilities ahead of its search for a permanent replacement. Ryan-Lloyd said it was a "wholesome" job description, noting how the clerk is to oversee the provisions of services and financial management plus the implementation of internal controls.

James took notes during the testimony, but his criminal defence lawyers, Kevin Westell and Gavin Cameron, have yet to cross-examine.

The court heard how Ryan-Lloyd, whose appointment by way of the Legislative Assembly was widely celebrated at the legislature, worked her way up the ranks from a research librarian in 1992 to a permanent officer in 2002.