Crown counsel kicked off Monday’s (July 4) sentencing hearing for former legislature clerk Craig James by arguing he should serve prison time.
James was found guilty of one count of fraud and one count of breach of trust in the B.C. Supreme Court in May, relating to a nearly $1,900-shopping trip expense claim he made while legislature clerk. He claimed the pricey clothing he bought was for “chamber attire,” but Crown lawyers proved otherwise.
“While it’s fair to say there isn’t a massive dollar figure… we say the sentencing requires a clear and unequivocal denunciation,” Crown lawyer Brock Martland argued Monday.
He suggested around a year of prison time and a restitution order for the shopping expenses, acknowledging that at 71 years of age and with no criminal history James poses little further risk to the public.
Defence counsel agreed with the restitution order but pushed back against a prison sentence, arguing the ruining of James’ reputation has already been punishment enough. Lawyer Gavin Cameron said 12 months of probation and 150 hours of community service would be more appropriate.
Martland said if the court were to rule that way, Crown would argue for two-thirds of James’ time to be spent under house arrest and the last third to be under curfew. Martland said they would suggest about 100 hours of community work.
Arguing for the lighter sentence, Cameron pointed to a letter from James’ doctor stating he has been struggling with anxiety, mood disturbance and insomnia since RCMP escorted him off the grounds of the legislature in 2018. James was then put on paid administrative leave before resigning in 2019.
Cameron also pointed to James’ wife and daughter who were seated in the courtroom Monday, noting the impact the last four years have had on them.
He presented letters from former colleagues and current neighbours of James, each vouching for his character. Former premier Gordon Campbell wrote he had always found James to be a man of integrity committed to public service, and former house speaker John Reynolds called James “one of the best.” Each wrote they believe James still has more to contribute. Neighbours wrote that James has always been helpful and kind, clearing snow and cleaning their strata common area, and sharing food during pandemic-induced shortages.
Ultimately, Cameron argued the public shame and stigma James has faced, particularly over allegations he wasn’t convicted on, should be considered as his primary punishment.
James is not facing sentencing for the actions he became most infamous for, including expensing a wood splitter he claimed was for “emergencies” at the B.C. legislature but kept at his home, and collecting a $258,000 long-time service benefit. In her conviction decision in May, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said Crown lawyers failed to build a strong enough case around the two incidents, as well as a myriad of overseas gift shop purchases James made.
Since James’ departure, guidelines for expenses have been implemented for the legislative assembly.
Holmes said she will deliver her sentencing decision Friday (July 8) morning.
–With files from The Canadian Press and Cole Schisler