A man at the center of one of the largest spending scandals in the history of politics in British Columbia has been sentenced.
Craig James, a former clerk of the legislature, found out his fate in a Vancouver courtroom on Friday morning.
He was sentenced to three months’ rigorous imprisonment, which would be served in the community instead of jail.
Former Speaker of the Legislature Darryl Places, the man who first flagged the unfair spending claims made by James, called the sentence lenient.
“You as a senior officer can break public trust and you are not necessarily going to jail,” he said.
James was told he would be under house arrest for the first month. He must report by phone to his conditional sentence supervisor by Monday, and during that month, he must be on his property 24 hours a day, with few exceptions.
James would only be allowed to go with permission for “extremely unusual circumstances”, medical emergencies or very important medical appointments for himself, his spouse, or his daughter.
He may have been allowed a Sunday morning off to attend the mass ceremony, but those details were not settled in court. Their supervisors will make this decision.
James will be allowed, with the permission of his supervisor, to go grocery shopping once a week for a period of two hours, as his wife is having surgery this week and will not be able to drive.
When a peace officer or observer is present or calls, he must immediately answer the door or phone.
After that, James will be under curfew for two months. During that time, he or she will have to stay at home every day between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., and be ready to answer the door or phone immediately to a peace officer or observer.
He has also been ordered to pay the $1,886.72 recommended by the Crown as well as a $200 victim surcharge.
The judge said she would not impose a sentence involving community service, telling the court that she believed James would volunteer on his own initiative.
This was a case that prosecutors said could affect the way the public viewed the provincial government.
Earlier this week, Crown’s attorney told the court that he sought a conditional sentence of nearly one year for Craig James — a prison sentence given at home rather than in bars. Its reasoning is that the punishment would serve as a “deterrent” for future officials handed down to the public.
The Crown suggested on Monday that the majority of that sentence could be served under house arrest, and the rest under a curfew. It is also seeking a reinstatement order of $1,886.72.
Crown Attorney Brock Martland said the now-71-year-old’s conduct was a “departure” by the most senior official in the legislature, and there are “real risks of undermining public confidence” associated with the case.
He said the sentence could increase public cynicism about government institutions if it was considered too mild, and added that James pleaded not guilty, the opposite of what is often seen in cases where conditional punishment is given.
Despite the lack of plea, the defense called for a conditional discharge, with attorney Gavin Cameron arguing that there would be a “disproportionate response” to the sentence of imprisonment.
He insisted for 12 months of probation and 150 hours of community service, saying that James had already been “indicted and convicted in a court of public opinion.”
He said the media coverage, and the damage to his reputation prior to his trial, was so significant that it would serve more as a deterrent to other public officials than any punishment imposed by the court.
He also urged the judge to take into account James’s age and said that he is a first time criminal who has lost his job as a result of the investigation.
On Friday, the judge said the conditional leave would be contrary to public interest, even taking into account the media coverage. The judge told the court that it would not sufficiently condone the conduct nor would it deter others.
Earlier this year, a BC Supreme Court judge ruled that James spent taxpayer dollars on personal expenses during his time as a high-ranking public official.
He was found guilty of breach of trust and fraud in May.
The judge said that when he claimed costs of $1800 for a dress shirt, a tie, and a suit, which he claimed to be chamber attire, they violated the standard of conduct expected of him. A number of other items such as gift shop purchases and alcohol were also incurred, but the judge found that it was possible that they were gifts or legitimate work costs.
James was cleared on three other counts, including one related to a $258,000 retirement benefit the Crown alleges he had improperly claimed by taking advantage of weak policies.
As it stands now, James will have to keep that payment.
“British Colombians will be saying, ‘Where’s our cash?’ Why is there no need to return the money?” asked Places.
He was fired and suspended with pay in 2018, then resigned the following year while the investigation into his conduct was still ongoing.
In court with files from Regan Hasegawa of CTV News Vancouver and the Canadian Press