Credit to Author: Gord Kurenoff| Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 01:46:34 +0000
VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan says it was around the time of his first anniversary as premier that he heard allegations of wrongdoing regarding Clerk of the Legislature Craig James.
The source was a fellow New Democrat, Raj Chouhan, the Burnaby MLA who serves as deputy speaker. Chouhan heard from Speaker Darryl Plecas, then already well into his investigation of James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.
Would Horgan meet with Plecas and hear him out? Chouhan asked.
Horgan thought better of it for two reasons, he told reporters yesterday.
First of all the legislative assembly is not within the purview of the premier — though Plecas seemed to think it was.
But second — “and I think this is critically important” — Horgan had strongly opposed the appointment of James as clerk.
I covered the showdown on June 2, 2011. The Liberals flouted 60 years of precedents in appointing James clerk without support of the Opposition.
Horgan, then the opposition house leader, was one of the strongest voices to be raised against the move.
Because of that historical bit of bad blood, Horgan figured that if he were fielding allegations of wrongdoing against James “there could be a perception of bias.”
So he asked his chief of staff Geoff Meggs to take the meeting.
All this only came out this week with the release of a 112-page report alleging wrongdoing by now-departed sergeant-at-arms Lenz, who resigned soon after being shown the report, all the while insisting he has done nothing wrong.
But in the course of a long narrative involving Lenz, report author Doug LePard, the former deputy chief of police in Vancouver, opened a window on the involvement of the premier’s office.
The Meggs-Plecas sit-down happened July 30, 2018 at the Vancouver cabinet office. Also in attendance were Chouhan, another staffer from the premier’s office, and Alan Mullen, then an aide to the Speaker, later his chief of staff.
The meeting lasted about an hour. The discussion focused on a 40- to 50-page document containing the allegations. Plecas gave Meggs a copy and others in the room had one as well.
“What I had was clearly a draft copy,” Meggs told me. And not a very impressive one at that — mostly allegations, without supporting evidence. “Everything I had was hearsay.”
After some back and forth Meggs advised Plecas and Mullen to take their allegations to the police. “It needed to be reviewed by professionals.”
When the meeting broke up, the Speaker left Meggs with his copy of the allegations.
Some weeks later — Meggs cannot remember precisely when — Chouhan advised the premier’s office that Plecas had indeed taken the material to the police.
Sometime in late summer or early fall, Meggs shredded his copy of the document.
“It was my decision to shred it. I didn’t want to have it. I didn’t want this floating around.”
When Lenz and James were escorted from the legislature after the appointment of special prosecutors in the case, Meggs reported his recollections of the Plecas meeting in a memo to Don Wright, the deputy minister in the premier’s office. He also briefed the premier, though only briefly.
Horgan, for his part, defended Meggs Tuesday, claiming the document was “his to shred.”
He also characterized it as being of “unknown origin,” though it had been hand delivered to the premier’s office by the Speaker himself.
The premier also showed flashes of the temper that has not been much on display since his days in Opposition.
He accused reporters of making “good careers out of spreading rumours.” We were trying to make “a mountain out of this molehill.” We were told “I don’t think this is a hair to split.”
Later Meggs himself defended the decision to shred.
“I still think it was the right thing to do,” he told me. “If it had found its way to the wrong place, it could have caused problems.”
But the copy Meggs shredded occupies a unique place in the paper trail of this complex and unresolved case.
It is the document that led the premier’s office to advise the Speaker to take his allegations to the police.
The advice was followed, leading to the appointment of two special prosecutors and the suspension of James and Lenz from their positions at the legislature.
That makes it the founding document of the entire case against Lenz and James.
Moreover, by Meggs account, it was a rough and unproven thing, filled with unsupported allegations and hearsay.
He says that the next time he saw the allegations, they were in the more polished form of the reports Plecas put out in January, which were drafted with the assistance of a lawyer.
But given the stakes in this case, I wonder if the lawyers for Lenz or James might want to see that earlier, unpolished draft, to illuminate the shaky beginnings of the case against their clients.
When I put that possibility to Meggs, he dismissed it. As far as he knows, copies of the document that he shredded survive in the hands of the Speaker and his chief of staff. If the lawyers want one, they should ask Plecas or Mullen.
Still, in a case as fraught with political implications as this one, it would have been wiser for the chief of staff to have kept his copy, against the day when he might be asked to produce it.
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