‘There was no need for us to keep it’: Premier defends shredding of document in spending scandal

B.C. Premier John Horgan is defending his actions after he was alerted to misconduct allegations against two legislative staffers, saying the matter was not part of his responsibilities and getting involved would have opened him up to accusations of bias.

A report released Tuesday revealed the premier’s office was made aware of the allegations against then-Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz nearly four months before the two senior staffers were marched out of the building and placed on paid administrative leave.

Horgan’s chief-of-staff, Geoff Meggs, later shredded copies of the documents that were left behind containing the detailed allegations. 

But Horgan’s office said Wednesday that the papers were duplicates, not originals, and they weren’t shredded until they’d been provided to the RCMP.

“It was in the hands of the police. There was no need for us to keep it,” Horgan told reporters.

He said the matter was outside his purview as premier, and he was aware there might be a perception of bias if he got involved, because he voted against James’s appointment as clerk.

“I said I do not want to be involved in any way in allegations against the clerk of this place, because it was well known that I didn’t like the guy and I didn’t think he should be appointed. It turned out, I was prescient in that matter,” Horgan said.

Watch: B.C. premier defends shredding of duplicate report

B.C. Premier John Horgan says once the information in the documents was passed on to police, there was no reason for his government to keep them on file. 5:40

The allegations were outlined in a draft report by Speaker Darryl Plecas, who took his concerns to the premier’s office in a meeting on July 30, 2018. 

Horgan said he asked Plecas to meet with Meggs about the matter, and Meggs told him to go to the police.

In a written statement, Meggs said he was in no position to verify the allegations in Plecas’s report, and the premier’s office is not involved in administration of the legislative assembly.

“For those reasons and because of the seriousness of the allegations, I urged the speaker to provide his information to the police. I was later advised by Deputy Speaker Raj Choujan that the speaker had done so,” Meggs said.

Liberals call for Meggs to be fired

The opposition Liberals, however, are arguing that the premier’s office should have gone to the police immediately. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson is calling for Meggs to be fired.

“When someone who is the senior political staffer to the premier of British Columbia receives a report alleging criminal wrongdoing, his obligation is to inform the police and to inform the premier,” Wilkinson told reporters. 

He was also asked why former Speaker Linda Reid, a B.C. Liberal, refused to cooperate with the Police Act investigation into the allegations. Wilkinson said he wasn’t aware of that information.

Former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The report released Tuesday focused on the actions of Lenz, the former sergeant-at-arms, and was written by Doug LePard, former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department.

LePard found that Lenz had committed “very serious misconduct” by lying to investigators about his knowledge of allegations about the misappropriation of a truckload of liquor by the legislative clerk. 

Lenz resigned from his position last week, before the report was released and nearly a year after he was placed on paid administrative leave.

James stepped down as Clerk in May after another report found that he had engaged in misconduct in multiple ways, including by expensing pricey suits and luggage for his personal use during trips to the U.K. and the improper acceptance of a $257,988 payout from a retirement benefit program in 2012.

Both men have denied any wrongdoing. An RCMP investigation is still underway.

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