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No parking for wood splitter at centre of case against former B.C. clerk, court hears

VANCOUVER — The former facilities manager at the British Columbia legislature told a trial Wednesday that a wood splitter bought for emergency preparedness was being stored at the clerk's home while a parking spot was sorted out for it.

VANCOUVER — The former facilities manager at the British Columbia legislature told a trial Wednesday that a wood splitter bought for emergency preparedness was being stored at the clerk's home while a parking spot was sorted out for it. 

The purchase of the splitter and a trailer are key elements in the case against former legislature clerk Craig James, who's accused of misspending public money.

Randy Spraggett told the B.C. Supreme Court trial that he and James discussed purchasing the equipment because they believed it would help in the event of a severe storm or disaster that affected the power supply on Vancouver Island.

He testified that James told him to buy the wood splitter with his corporate card after researching the best options, and that James had picked it up because the legislature's truck didn't have the required hitch. James stored it at his home while a suitable parking spot was found at the legislature, Spraggett said. 

James also picked up the trailer from a supplier on the mainland because he was travelling there anyway and it saved delivery costs, Spraggett told the court.

James has pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud over $5,000 and three counts of breach of trust by a public officer based on allegations of misspending stemming from his time serving as clerk between 2011 and 2018. He was suspended in 2018 after the RCMP began investigating and resigned in 2019.

The Crown has said the case against James rests on three main areas: the purchase of the trailer and wood splitter with public funds; his claim to a retirement allowance of more than $250,000; and certain expenses claimed while in the job. 

The wood splitter and trailer were purchased in the fall of 2017. Spraggett said deciding on a parking spot for the equipment at the legislature came up during a conversation with James and another official in September 2018.

"We had already provided locations and suggestions, but we hadn't received any direction yet on where to put it," he said.

"We never received a direction to go put it there, which is all we needed and we would have made it happen."

Special prosecutor David Butcher has told the court the wood splitter would have been "utterly useless in an emergency" for the legislature when it was parked at James's home more than 13 kilometres away.

When Spraggett was questioned by Butcherabout the storage of the splitter and trailer at James's home, he agreed it would have been difficult to transport them to the legislature in the event of a storm affecting roads and infrastructure. 

The court also heard Wednesday from Randall Ennis, who retired as the legislature's acting sergeant-at-arms in May 2019.

Ennis testified that he was involved in ensuring the business of legislature would continue with the least amount of disruption in the event of a fire or other emergency.

"We had no sheltering equipment, no extraction equipment should we have to pull anybody out of any rubble should there have been a major earthquake. There was no rations, no water. There was no lighting kits, no generators," Ennis said.

Ennis said he had requested some of the equipment as part of a $65,000 project to prepare the legislature for emergencies, including two chainsaws that could be used to cut through fallen branches or wooden structures.

Under questioning by Butcher, Ennis said the need for the $3,200 wood splitter and $10,000 trailer "didn't make a lot of sense" to him.

"There wasn't that many trees that would have to be split, and if we needed to do that, you would do it with a chainsaw. The trailer, I would think, would be very cumbersome to use," he said, adding those opinions were expressed at the time.

Ennis said he later wondered when the trailer and wood splitter would be delivered and stored at legislature along with all of the other emergency equipment.

He said there were no impediments that would have prevented their delivery to the legislature grounds, adding it would have been difficult to retrieve them from James's home following a catastrophic event.

One of James's neighbours, James Cassels, testified earlier this week that he saw both a trailer and wood splitter on the property across from his home. He said he never saw or heard the wood splitter being used by James.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press