Political drama is unfolding at the B.C. Legislature after the house passed a motion to suspend two senior staff members amid an RCMP investigation.
Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were escorted out of the building Tuesday after being placed on administrative leave amid an undisclosed investigation.
The scene unfolded on live TV just after the conclusion of Question Period.
"By leave, I move that Mr. Craig James, clerk of the legislative assembly, and Mr. Gary Lenz, sergeant-at-arms, are placed on administrative leave with pay and benefits, effective immediately," announced B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
He called the decision "the consequence of an outstanding investigation," but did not provide further details.
The vote on a motion to suspend the pair was unanimous in the house. The reason for their suspension is not yet known but Special Advisor to the Speaker Alan Mullen later confirmed that RCMP were actively investigating the pair. He did not comment on the nature of the investigation, who contacted RCMP or when the probe started. A special prosecutor has been appointed in the case.
"As far as I know, it is absolutely unprecedented and if I can be frank, it's disturbing, it's disruptive," Mullen told reporters, declining to go into further details.
The BC Prosecution Service later confirmed two special prosecutors, David Butcher and Brock Martland, were appointed to the case following an RCMP request made on Sept. 28.
Special advisor to speaker Darryl Plecas, Alan Mullen says a criminal investigation is underway against Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz. @CTVNewsVI pic.twitter.com/t5CQNAKLVa— Yvonne Raymond (@CTVNewsYvonne) November 20, 2018
Farnworth said James and Lenz are not allowed to access legislative assembly network equipment, systems or services and must not be present in any legislative precinct building.
Speaking to reporters after announcing the motion, Farnworth declined to give further details and referred questions to B.C. Attorney General David Eby. He said the speaker's office would release a statement at some point.
James also met with reporters after the stunning motion was passed to say he had no idea what happened.
"Well, I have no idea," he said, adding he and Lenz had no heads up about the suspension. "I think we have a right to know what it is."
James said he would be seeking legal counsel immediately.
"If they've got cause then I suppose that would be sufficient, but I don't know what the cause would be in order to put the clerk of the legislative assembly on administrative leave or the sergeant-at-arms," he said, before a police officer escorted him off the premises.
B.C. Premier John Horgan called the news "shocking," and said he was briefed on the investigation Monday. He said he had little information as to the nature of the probe, including what the allegations against James and Lenz are.
While the investigation is in the hands of RCMP, Victoria police confirmed they were made aware of the initial allegations. VicPD officers attended the legislature to stand by during the suspension and removal of James and Lenz.
James has been legislative clerk of the house since 2011. He previously ran into controversy in 2012 after racking up $43,000 in travel expenses while serving as the acting chief of Elections B.C.
The role of the sergeant-at-arms is to ensure the house and its members are protected during sessions, while the legislature clerk helps direct and administer the legislative assembly.
A deputy clerk and deputy sergeant-at-arms will likely fill James' and Lenz' roles in the interim, Mullen said.