qualifications questioned

Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun, Jan. 31, 2012


The B.C. Law Society has asked an outside law firm to evaluate a submission and supporting materials that maintain Attorney-General and Solicitor-General Shirley Bond is unqualified to hold those offices.

In the brief to the regulatory body, Lesslie Askin of Burnaby says Bond should not be acting as the province’s chief lawyer when the B.C. Legal Profession Act prohibits non-lawyers from practising law.

“Ms. Bond is manifestly unqualified, and therefore ineligible, to fulfil the requirements of attorney-general and solicitor-general of British Columbia,” said the feisty 68-year-old, who spent most of her working life in Ontario as an information-systems professional providing banks and insurance companies with strategic analysis.

Scratching its institutional head, the law society said the Attorney-General Act does not overtly state the attorney-general must be a lawyer.

“However, the inquiry [from Askin] asks the law society to consider extensive material involving several other statutes and how they intersect,” Lesley Pritchard, a communications officer, explained. “Before any-thing, the law society will first determine whether we have any jurisdiction in this matter.”

It has asked for a legal opinion on both issues.

Bond was appointed “interim” A-G on Aug. 18 — apparently the fourth non-lawyer in B.C. history to hold the job.

She dismissed the concerns and defended her performance.

“The law society has a process to deal with a complaint such as this, and I will leave it to them to do so,” Bond said.

“That said, I’m very proud of the work done since I’ve been attorney-general. For the first time in 30 years, we updated B.C.’s family law legislation ... I created an independent investigations office and recruited and appointed a new chief civilian director to create more accountability, oversight and transparency of police incidents that result in serious harm or death.”

She continued: “I also think that having a non-lawyer as attorney-general brings a common-sense approach that most British Columbians appreciate. I have the advantage of bringing a perspective from outside the legal community.”

Surprisingly, NDP legal critic Leonard Krog also did not think Askin’s complaint had merit.

“As much as I think it may be preferable to have a legally trained person be the attorney-general, [former NDP MLA] Colin Gableman did a fine job and Colin certainly was not a lawyer,” Krog said.

“And, are you sitting down,” he chuckled, “Bond is a pretty capable minister, even if she has no legal training.”

A labour organizer, Gable-man was attorney-general in the NDP administration from 1991 through 1995.

And from 1990 to 1991, professional engineer Russ Fraser held the post in the dying days of the Social Credit government.

The first non-lawyer appointed attorney-general was Royal (Pat) Maitland, the Conservative leader during the Second World War.

He served in the position from 1941 to 1946 as part of the Liberal-led coalition government of premier John Hart.

Askin said Bond does not hold an undergraduate degree from a Canadian university, only a diploma from the College of New Caledonia.

“This is recognized as the equivalent of two years of university study,” Askin said. “In order to be accepted for a Canadian university postgraduate law program, such as UBC Law, she would need two more years of undergraduate study, or one year plus very exceptional grades in her third undergraduate year.”

Yet Bond is charged with giving the government and local authorities legal advice and many other lawyerly functions — something, Askin emphasized, the Legal Profession Act appears to prohibit.

“It is incomprehensible how any person who has never been a member of the B.C. Law Society (nor is appropriately educated to apply for admission, much less pass a bar examination or function as an articled student) could be qualified to act as the attorney-general and solicitor-general of the province, interim or otherwise,” Askin wrote in her complaint.

“I believe that not only must the chief executive of the B.C. justice system be licensed to practise law, but also must be sufficiently experienced to function at the most elevated level possible (at least comparable to a Provincial Court judge, and preferably comparable to a Supreme Court judge).”

Bond is invested with powers, especially in emergency situations, Askin added, that she is not qualified to wield.

“It is certainly not in the best interest of the people of B.C. for such powers to be placed in the hands of an individual who has never been (and at present can-not be) subject to accreditation or certification by any regulating body (such as the Law Society of B.C.),” she wrote.

Acknowledging she’s “a little left of centre,” Askin said her father was a QC in Ontario and she now spends some of her time doing “paralegal” work.

“I don’t bear [Bond] any ill will,” she insisted, but with the federal government about to enact its omnibus crime legislation, “British Columbians need an attorney-general and solicitor-general who understands the law and the legal system.”

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