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Comment: The government is attacking the public, not just the lawyers

The socialist attack on the legal profession I have witnessed over many years has been deliberate, incremental, persistent and sneaky — and it's extremely dangerous for the health of our just society.
A judge has rejected an application to to throw out the conviction of Ibrahim Ali for the murder of a 13-year-old in Burnaby, B.C. The Law Courts building, which is home to B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, is seen in Vancouver, on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A commentary by a Victoria lawyer.

I have practised law in Victoria coming on to 37 years. Over my long and wonderfully rewarding legal career, I have observed the propensity of socialist governments, invariably for their own mischievous purposes, try to paint lawyers as greedy villains.

When the provincial sales tax was brought in on legal fees back in 1992, the NDP government of the day ran with the sales pitch that lawyers should pay their share of the tax.

I still recall chuckling to myself at the idea that anyone could be so naive to possibly fall for that.

For many years I have dutifully collected PST on all the legal fees I charged. My clients paid every cent of that tax. It became just another line on their legal bill.

In 2020, and after promising the electorate they would not do it, our current NDP government brought in no-fault motor vehicle insurance and put an effective end to compensation for personal injuries suffered in car accidents in B.C.

The sales pitch for that move involved telling the public that the lawyers just caused delay and unnecessarily increased costs. Fast forward, the “dumpster fire” at ICBC is now a “raging brush fire” notwithstanding that persons who are injured in car accidents in B.C. get nothing remotely approaching fair compensation for their suffering.

True, the personal injury lawyers were put out of business, but that was on the backs of citizens who now just pay a tax to drive. One most certainly does not require the services of a lawyer when there is no claim to pursue.

And the “enhanced care” Premier David Eby told us about a few short years ago is already long gone. ICBC is back to being your worst nightmare to deal with, especially when alone, injured and without the benefit of legal assistance.

Now our NDP government is moving on to a full takeover of the governance of the legal profession. Its proposed Legal Professions Act would have further detrimental effects on the ability of lawyers to represent the public.

The proposed legislation fails to protect the public’s interest in having access to an independent legal profession governed by an independent regulator free from unnecessary government direction and intrusion.

It is important to remember that lawyers are frequently called upon to represent clients whose interests diverge from those of government, hence the importance of trust that the legal regulator is independent of government influence. Any erosion of this principle threatens our free and democratic society.

In 1982, when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force, Justice Willard Estey of the Supreme Court of Canada referred to the critical importance of an independent bar:

“The independence of the bar from the state in all its pervasive manifestations is one of the hallmarks of a free society. Consequently, regulation of these members of the law profession by the state must, so far as by human ingenuity it can be so designed, be free from state interference, in the political sense, with the delivery of services to the individual citizens in the state, particularly in fields of public and criminal law.

“The public interest in a free society knows no area more sensitive than the independence, impartiality and availability to the general public of the members of the Bar and through those members, legal advice and services generally.”

Remember the line from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, “the first thing we do is, let’s kill all the lawyers.” It was the utterance of Dick the Butcher, a villainous character plotting a coup d’etat.

Dick’s idea was that his rebels will be better able to take over an ignorant population than one where everyone understands their rights. The comment was a recognition that society could not exist in a state of fairness and peace without the protection of both the law and its staunch guardians, the lawyers.

Dick was suggesting that, in order for the coup to prevail, the rebels must eradicate society of the very defenders of justice who could both stop the revolt he was plotting and retain the power he was hoping to grab.

The socialist attack on the legal profession I have witnessed over many years has been deliberate, incremental, persistent and sneaky.

The attack is extremely dangerous for the health of the just society we have, at our peril, come to take for granted.

Consider the lot of lawyers in more established socialist venues such as China and Russia and what society looks like in those places.