Stéphane Rivard could not bear to open correspondence from the Quebec taxman.
During a stretch of four years, between 2007 and 2011, letters outlining collection procedures and seizures launched against him by Revenue Quebec were put by the wayside. Rulings by Quebec Superior Court and by the Federal Court of Canada in 2012 over his tax affairs too were ignored.
The professional corporations overseeing lawyers and engineers declared recently that they now intend to get even tougher on crooked professionals. Zero tolerance, declared Nicholas Plourde, who stepped down earlier this month as the head of the Quebec bar. The president of the Quebec engineering professional corporation stated that his organization is “determined to get to the heart of the matter and restore public trust.”
On an unusually warm and foggy Saturday evening this past December the $1.7-million home of Dany Perras was set ablaze, the third time in the space of a year an act of vandalism targeted the former Montreal lawyer. Perras, who resigned abruptly from the roll in October 2011, is under investigation by the Quebec Bar for allegedly orchestrated a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme through his lawyers’ trust account. It’s been more than 16 months since the scandal that shook the Montreal legal community erupted, and the fallout is still being felt. Successfully petitioned into bankruptcy, Perras is the subject of an ongoing criminal probe and a host of legal proceedings – many of which are under court seal — launched by more than a dozen creditors seeking an amount surpassing $6 million.
The Perras case is unique, and yet at the same time it is not.
Bernard Valcourt, federal Minister of Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, was one of three lawyers recently suspended by the Law Society of New Brunswick for failing to meet the minimum requirements for continuing education and professional development.
In Quebec the number is far more imposing. According to the recently published 2011-2012 annual report by Quebec’s law society 73 lawyers were suspended for failing to complete at least 30 hours of approved training during a two-year compliance period. Seventy-two other lawyers were stricken off the roll for either failing to pay annual membership fees, failing to enroll or pay into the professional liability fund.The disbarred members will now have to pay a fee and submit a formal request to be reinstated, which will be examined by the bar’s readmissions committee.
The Barreau du Québec’s syndic, or investigating officer, was kept busy. His department lodged a complaint with the disciplinary council against 57 lawyers and dismissed 1,443 others it investigated.
The Barreau’s disciplinary committee rejected 17 complaints, found 27 respondents guilty and imposed sanctions in 31 cases.
From April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, the disciplinary committee meted out
a suspension of three months or less in 30 cases;
a suspension of less than a year in 54 cases,
a suspension lasting between one and five years in 25 cases
a suspension from five to ten years in three cases.
The disciplinary committee also imposed a fine of less than $1,000 in 10 cases and handed a fine of more than $1,000 in 19 cases.
When the Quebec law society introduced a mandatory legal education program two years ago, even noted Montreal lawyer Gérald Tremblay and head of the Barreau du Québec at the time admitted that “it was not a natural reflex for me to contemplate sitting behind a school desk.”
Nor was it for 70 lawyers, more than half based in Montreal, who failed to complete the required training between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2011. All were disbarred recently, including Montreal-based lawyer Brent Tyler, best known for his various high-profile legal challenges to Bill 101, Quebec’s French Language Charter.
Following in the footsteps of the Law Society of British Columbia, the Barreau du Québec introduced the continuing professional development program in April 2009, compelling all of its 23,000 practising lawyers to take no fewer than 30 hours of approved continuing legal education courses every two calendar years to remain in good standing.
“Law is an evolving discipline, and it is important that people stay up-to-date,” Stuart Cobbett of Stikeman Elliott told me at the time the program was launched. “But life being what it is, some people just don’t pay attention to it. Therefore it is a good idea for any self-regulatory body to establish certain minimum continuing education requirements.”
The disbarred members will now have to pay a fee and submit a formal request to be reinstated, which will be examined by the bar’s readmissions committee.
In a decisive setback for Quebec’s law society, a renown Montreal divorce lawyer who was originally disbarred for seven years for professional misconduct was immediately reinstated after a ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal reaffirmed the appellate powers of an administrative tribunal and clarified the role of the Barreau du Québec’s review committee.
In a unanimous ruling the appeal court castigated the law society’s review committee for exceeding its mandate and taking on the role of a disciplinary committee while failing to take into account evidence that demonstrated that Micheline Parizeau had the aptitude and qualities to be reinstated into the profession.