What the heck is going on?

What the heck is going on with BC’s laws and justice system? There have been a lot of changes and a lot of them have been very BAD.

In case you haven’t heard of them, some of the horrendous changes/issues are:

1) a shortage of judges and court registry staff;

2) provincial budget cuts to the court/justice system that benefit criminal offenders;

3) ‘not so tough’ drunk driving laws that don’t even have an adequate appeal process;

4) Bill 44 (now passed 3rd reading), which takes legal disputes out of the existing court system;

5) Bill 52 (now passed 3rd reading), which drastically changes (in a bad way) the traffic dispute process in BC.

Some people blame the provincial government for these problems. I sure as heck do.

But, instead of broadly blaming the provincial government, some people point the finger directly at the current Attorney General of British Columbia (the “AG”), the Honourable Ms. Shirley Bond.

I appreciate that you may be thinking, “What is the AG?”

Well, for context, the Ministry of the AG is the provincial government department responsible for the oversight of BC’s justice system. It is headed by the AG, a member of the provincial cabinet.

The AG has A LOT of responsibilities. Basically, though, the AG is the legal advisor to the government, ensuring that the affairs (of the government) are in accordance with the law and advising (giving opinions to) the government on the laws that are being created. It is one of our top legal positions. I invite you to read the Attorney General Act.

With that said, you’d likely expect that the AG be a lawyer, right? Well, you’d be wrong.

The Honourable Shirley Bond is not a lawyer. Yes, she has over ten years of Cabinet experience and has even served as the Deputy Premier. But, she is not a lawyer.

Some people equate this situation to having a chief medical officer (of a hospital) who is not a doctor.

So, maybe not that surprising, the Hon. Ms. Bond’s position as the AG has been challenged.

A courageous citizen from Burnaby, Ms. Lesslie Askin, made a complaint to the Law Society of BC, arguing that the Hon. Ms. Bond lacks education and training to hold the AG office. Ms. Askin had concern about the Hon. Ms. Bond’s qualifications after BC did not oppose the federal government’s controversial (and ill-advised) ‘tough-on-crime’ legislation.

The Law Society took the issue seriously; but, decided that it did not have jurisdiction to say that the appointment was improper.

So, Ms. Askin took the matter to B.C. Supreme Court. Among other things, she requested an order from the Court that the appointment of the Hon. Shirley Bond was improper.

The Court, Madam Justice Stromberg-Stein, dismissed Ms. Askin’s complaint, indicating that the government CAN appoint a non-lawyer as the AG. The Court said that neither it nor the Law Society can tell the government who to appoint as the AG; to do otherwise would interfere with government’s power to appoint its ministers.

I invite you to read the decision here: Askin v. Law Society of B.C. and Attorney General of B.C.

Okay, so the government CAN appoint a non-lawyer to be the AG; there is no law against it and it’s even happened in the past... So, the next question is: SHOULD the government appoint a non-lawyer as the AG?

Admittedly, the Hon. Ms. Bond has government lawyers working for/under her. But, remember that those government lawyers are still under the supervision of a non-lawyer.

This isn’t a political issue: I am not asking you to ‘hate on’ the B.C. Liberals. And maybe you adore the Hon. Ms. Bond. She is undoubtedly accomplished. But, consider the big issue here: a non-lawyer is supposedly giving legal advice to the government. Do you see a problem?

So, what does the Hon. Shirley Bond say to the allegation that she should be a lawyer to be the AG? To the Georgia Straight (news source), she said, “I believe that non-lawyers serving at Attorney General bring a common sense approach that most British Columbians can appreciate.”

Now, I won’t comment personally on whether or not I agree with the Hon. Ms. Bond holding office as the AG: that isn’t my place and it isn’t the point of my article. As with other columns, I give you the information, ask some rhetorical questions, and invite you come to your own conclusions. But, I do have a problem with her comment: quite frankly, it is demeaning and it shows a lack of understanding of the legal profession and what lawyers can ‘bring to the table’.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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