GEORGIA STRAIGHT: A petition has been filed in B.C. Supreme Court over whether provincial cabinet minister Shirley Bond is qualified to act as attorney general.
Burnaby resident Lesslie Askin complained in January to the Law Society of B.C. that Bond, who is not a lawyer, should be removed from her role as the province’s top legal authority.
Askin argued that Bond is not qualified to hold the office under provisions of the Attorney General Act, the Legal Profession Act, and the Queen’s Counsel Act.
However, following an external review by a law firm, the law society concluded the law does not require the attorney general to be a lawyer.
In the petition, Askin seeks a court order setting aside the regulatory body’s decision on her complaint. It also seeks for the court to order the law society to declare that, as attorney general, Bond is practising law without authorization and continued service in the role is illegal.
“Every single Deputy Attorney General within Ms. Bond’s Ministry must at present be a practising lawyer, yet each and every one of them is presently working under the supervision of a non-lawyer,” reads the petition, filed in Vancouver court on March 19.
“This situation highlights the absurdity of the official legal adviser to the Lieutenant Governor and the Executive Council being an individual who is uneducated and untrained in those very skill requirements…which are required of her subordinates, all of whom are practising members of the Law Society in good standing.”
Law Society of B.C. spokesperson Lesley Pritchard said the society will review and respond to the petition. She said the society maintains that the attorney general is not required to be a lawyer.
“The main reason we came to that conclusion relates to the Constitution Act. Its authority means that in practice the premier can choose whomever she wishes for her cabinet,” Pritchard told the Straight by phone.
“We stand by our decision that we do not have jurisdiction to act on Ms. Askin’s complaint and we intend to oppose Ms. Askin’s petition.”
A long-time Liberal cabinet minister, Bond was appointed acting attorney general in August 2011 by Premier Christy Clark. Following a ministerial restructuring in February, Bond is now minister of justice and attorney general.
The petition also seeks a court order that Bond call on the lieutenant governor to temporarily suspend her appointment as attorney general and seek a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on whether it is constitutionally valid for a non-lawyer to hold the office.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Askin said the province’s lack of opposition to Bill C-10, the federal government’s controversial tough-on-crime legislation, prompted her concern about Bond’s qualifications.
“She’s advising the premier. That’s her role, …to advise the premier and the lieutenant governor about matters of law, and she’s not a lawyer,” said Askin, who is now retired after a career in management and consulting.
“I realize she [Bond] has lots of advisors herself, people who are lawyers, who work for her, but she’s the one who makes the decision and she makes the recommendation,” Askin said.
“I want a lawyer as an A-G [attorney general].”
Bond declined to comment on the petition as the matter is before the courts. However, she noted there have been previous B.C. attorneys general of various political stripes who were not lawyers, including Colin Gabelmann and Russ Fraser.
“I believe that non-lawyers serving as Attorney General bring a common sense approach that most British Columbians can appreciate,” Bond said in a statement to the Straight.