QP Live: In the weeds of the Wright-Duffy affair

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Ben Perrin used to be a legal adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office. Now, he’s an associate professor of law at the University of British Columbia. His name’s been raised, repeatedly, in the House of Commons as parliamentarians bicker about the Wright-Duffy affair. RCMP documents released last week suggest Perrin played some role in negotiating a deal that saw ex-PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright pay Sen. Mike Duffy’s improperly claimed expenses. None of that’s been proven in court, but the allegations were enough to pique the interest of another professor of law.

Amir Attaran, who teaches at the University of Ottawa and also holds a Canada Research Chair, filed a complaint with the law societies in Ontario and British Columbia—the two provinces where Perrin’s licenced to practice. Attaran says Perrin, and Duffy lawyer Janice Payne,“violated the ethics of the profession” when they allegedly negotiated the terms of the Wright-Duffy payoff. Yikes.

This afternoon, expect the government to virtually ignore the complaint. Attaran’s no rookie when it comes to clashing with the governing party, and small-c conservatives are no fan of the law prof down the road from Parliament Hill. In 2007, Attaran famously claimed that Afghan detainees, captured by Canadian troops, were transferred to other forces and tortured. The allegations resurfaced in 2010. Each time, a fracas ensued. Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant dismissed Attaran’s claims as a smear job. In 2011, an anonymous researcher filed information requests with Attaran’s university. They asked about his personal expenses. Attaran said the requests, which also targeted law prof Errol Mendes, were politically motivated. Both have long been treated by the Tories as Liberal hacks.

All that to say: If something is going to raise the tenor of debate in the House of Commons, Attaran’s most recent complaint isn’t it.

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Stephen Harper will continue to issue denials related to the Wright-Duffy affair. His parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, will continue to issue similar denials.

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QP Live: In the weeds of the Wright-Duffy affair

  1. It is a bit refreshing to see someone point out that Amir Attiran is a known partisan who likes to act as gadfly to anything Conservative. Other publications are simply referring to him as a “law professor” and failing (purposely no doubt) to point out that this man is simply just another activist with an axe to grind.
    kudos to you, Nick.
    Now…if only we could have the CBC and others’ stop referring to the Rideau Institute as “military experts” when in fact, they are hard left anti-miitary activists.

    • Odd. I didn’t know that “military expert” was mutually exclusive with “anti-military activist”.

      And in fact, the more one learns about the military, the more it seems the two *should* be congruent, rather than opposing.

      • stop it with facts and reason, you’ll hurt him!

      • I see your point. Kinda like having a die-hard vegan pointing out the benefits of eating Albeta beef.
        What could possibly be wrong with that?

  2. I am very interested in how the professional conduct complaints will shake out, because regardless of who brought the complaints or their political motivations, lawyers have an integral role in maintaining the rule of law.

    At present, Benjamin Perrin is a non-practising member of the Law Society of British Columbia: http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/apps/lkup/mbrsearch.cfm

    The Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia includes the following rule, as a Cannon of Legal Ethics: “A lawyer owes a duty to the state, to maintain its integrity and its law. A lawyer should not aid, counsel or assist any person to act in any way contrary to the law.”

    And one of the basics of contract law is that the court will not enforce an illegal contract.

    • Sure. The complaints are premature. Wright and Payne and Perrin, all accomplished lawyers who have been around the parliamentary block, didn’t think the agreement would contravene either the Criminal Code or other parliamentary statutes prohibiting influence peddling. Wright, at least, has recently said he maintains that view. He might get a chance to test it before a judge. But until charges are formally laid, and until the narrow legal issue of whether Wright and Duffy acted contrary to the law is settled by a court, the ancillary issue of whether Perrin contravened ethical responsibilities with his assistance must wait. Attaran knows this. His motivations are obvious. The credibility folks extend him should be adjusted accordingly.

      • I do not believe this is true. Although if charges are laid against perrin or wright the LSBC may very well decide to hold any proceedings in abeyance, the society should be perfectly capable of conducting an investigation without any civil proceedings or charges.

        • I think we’re saying more or less the same thing. When I say “must wait”, it should be read as “would make absolutely no sense to start an investigation that would be redundant if the legal process on the merits determined that the contracts and hence legal advice were lawful, leaving nothing to investigate and meaning the time and money expended were wasted”.

          • Sorry, I’m confused. The example you provide is a charge of “conduct unbecoming a member” *following* impaired driving convictions. Had the LSBC hearings *preceded* the criminal proceedings they would be an example of the LSBC using its discretion in a way that, as I say above, “would make absolutely no sense”.
            I agree the LSBC and LSUC *could* start an investigation now. Attaran gave interesting reasons why: to defeat privilege claims. My point is they shouldn’t, because it would be a waste of time to consider whether it was unethical to advise Wright and Duffy on their agreement when a court may *later* rule the agreement broke no law (as Wright claims).

          • My point is that the complaint is not premature and it is important to understand such proceedings as a separate legal process from any criminal proceedings that may or may not involve the legal counsel who acted as advisors. Per the LSBC decision at para. 40 “we may, not must, treat the previous judicial findings as prima facie evidence…” Also, with respect to the LSBC hearing I referred to, the lawyer was accused, but not convicted of drinking and driving contrary to the Criminal Code. He ended up pleading guilty to a provincial motor vehicle act offence, but the LSBC was concerned with “the combined effect” of his conduct, not just the conduct that made out the provincial offence of “driving without due care and attention”.

  3. That’s what I like about Nicks comments here. He spins all that fluff, out of the dirty laundry aired during member statements. Good stuff Nick, keep the fluff out.