(First published on slaw.ca)
In the last thirty years, Law Societies have been parties before the Supreme Court of Canada in thirteen cases according to CanLII[i] [ii]. Four of these cases have been decided in the last fifteen months[iii]. While others will delve more deeply into this recent jurisprudence, it is interesting to take a preliminary look at the way that the Court has understood the role, responsibility and jurisdiction of the Law Societies. It is noteworthy that the court has been divided in each of these four cases.
In Green v. LSM [iv], the Court upheld mandatory suspension for failure to comply with the CPD requirements of the Law Society of Manitoba. In Groia v. LSUC[v], the Court set aside a finding of professional misconduct for alleged in-court incivility in the context of criminal law defence. In TWU v. LSUC and in LSBC v. TWU[vi], the Court upheld decisions not to accredit Trinity Western University as a law school.
Green v. Law Society of Manitoba
The issue in Green v. LSM was the imposition of mandatory CPD together with mandatory administrative suspension for non-compliance. As a matter of administrative law, the Court addressed the standard of review of Law Society rule making. Justice Wagner, as he then was, wrote for the majority. He said that Dunsmuir[vii] applied because it applies to “all exercises of public authority” and to “those who exercise statutory powers”. In concluding that deference was required in considering Law Society rules, Justice Wagner stated that “In the case at bar, the legislature specifically gave the Law Society a broad discretion to regulate the legal profession on the basis of a number of policy considerations related to the public interest. The Act empowers the benchers of the Law Society to make rules of general application to the profession, and in doing so, the benchers act in a legislative capacity.”[viii]
In his reasonableness analysis, Justice Wagner looked to the Law Society’s statutory mandate. He said at para. 29 that “the Act contains an expansive purpose clause that obligates the Law Society to act in the public interest” and that “[t]he meaning of ‘public interest’ in the context of the Act is for the Law Society to determine”. On the CPD requirement itself, Justice Wagner observed at para. 59 that “The educational standards in respect of CPD, as defined by the Rules, do not relate solely to the competence of lawyers. … these standards also protect the public interest by enhancing the integrity and professional responsibility of lawyers, and by promoting public confidence in the profession”.
Justices Abella and Côté dissented but not on standard of review. They would not have upheld the rule because it provided for mandatory administrative suspension for non-compliance irrespective of the circumstances and without discretionary authority to relieve against unfair application. Justice Abella’s analysis of the role of the law societies is of interest. As she put it at para. 80:
Law Societies therefore represent — and are dedicated to protecting — the core values of the profession. They also represent — and are dedicated to protecting — the public’s confidence that those values will guide the lawyers who serve them. While the primary goal of the Law Society is the protection of the public interest, it cannot do so without also protecting the ability of its members to practise law professionally. …
In Justice Abella’s opinion, mandatory suspension for non-compliance irrespective of the circumstances compromised public confidence in the lawyer’s professionalism. Justice Wagner, for the majority, was not prepared to accept the premise of Justice Abella’s conclusion as Mr. Green had generally attacked the rule itself and that “In framing his challenge to the Rules in this way, Mr. Green wrongly assumes that the Law Society will not take its duty of procedural fairness seriously and provide for an appropriate procedure that is responsive to the particular facts and the reasonable expectations of the parties.”[ix] [cite]
What is of interest generally is that the Court in Green concluded that the Law Society is a public authority exercising a broad legislative discretion to regulate the legal profession in the public interest. The majority and the minority agreed that the role of the Law Society requires focus on public confidence in the legal profession as well as on the competence and conduct of individual lawyers.
Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada
In Groia v. LSUC, the Court considered an adjudicative decision rather than a conduct rule. The Court again addressed standard of review with both the majority and the dissenters concluding that deference was required. In their concurring reasons Justices Côté and Brown would have applied correctness review, but agreed with the majority that the Law Society’s decision could not stand. The live issue between the majority and concurring judges was whether deference was appropriate in respect of in-court conduct given the fundamental principle of judicial independence.
For the majority, Justice Moldaver wrote at para. 54 that “Crucial to the principle of judicial independence is the presiding judge’s power to control his or her courtroom. However, I do not see a deferential standard of review as threatening that power.” At para. 55, he wrote that “Courts and law societies enjoy concurrent jurisdiction to regulate and enforce standards of courtroom behaviour. A trial judge is free to control the conduct in his or her courtroom irrespective of the degree of deference accorded to a law society’s disciplinary decision by a different court.” Justice Côté, with whom Justice Brown agreed, concluded that para. 169 that “correctness review is required to ensure proper respect for the judiciary’s constitutionally guaranteed place in our democracy”.
As to the reasonableness of the finding of professional misconduct, Justice Moldaver for the majority held at para. 88 that “it is not professional misconduct to challenge opposing counsel’s integrity based on a sincerely held but incorrect legal position so long as the challenge has a sufficient factual foundation, such that if the legal position were correct, the challenge would be warranted”. Justice Moldaver observed at para. 89 that “Many legal principles we now consider foundational were once controversial ideas that were fearlessly raised by lawyers. Such innovative advocacy ought to be encouraged — not stymied by the threat of being labelled, after the fact, as “unreasonable”.
Justice Moldaver advanced two reasons why legal error should not be the basis for of a finding unreasonable allegation of prosecutorial misconduct. The first at para. 90, which is resonant with Justice Abella’s dissent in Green v. LSM, is that “a finding of professional misconduct against a lawyer can itself be damaging to that lawyer’s reputation. Branding a lawyer as uncivil for nothing more than advancing good faith allegations of impropriety that stem from a sincerely held legal mistake is a highly excessive and unwarranted response.”[x]
The second reason at para. 91 is that:
… Prosecutorial abuse of process is extraordinarily serious. It impairs trial fairness and compromises the integrity of the justice system: … Defence lawyers play an integral role in preventing these dire consequences and holding other justice system participants accountable by raising reasonable allegations. Finding a lawyer guilty of professional misconduct on the basis of incivility for making an abuse of process argument that is based on a sincerely held but mistaken legal position discourages lawyers from raising these allegations, frustrating the duty of resolute advocacy and the client’s right to make full answer and defence.
The second reason is also resonant with Justice Abella’s dissent in Green where she wrote that the Law Society must “[protect] the ability of its members to practise law professionally”. Justice Moldaver’s second reason emphasizes the importance of the duty of resolute advocacy and the right of an accused client to make full answer and defence which are of course essential to professional legal practice.
For present purposes, the significance of Groia v. LSUC appears to be that the law societies and the courts do have concurrent jurisdiction to regulate and enforce in-court conduct but that it is necessary that law society decisions not unreasonably stigmatize lawyer conduct and fully take into account the lawyer’s role in the administration of justice.
The LSBC v. TWU and TWU v. LSUC decisions both address the decision not to accredit Trinity Western University for lawyer licensing purposes. The decision is unlike Green v. LSM in that law society rule-making was not in issue. The decision is unlike Groia v. LSUC in that a disciplinary adjudicative decision was not in issue.
The TWU cases are significant because they address the proper purposes of law society regulation and because the cases are different than Green and Groia in that the accreditation decision affected the Charter-protected freedom of religion of evangelical Christians rather than the legal system, accused persons and lawyers.
It is helpful to start with the dissenting reasons of Justices Côté[xi] and Brown in LSBC v. TWU which conclude at para. 273 that:
A careful reading of the LPA leads us to conclude that the only proper purpose of an approval decision by the LSBC is to ensure that individual licensing applicants are fit for licensing. Given the absence of any concerns relating to the fitness of prospective TWU graduates, the only defensible exercise of the LSBC’s statutory discretion for a proper purpose in this case would have been for it to approve TWU’s proposed law school.
In para. 66 of their minority reasons in TWU v. LSUC, Justices Côté and Brown conclude that “In light of the LSUC’s mandate, it is crystal clear that the provisions in By-Law 4 relating to the accreditation of law schools are meant only to ensure that individual applicants are fit for licensing” (emphasis in the original).
There being no claim that graduates of TWU would not be fit for licensing, this conclusion would have been dispositive if accepted by the majority.
Before considering the majority reasons, it is useful to set out some of the relevant legislative provisions. In the Legal Profession Act[xii] (the “BC LPA”)of British Columbia, section 3 provides that:
It is the object and duty of the society to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by
(a) preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons,
(b) ensuring the independence, integrity, honour and competence of lawyers,
(c) establishing standards and programs for the education, professional responsibility and competence of lawyers and of applicants for call and admission,
(d) regulating the practice of law, and
(e) supporting and assisting lawyers, articled students and lawyers of other jurisdictions who are permitted to practise law in British Columbia in fulfilling their duties in the practice of law.
In the Law Society Act[xiii] (the “ON LSA”) of Ontario, section 4.2 provide that:
4.2 In carrying out its functions, duties and powers under this Act, the Society shall have regard to the following principles:
1. The Society has a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law.
2. The Society has a duty to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.
3. The Society has a duty to protect the public interest.
4. The Society has a duty to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.
5. Standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct for licensees and restrictions on who may provide particular legal services should be proportionate to the significance of the regulatory objectives sought to be realized.
In their majority decision, Justices Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Wagner, Gascon took a broad view of the proper purposes in accreditation.
In paras. 31 and 32 of LSBC v. TWU, the majority expressed their view that “the LPA requires the Benchers to consider the overarching objective of protecting the public interest in determining the requirements for admission to the profession, including whether to approve a particular law school” and that “The legal profession in British Columbia, as in other Canadian jurisdictions, has been granted the privilege of self-regulation. In exchange, the profession must exercise this privilege in the public interest”. Their reasons in paras. 14 et seq in TWU v. LSUC are to the same effect.
Notably, the majority in LSBC v. TWU commenced, at paras. 36, with the proposition from Green v. LSM at para. 24 that the law societies should be afforded “considerable latitude” in their “interpretation of the ‘public interest’ in the context of [their] enabling statute”. The majority then noted in para. 37 the delegation by the legislature of aspects of professional regulation to the Law Society which has “primary responsibility for the development of structures, processes, and policies for regulation”. According to the majority “[t]his delegation recognizes the body’s particular expertise and sensitivity to the conditions of practice. This delegation also maintains the independence of the bar; a hallmark of a free and democratic society.”[xiv] This recognition by the majority of delegated self-regulation as maintaining the independence of the bar is of interest in light of Canada (Attorney General) v. Federation of Law Societies of Canada,  1 SCR 401, 2015 SCC 7 at para. 86 in which Justice Cromwell concluded that he did not “find it necessary or desirable in this appeal to address the extent, if at all, to which self-regulation of the legal profession is a principle of fundamental justice”.
The majority summarized their conclusion on proper purpose at para. 40 of LSBC v. TWU as follows:
In our view, it was reasonable for the LSBC to conclude that promoting equality by ensuring equal access to the legal profession, supporting diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were valid means by which the LSBC could pursue its overarching statutory duty: upholding and maintaining the public interest in the administration of justice, which necessarily includes upholding a positive public perception of the legal profession. …
In TWU v. LSUC, the majority said at para. 20 that:
In our view, the LSUC was entitled to conclude that equal access to the legal profession, diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were all within the scope of its duty to uphold the public interest in the accreditation context, which necessarily includes upholding a positive public perception of the legal profession.
There are several purposes found to be proper by the majority. The first is ensuring equal access to the profession. The second is supporting diversity within the profession. The third is preventing harm to LGBTQ law students. The fourth is upholding a positive public perception of the legal profession.
The majority found support for the appropriateness of these purposes in the respective statutes in both the BC and the Ontario cases. In BC, the support was found in the statutory object and duty under the BC LPA to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons and ensuring the competence of lawyers. In Ontario, support was found in the statutory duties to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and to protect the public interest, all in carrying out its functions, duties and powers under the ON LSA.
The Chief Justice, in her concurring reasons, agreed that (i) maintaining equal access and diversity in the legal profession and (ii) preventing significant harm to LGBTQ people who might attend TWU’s proposed law school were statutory objectives. In his concurring reasons, Justice Rowe agreed with the majority and with the Chief Justice that “it was within the statutory mandate of the [law society] to consider the effect of the Covenant on prospective law students as part of its accreditation decision” as the Law Society “has a broad mandate to regulate the legal profession in the public interest”. His view was that the Law Society was “justified in considering the impact of the Covenant on prospective applicants to the proposed law school and, more generally, in considering the role of law schools as the first point of entry to the legal profession.”
In summary, I think it notable that the majority considered that s. 3 of the BC LPA and s. 4.1 of the ON LSA contained broad statutory purposes which could properly be considered in the accreditation decision. The majority applied these provisions in an expansive way considering the public interest, equality rights of law students, the effect of non-merit based admission policies on competence in the profession and the importance of diversity in access to and administration of justice.
A significant difference between the majority and the dissenters was the use of Charter values in the determination of proper regulatory objectives. As the dissenters put it in para. 270 of their reasons in LSBC v TWU, “[e]ven accepting, for the sake of argument, that it is beyond dispute that administrative bodies other than human rights tribunals may consider fundamental shared values, such as equality, when making decisions within their sphere of authority” (Majority Reasons, at para. 46), it is the LSBC’s enabling statute, and not “shared values”, which delimits the LSBC’s sphere of authority.” (Emphasis added)
In contrast, the majority held at para. 41 that:
Indeed, the LSBC, as a public actor, has an overarching interest in protecting the values of equality and human rights in carrying out its functions. As Abella J. wrote in Loyola, at para. 47, “shared values — equality, human rights and democracy — are values the state always has a legitimate interest in promoting and protecting”.
The Chief Justice accepted at para. 140 that “As the collective face of a profession bound to respect the law and the values that underpin it, [the Law Society] is entitled to refuse to condone practices that treat certain groups as less worthy than others”.
Doré and Loyola
Unlike more typical administrative law cases, the TWU cases are not just about whether the law societies acted for improper purposes. For the dissenters, the analysis could of ended there but did not.
For the majority, the Chief Justice, and Justice Rowe, it was necessary to consider whether Charter rights and freedoms were infringed by the refusal to accredit TWU and, if so, to consider whether such infringement was permissible.
The analysis of these issues in the four separate reasons in the two appeals is beyond the scope of this column because the intent of this review is to reflect on law society regulation generally rather than where Charter rights and freedoms are infringed by law society regulation.
So what do we learn from these four cases?
Green, Groia and the TWU cases conclude that a deferential standard applies in judicial review of law society rule-making (Green and Groia) and in judicial review of application of the rules in disciplinary (Groia) and non-disciplinary contexts (TWU).
While not new, Green and the TWU cases make it clear that the law societies have the delegated responsibility to regulate in the public interest. The law societies have significant scope in their determination of the public interest. The legislation which delegates responsibility to the law societies significantly informs the determination of the public interest. While the language is different from province to province, the effect of the legislative language is much the same.[xv]
Green and the TWU cases show that the law societies are entitled to consider specific competence, competence generally, diversity in the profession, non-discrimination in access to the profession, the administration of justice, public confidence in the legal profession and in the administration of justice and must consider the Charter and other rights and freedoms of persons affected by law society decisions.
The TWU cases show that the law societies are generally entitled to consider public interest implications in broader policy decisions and in narrower fact-specific decisions such as law school accreditation.
Groia shows, and Green suggests, that the courts will not defer to administrative or disciplinary rules that are seen as stigmatizes conduct that is not seen as worthy of sanction. The law society must be concerned about public confidence in the professional as well as in in the profession. The dissent in Green was on the basis that the mandatory suspension applied irrespective of the context. The majority did not accept that the rule was to this effect but did not challenge the idea that a rule providing for suspension in any and all circumstances would be unreasonable. The majority in Groia held that it was unreasonable to apply a disciplinary sanction to a good faith, but legally mistaken, position taken on behalf of an accused person.
Green, Groia and the TWU cases show that care must be taken by law societies to reflect on the impacts of their decisions on the professionals that they regulate, the clients served by those professionals, the public, the administration of and access to justice, and the Charter rights and freedoms of all persons.
The Chief Justice’s concurring reasons in LSBC v. TWU are her final contribution as a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada. I recommend her reasons to readers as a fitting final contribution.
While the Chief Justice accepted that general competence and diversity within the profession are proper objectives, she did not find them weighty in the particular case. Presumably, her view was affected by the fact that accrediting TWU would allow for additional candidates for licensing, especially from a religious minority, rather than excluding existing candidates.
At the same time, the Chief Justice noted the importance of religious freedom in this case as follows at paras. 129 and 130:
With respect, I cannot agree that the impact of the decision on the freedom of religion of members of the TWU community is “of minor significance”. The decision places a burden on the TWU community’s freedom of religion: (1) by interfering with a religious practice (a learning environment that conforms to its members’ beliefs); (2) by restricting their right to express their beliefs through that practice; and (3) by restricting their ability to associate as required by their beliefs.
These are not minor matters. Canada has a tradition dating back at least four centuries of religious schools which are established to allow people to study at institutions that reflect their faith and their practices. To say, as the majority does at para. 87, that the infringement is of minor significance because it “only prevents prospective students from studying law in their optimal religious learning environment” (emphasis in original), is to deny this lengthy and passionately held tradition. The majority seems to characterize the religious practice at issue in this case narrowly as “studying in a religious environment” (para. 67). In my view, the religious right at issue in this case is broader than that. It is not about merely studying in a religious environment — it is about studying in a religious environment where all members of the community have agreed, through the Covenant, to live in a certain way.
While honouring the freedom of religion, the Chief Justice nevertheless concluded at para. 146 that:
On the other hand, there is great force in the LSBC’s contention that it cannot condone a practice that discriminates by imposing burdens on LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation, with negative consequences for the LGBTQ community, diversity and the enhancement of equality in the profession. It was faced with an either-or decision on which compromise was impossible — either allow the mandatory Covenant in TWU’s proposal to stand, and thereby condone unequal treatment of LGBTQ people, or deny accreditation and limit TWU’s religious practices. In the end, after much struggle, the LSBC concluded that the imperative of refusing to condone discrimination and unequal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation outweighed TWU’s claims to freedom of religion.
In a case like Multani, the claimant was vindicated because the school board could not show that it would be unable to ensure its mandate of public safety. In Loyola, we found that the limitation at issue did nothing to advance the ministerial objectives of instilling understanding and respect for other religions. This case is very different. The LSBC cannot abide by its duty to combat discrimination and accredit TWU at the same time.
I think it fitting that the last contribution of the Chief Justice as a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada was a full-throated affirmation of the constitutional rights and freedoms of all those affected by her decision and a willingness to make a difficult choice that recognized and affirmed their autonomy and dignity.
[i] Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia,  1 SCR 143, Black v. Law Society of Alberta,  1 SCR 591, Pearlman v. Manitoba Law Society Judicial Committee,  2 SCR 869. Law Society of British Columbia v. Mangat,  3 SCR 113, 2001 SCC 67, Edwards v. Law Society of Upper Canada,  3 SCR 562, 2001 SCC 80, Krieger v. Law Society of Alberta,  3 SCR 372, 2002 SCC 65, Law Society of New Brunswick v. Ryan,  1 SCR 247, 2003 SCC 20, Finney v. Barreau du Québec,  2 SCR 17, 2004 SCC 36, Doré v. Barreau du Québec,  1 SCR 395, 2012 SCC 12 , Green v. Law Society of Manitoba,  1 SCR 360, 2017 SCC 20, Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2018 SCC 27, Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University, 2018 SCC 32, Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2018 SCC 33
CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada,  1 SCR 339, 2004 SCC 13 is excluded from the count as it is about copyright rather than regulation of the legal profession.
[ii] As an articling student and as an associate, I worked on Black v. Law Society of Alberta. Decades later, I have been a Law Society bencher during the recent cases. Time passes amazingly quickly.
[iii] Green v. Law Society of Manitoba, supra., Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada, supra., Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University, supra., Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, supra.
[iv] Green v. Law Society of Manitoba, supra.
[v] Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada, supra. Full disclosure, I was a member of the Appeal Panel whose decision was set aside on appeal. I am advised by my friend and colleague Alice Woolley not to comment on this case. Out of respect, fear and affection, I having taken Alice’s advice and have attempted merely to describe relevant aspects of it.
[vi] Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University, supra. Trinity Western University v. Law Society of Upper Canada, supra.
[vii] Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick, 2008 SCC 9,  1 S.C.R. 190
[viii] Green, paras. 19 and 22
[ix] Green, para. 55
[x] Justice Moldaver notable also observed at para. 93 that “When a lawyer alleges prosecutorial misconduct based on a legal mistake, law societies are perfectly entitled to look to the reasonableness of the mistake when assessing whether it is sincerely held, and hence, whether the allegations were made in good faith. Looking to the reasonableness of a mistake is a well-established tool to help assess its sincerity. … The more egregious the legal mistake, the less likely it will have been sincerely held, making it less likely the allegation will have been made in good faith. And if the law society concludes that the allegation was not made in good faith, the second question — whether there was a reasonable basis for the allegation — falls away.
[xi] Justice Côté’s positions in Green, Groia and TWU and Justice Brown’s position in Groia and TWU appear to suggest that they may take a more narrow, perhaps sceptical, view of law society regulation than do other members of the Court. Justice Abella’s position in Green and Groia suggests that she is particularly concerned about stigmatization of individual legal reputations.
[xii] Legal Profession Act, SBC 1998, c 9 as amended
[xiii] Law Society Act, RSO 1990, c L.8 as amended
[xiv] LSBC v. TWU, para 37
[xv] Section 3 of the BC LPA provides that “It is the object and duty of the society to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by (a) preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons, (b) ensuring the independence, integrity, honour and competence of lawyers, (c) establishing standards and programs for the education, professional responsibility and competence of lawyers and of applicants for call and admission, (d) regulating the practice of law, and (e) supporting and assisting lawyers, articled students and lawyers of other jurisdictions who are permitted to practise law in British Columbia in fulfilling their duties in the practice of law.”
Section 3(1) of the Manitoba Legal Profession Act provides that the purpose of the Law Society is uphold and protect the public interest in the delivery of legal services with competence, integrity and independence.
Section 4.2 of the ON LSA, requires the Law Society to have regard to the following principles in carrying out its functions, duties and powers: a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, a duty to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and a duty to protect the public interest.