Conservative media commentator and lawyer Ezra Levant, who faces disciplinary charges over an incendiary newspaper column, has applied to resign from the legal profession.
In a hearing next Wednesday in Calgary, a three-member committee of the Alberta Law Society will consider his request.
While a resignation during a disciplinary proceeding can be deemed a disbarment, Mr. Levant said he has applied under a section of the Alberta Legal Professional Act which permits lawyers to resign without disbarment when there are no outstanding conduct issues that warrant disbarment.
Mr. Levant, who considers himself a free-speech advocate, said he will resign only if the law society addresses the charges against him first.
"I had submitted my application to resign a long time ago, but only on the condition that it not be under a cloud – that is, all complaints against me must be disposed of first. I stand by that condition," he said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Globe and Mail.
The column, "Next stop, crazy town (aka the Alberta Human Rights Commission)", published in March, 2014, in the Edmonton Sun, called the commission's actions "a supernova of crazy" and criticized its officials, including a staff lawyer, Arman Chak. Mr. Chak complained to the Alberta Law Society, which led to three charges: being publicly disrespectful to the head of the rights commission, and two counts of making inappropriate and unbecoming comments about the commission.
The Alberta Law Society's code of conduct for lawyers, like those of other provinces, requires courtesy even when lawyers are acting outside of their professional capacity. Disciplinary actions based on a lawyer's public utterances are highly unusual in Canada. Even so, the current charges are not the first for Mr. Levant, a conservative author and media commentator known for an acid tongue.
A non-practicing lawyer, he faced nine charges in 2012 related to his public utterances, in complaints from University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran and Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman. Last year, the two men accused the law society of unfairly dismissing the charges; Alberta's highest court has endorsed their request for a full court hearing on how the law society handled that disciplinary process against Mr. Levant.
In all, Mr. Levant says he has faced 26 complaints – and never been disciplined.
He said he has better things to spend his time on than battling complaints, and also said he is not offering to resign because of any current complaints. "I don't speak as a lawyer and I haven't worked at a law firm in literally 13 years. I live in Toronto now, and have for years. There is no reason for me to maintain my membership in the Law Society of Alberta. On the other hand, being a member affords political opponents and cranks the opportunity to harass me using the complaint process. It's free and there are no costs against them when they lose – as they do every time." He called the current charges "absurd and unconstitutional."
The law society initially dismissed Mr. Chak's complaint, but he appealed to a three-member law society panel. "A lawyer should take care not to weaken or destroy public confidence in legal institutions or authorities by irresponsible allegations," the panel said in laying the charges last year.
Mr. Chak is now a director of the law society's governing board, and said he could not comment on the Levant proceedings.
Mr. Levant is the founder of the conservative website The Rebel; earlier this month, two writers for the website were barred from an Alberta government news conference, prompting an apology from Premier Rachel Notley.
Adam Dodek, a University of Ottawa law professor and an authority on codes of conduct, called it "highly unusual" for law societies to attempt to sanction lawyers for conduct outside the practice of law, except for criminal conduct. "In the case of public comments by a lawyer, it is hard to see how it serves the public interest to expend regulatory resources on this. Law societies should have better things to do."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article said that under Alberta law, a resignation during disciplinary proceedings is deemed a disbarment. However, Alberta's Legal Professional Act also permits lawyers to resign without disbarment when there are no outstanding conduct issues that warrant disbarment. This story has been updated.