Robert P. Lee, Lawyer

Re: Robert P. Lee, Lawyer

To: the Right Honorable Premier Ed Stelmach, and others

From: Brian M. Samuels, executive director, LRWCR

Date: 2009-02-18

We are writing to express our concern about the conduct of representatives of the Alberta Government, which appear designed to:

a) prevent Alberta residents (specifically, children under the protection of the Government) from exercising their right to counsel of their choice;

b) intimidate counsel from representing claimants in cases against the Government of Alberta, and

c) interfere with counsel’s ability to earn a livelihood, because counsel is critical of the Government.

The genesis of this problem stems from the fact that the Government of Alberta is in an inherent conflict of interest, in that the Government body (Alberta Children and Youth Services) whose mandate is to protect the rights of children and to retain counsel to enforce those rights, is the very same body that is being sued for neglect in the performance of those duties.

The lawyer who is the subject of this letter is Mr. Robert Lee, a very experienced Alberta counsel in this field. Mr. Lee has acted successfully on behalf of many child victims of abuse, and is currently counsel in a class action suit against the Government on behalf of victims of child abuse.

Following are some of the specific steps we understand have been taken by agents and/or employees of the Alberta Government against Mr. Lee:

  • The Child and Youth Advocate, who is accountable to Alberta Children and Youth Services, refuses to include Mr. Lee on its list of approved counsel in child welfare proceedings. The criterion to be placed on this list is that the lawyer must have attended a workshop on representing children in welfare cases. Mr. Lee has attended the workshop, but the Child and Youth Advocate refuses to include him on the list of approved counsel. Mr. Lee was informed by the Alberta Child and Youth Advocate that the reason for his exclusion is that he has publicly criticized the child welfare system, and therefore is incapable of representing children in such proceedings;
  • A senior official of Alberta Children and Youth Services warned the Alberta Association for Services for Children and Families that if they hired Mr. Lee to speak on the issue of children’s rights in civil litigation, the Association might have its Government contracts reviewed and its funding cut.
  • Alberta Children and Youth Services advised a particular client that once the child reached the age of 18, his legal fees in a particular case would be paid for by Alberta Children and Youth Services unless Mr. Lee was hired as his counsel.
  • Representatives of the Government and lawyers working for the Government have sought to have Mr. Lee disbarred, based on complaints as frivolous as shouting at a meeting.
  • The Government has attempted to prevent witnesses from testifying for Mr. Lee at his Law Society hearing.

LRWC is appalled that the Government agency in charge of the welfare of children should attempt, by such conduct, to prevent the proper representation of those children in its care. The children under the protection of the Alberta Children and Youth Services are entitled to legal representation even if that leads to complaints and/or lawsuits against that same Government agency. The Government should not attempt to insulate itself from liability by silencing its critics and interfering with the rights of advocates to hold the Government agency to account.

This conduct violates a number of principles that form the foundation of a legitimate legal system, namely;

1. the right of both victims of abuse and persons accused of crimes to be represented by a lawyer empowered to effectively protect rights and achieve justice ; and,

2. the right of lawyers to perform their professional functions without intimidation, harassment or improper interference ; and,

3. the prohibition against identifying lawyers with their clients’ causes.

It is a basic principle of our legal system that a lawyer’s representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client’s political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

The principle of an independent bar free from threats, direct or indirect, is upheld in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998. This instrument is intended to ensure the international recognition that lawyers and other human rights defenders have a positive duty to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms without threat.

It is a time-honoured principle that lawyers should be free and independent from government interference, so that they may fully and vigorously represent clients within the provisions of law and ethical standards that govern the legal profession. A bar that is free from direct or indirect threats of all kinds, including economic threats, is essential to the administration of justice.

The conduct of Alberta Government agents as described above strikes at the heart of fundamental principles for the administration of justice, and we urge that the Attorney General promptly take steps to:

  • cease its harassment of Mr. Lee;
  • reinstate Mr. Lee as approved counsel to accept cases from all Government agencies, including the Alberta Child and Youth Advocate; and
  • advise all of Alberta’s public officials and employees that it is contrary to Alberta’s public policy to punish lawyers, through economic boycotts or otherwise, for undertaking their lawful activities and duties (pro bono or otherwise) representing persons who act against the Government.

We would appreciate your early response to this letter.