CALGARY — Outspoken political commentator Ezra Levant will no longer be able to practise law in Alberta and two complaints against him have effectively disappeared following a ruling by the body that governs lawyers in the province.
Following a three-hour hearing Wednesday, a Law Society of Alberta panel allowed Levant to resign after 16 years as a member.
The ruling means complaints against him over a column he wrote in March 2014 are moot because Levant no longer falls under the society’s jurisdiction.
“I feel freed from this leghold trap that I’ve been in,” Levant said Wednesday after the decision.
“Part of me really wanted to have that hearing on my freedom of speech in the … column. They basically abandoned the fight so I think it would be a little bit much if I said, ‘no, come back and prosecute me.”‘
Levant argued before the panel that he hasn’t practised law in years and moved from Alberta to pursue other interests.
“I’m glad I went to law school and I use my legal training almost every day, but I use it to do politics or journalism, not as a lawyer,” he said in his submission.
“I haven’t had a client in years.”
Levant applied to resign two years ago. But he was scheduled to face a week-long disciplinary hearing over the complaints before the law society offered a resignation hearing instead.
However, he said he would not quit the society unless the complaints against him were lifted.
The column, which ran in the Calgary Sun and its sister newspapers across the country, criticized the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s handling of a case involving a Muslim man who was claiming discrimination when he was fired from his job as an electrician in Edmonton.
Law society citations had alleged comments Levant made in the column entitled “Next Stop, Crazy Town” were “inappropriate and unbecoming” for a lawyer and violated the professional code of conduct.
Levant addressed those allegations in his submission.
“I acknowledge that there are some things that could amount to conduct unbecoming for a lawyer, even a non-practising lawyer,” he said. “Being convicted of a crime might be one example.
“But having strong opinions shouldn’t be. Nor should expressing them.”
A law society official initially dismissed the complaints against Levant, saying he was acting as a journalist and there was no reasonable prospect of finding his conduct breached the law society’s code of conduct.
That position was overturned when the complainant, an Edmonton lawyer who worked for the human rights commission, appealed.
Levant said one of the complaints against him was 1,000 pages long and he sympathized with law society staff who had to investigate.
“Imagine how much time was wasted by the staff here … They had to read my columns. Imagine that punishment.”
The law society’s executive director said all complaints against members are taken seriously, but this was straightforward.
“It’s an uncontested fact he hasn’t practised law, he hasn’t delivered legal services for many years,” said Don Thompson.
“Everything he is doing is really outside the practice of law.”
Levant was assessed $5,264 in costs for the hearing, but will only have to pay if he ever applies to rejoin the society.