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Law department colleague slams Amir Attaran over letter to law society

Mackenzie Gray | Fulcrum Staff

UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA law professor Amir Attaran claimed that Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay misled the Canadian public with his comments regarding Justin Trudeau’s recent admission to smoking marijuana as a sitting Member of Parliament (MP).

In a letter addressed to the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS)—the association that regulates the legal profession in MacKay’s home province—Attaran made a scathing assault on MacKay’s remarks.

“It’s currently against the law to smoke dope,” MacKay said in an interview with CTV. “I think most Canadians expect that their Member of Parliament will obey the law.”

MacKay also stated that “this admission of smoking marijuana, breaking the law, doing so knowingly while he was a Member of Parliament” sends Trudeau’s credibility “up in smoke.”

The criminal code makes the possession, sale and/or purchase of marijuana illegal, but smoking it is not considered a crime.

MacKay’s comments were prompted by a recent interview with Trudeau, during which he said he’d smoked pot five or six times in his life. Trudeau claims that his most recent pot experience was at a dinner party three years ago. Attaran defended Trudeau in his three-page letter.

“Judging by the tone of Mr. MacKay’s entire statement, it appears that he set out to attack Mr. Trudeau for partisan political purposes, which he did in bad faith by accusing Mr. Trudeau of an imaginary criminal offense that does not actually exist,” wrote Attaran.

“It is unprofessional for any lawyer and reprehensible when the lawyer is also the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to mislead the public about the state of Parliament’s laws.”

He continued to say that, as Canada’s top lawyer, the attorney general is expected to conduct his duties independently, and without partisan influence, in order for the public to have confidence in the system of justice.

Attaran, who is not a member of any political party, hopes that MacKay will correct his statement and give a “contrite public apology for misleading Canadians about the law.”

Not everyone agrees with Attaran’s assessment of MacKay. Adam Dodek, a colleague at the U of O law department, took to Twitter after reports of the letter surfaced, saying there was “no basis” for the complaint against MacKay and that the NSBS had no jurisdiction over what the minister does in office.

Dodek pointed to a 1968 case in which the then Quebec Minister of Justice Claude Wagner was not subject to discipline from the Bar of Quebec—the provincial law society for lawyers in Quebec—over comments criticizing a judge because he was exercising his official Crown functions.

When reached, Dodek had no further comment.