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Iqaluit lawyer will appeal law society decision

Iqaluit lawyer Anne Crawford says a decision this month by the Law Society of the Northwest Territories may limit free speech on the part of lawyers.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

IQALUIT — Iqaluit lawyer Anne Crawford will appeal a recent decision by the Law Society of the Northwest Territories that reprimands her for speaking to the media on behalf of a client.

In a decision issued January 5, the law society reprimanded Crawford and ordered her to pay $2,000 in legal costs after finding that comments attributed to her in an Oct 24, 1996 CBC radio news story violated the law society’s code of conduct.

That complaint, along with another complaint that the law society dismissed, had been filed in 1997 by Iqaluit businessman and former Iqaluit town councillor Kenn Harper.

“I’m massively disapointed in the Law Society of the Northwest Territories’ decision,” Crawford said. “I think it [the decision] creates a chill that could inhibit freedom of expression…”

In the complaint, Harper alleged that Crawford had used three CBC radio news broadcasts to conduct a personal crusade to defame him.

Crawford, on the other hand, argued that the time she had been instructed to act as a spokesperson on behalf of her clients and was simply making statements that she and her clients honestly believed to be true.

In the CBC radio statement that she ended up being disciplined for, Crawford expressed an opinion about Kenn Harper’s motives in pursuing a conflict of interest complaint against Bryan Hellwig, another Iqaluit town councillor at the time.

“In my opinion, Mr. Harper’s legal actions give most ordinary people the impression that he’s trying to use the courts to intimidate the process of municipal government and control freedom of expression for elected representatives,” Crawford said in the Oct. 24 1996 interview.

At that time, Crawford was representing Hellwig in the NWT Supreme Court hearing that had been called to deal with Harper’s complaint — an allegation that Hellwig had improperly participated in a town council discussion of his Kidddie Kan project.

Crawford said that Hellwig had instructed her to speak to the media on his behalf.

But the law society found that “Ms. Crawford’s conduct in respect of the October 24, 1996 CBC news story falls short of the standard set by the Code [of Conduct] in relation to public statements and media contact amounting to professional misconduct.”

The three-person disciplinary commitee justified this conclusion by saying that it was improper for Crawford to publically comment on the merits of a case that was still before the courts.

And they even went so far as to say that the comment undermined the reputation of the court system.

“But suggesting that Mr. Harper was using the Courts, Ms. Crawford may have led listeners to believe that the Courts could be used for the purpose she raised. This type of statement undermines public confidence in the administration of justice generally…”

Crawford, on the other hand, says she believes that as Hellwig’s advocate, she had the right to make the comment.

She went on to say that the right to free speech is an important principle for her, and that she’s appealing the law society’s decision for that reason.

The law society found nothing improper about two other radio broadcasts that also formed part of Harper’s complaint against Crawford.

In another complaint, Harper alleged that Crawford caused unnecessary delays in a property transaction that Harper was involved in. But the law society dismissed that complaint.

When contacted by Nunatsiaq News this week Harper had no comment on the decision. But he did say that he is “quite surprised” that it took the law society so long to make it.

Harper’s filed his complaints in February and March of 1997, but the law society didn’t hold hearings on them until February of 1999, and didn’t issue a decision until January 6, 2000.

Crawford is now employed as Deputy Minister of the Executive in the government of Nunavut.

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