N.W.T. lawyer, accused of unprofessional conduct in wrongful dismissal case, removed as defendant in court case challenging law society’s ruling

A view of downtown Yellowknife in the morning. Photo: HR Law Canada/Canva

A lawyer in the Northwest Territories, who was the subject of a law society complaint over his work in a wrongful dismissal case, has won his attempt to be removed as a defendant in a lawsuit against the society.

Christopher Buchanan, counsel for the Town of Hay River, was “struck as a party to the proceeding” by the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. The lawsuit was filed by WHH, a former municipal employee, after the law society rejected his complaint against Buchanan.

WHH sought judicial review of the law society’s decision with remedies including the disbarment of Buchanan, copies of deleted emails and a legislative change to the Legal Profession Act.

Background

WHH, who is self-represented, wrote to the law society in April 2022 to complain about Buchanan’s conduct in the wrongful dismissal case. He alleged his computer had been hacked and his files deleted, and he felt Buchanan was responsible for the hack and was wrongfully in possession of his deleted files.

On May 5, 2022, the law society wrote back to WHH advising that it was dismissing his complaint. It said, even if the alleged conduct was proven, it would not constitute unprofessional conduct.

It noted that Buchanan had provided a logical and reasonable explanation for why he had the emails. (That explanation was not outlined in the court document, as it was “not relevant to this application,” the court said.)

WHH continued to correspond with the law society for several months before filing a court case to have the law society’s decision reviewed by the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. Buchanan, who was named in the suit along with the law society, then sought to have his name struck from the case.

The Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories noted that, viewed in the context of the requested relief, Buchanan could be a person directly affected by it.

But the court noted that it was not his actions that are being reviewed in this case. Rather, it was the decision of the law society. Buchanan was not involved in that decision, was not involved in the investigation or the decision to dismiss the complaint — and was not even aware of it until Oct. 21, 2022, after it had already been rejected.

No credible evidence of aiding, abetting

WHH argued Buchanan should remain as a party because he committed a crime and the law society “is aiding and abetting him by covering it up.”

“There is no evidence of this,” the court said. “Nothing in the record credibly suggests this.”

It ruled Buchanan’s continued participation in the proceeding wasn’t necessary to assist the court in judicial review of the law society’s decision.

It awarded costs to Buchanan under Column 3 of Schedule A of the Rules of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.

HR Law Canada will continue to monitor this case and report on the outcome if/when it becomes available publicly.

For more information, see Harris v Buchanan et al, 2023 NWTSC 8 (CanLII)

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