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Nanaimo lawyer suspended for misconduct in representing ‘Lost Canadians’

Law society hearing panel decides James Straith was in conflict of interest, billed improperly

A recently retired Nanaimo lawyer has been suspended for professional misconduct related to his work with ‘Lost Canadians.’

Between 2012-2015, James Straith represented a group of people who felt they had unfairly lost or been excluded from Canadian citizenship. According to a hearing panel decision from the Law Society of B.C., Straith was found to have committed professional misconduct in his dealings with the Lost Canadians, including conflict of interest and failure to maintain accounting and billing records. He was issued a two-month suspension and was ordered to pay the law society’s hearing costs of $22,500.

“The respondent admits that his misconduct, including the various breaches of the accounting and record-keeping requirements … rises to the level of professional misconduct,” notes the hearing panel’s decision.

The “primary contact and leader” of the Lost Canadians never received full accounting of money that Straith received in trust. The lawyer deposited payments into his general account rather than the trust account, and also withdrew payments from the trust without properly billing his client.

As well, Straith represented both the Lost Canadians as a whole and also an individual member of that group when those parties were entitled to “undivided loyalty” from their lawyer.

“He gave advice to two clients who had different and conflicting interests,” the decision noted. “[One] in her individual quest for Canadian citizenship, and [another] in his quest for a precedent that would benefit the larger Lost Canadians group.”

The hearing panel determined that the lawyer’s misconduct was “extremely serious” and involved multiple ethical and professional failings.

“The evidence does not establish that the respondent’s conduct was driven by an intention to deceive,” the decision notes. “However, the proven misconduct involves repeated acts of negligent behaviour.”

The society added that although the respondent had a disciplinary history, matters that occurred more than 20 years ago weren’t timely enough to be relevant factors for consideration.

The law society panel hearing was held in November, Straith retired in January, the decision was issued in February and then made public on Monday, April 20. The suspension takes effect May 1.

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