Alberta’s one-time NDP justice minister is raising questions after a former staffer and candidate for the party — a 20-year veteran prosecutor — was passed over for a special distinction.
On Wednesday, UCP Justice Minister Tyler Shandro honoured 144 Alberta lawyers with the title Queen’s Counsel Learned in the Law, an appellation with roots in Elizabethan England that carries perks including special silk robes and precedence in court.
Kathleen Ganley, now the NDP energy critic, said she was “shocked” when Moira Vane’s name was not on the list.
“She’s been a Crown for 20 years,” Ganley said Thursday, when asked about the issue at a news conference on a separate topic.
“She’s incredibly hardworking, she’s dedicated. She’s launched a number of programs for the community, including support for mental health, including helping young lawyers who can’t afford robes to get robes.”
“I can’t say exactly what (the ministry) was thinking but it looks an awful lot like she’s being punished for having the wrong opinions.”
Vane declined to comment.
Under Alberta’s Queen’s Counsel Act, prospective QCs are screened by a committee including representatives from the ministry of justice, the provincial law society, the courts and the Canadian Bar Association.
A list of recommended candidates is then sent to the justice minister — who can add additional candidates before the list is sent to cabinet for approval.
A Wednesday news release said Shandro added his own candidates above and beyond those recommended by the committee, but a ministry spokesperson would not confirm which of the 144 candidates had been selected in that way.
The final 2022 list included Energy Minister Sonya Savage and UCP MLA Mickey Amery, while the 2020 QC appointments included former justice minister Doug Schweitzer and Shandro himself.
“The appointees receiving the Queen’s counsel designation this year help set the standard for service to Albertans through our justice system,” Shandro said in a statement Wednesday.
The Alberta NDP paused the award of Queen’s counsel designations as part of a review of the process, “to make sure we were taking out not just the politics, but the fact that the process had a tendency to produce a certain demographic,” Ganley said Thursday. “There were fewer women appointed (and) there tended to be fewer people of colour appointed.”
The party did end up appointing QCs during its term, but only those from the committee list. Ganley did not appoint herself a QC and the review was not completed.
Vane served as Ganley’s chief of staff and in 2019 ran unsuccessfully provincially for the party in Strathcona-Sherwood Park before returning to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. In 2020, she was elected to the board of the Law Society of Alberta — a position known as a bencher — and established a used “robe bank” for new lawyers who cannot afford the expensive court garments.
Victoria Jones, a lawyer and supporter of Vane’s, said it is tradition for law society benchers to be appointed QC, and that she even knew of cases when elected benchers were granted QCs despite not meeting the 10-year requirement for appointment.
“If you become one of those positions, you kind of earned it in a certain sense, because the profession has recognized you in a leadership role,” she said, adding it “doesn’t smell right” that Vane wasn’t given the designation.
She said the episode will feed cynicism about the QC appointment process.
The ministry of justice did not respond when asked for comment on the issue.