Edmonton lawyer drops Queen’s Counsel title after controversy over appointment process

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A retired Edmonton lawyer says she will no longer use a title awarded to her by the provincial government after a well-known local prosecutor was passed over for the same honour.

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Deb Miller, a family lawyer who teaches at the University of Alberta law school, says she will no longer identify herself as a Queen’s Counsel (QC) in the wake of controversy over the Alberta government’s recent list of appointments.

“I’m not going to use it anymore,” Miller said of the title, which has been awarded to esteemed lawyers since the English renaissance. “It’s not on my letterhead anymore. It’s not something I allow behind my name.”

Miller said she no longer considers the QC an honor after Moira Vane — a federal prosecutor, law society bencher, former NDP candidate and political staffer — was missing from the list of 144 Alberta lawyers allowed to “take silk” earlier this month.

Those elected to the law society bench typically receive QCs, and some have suggested Vane was passed over because of her ties to the New Democrats. Vane declined to comment.

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‘This should not be a political process’

Queen’s Counsel designations are traditionally awarded to senior lawyers with a track record of community work and courtroom excellence.

Some, however, criticize them as patronage appointments. The David Peterson government in Ontario abolished new Queen’s Counsel appointments in 1985 over concerns they were “granted more on the basis of who one knows rather than what one knows.” Peterson said the designations were awarded to such a broad swathe of the legal profession they no longer indicated whether a lawyer was actually an effective courtroom advocate.

The Alberta NDP government paused Queen’s Counsel appointments during its term amid similar concerns. The Notley government did appoint QCs but only those identified by the independent committee set out under the Queen’s Counsel Act, which includes representatives from the courts, the ministry of justice, the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Society of Alberta.

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The UCP reopened applications for Queen’s Counsel appointments in 2019 and has awarded the titles each of the subsequent years. Justice Minister Tyler Shandro (named a QC in 2020) announced 144 new appointments on April 6. The government said that in addition to names identified by the committee, Shandro added names of his own, but the ministry would not confirm which of the appointees had been selected by the minister and did not respond to requests for comments about Vane’s application.

Miller, who practiced family law for 40 years and volunteered with community organizations focused on feminism and ending domestic violence, was awarded a QC 10 years ago by the Progressive Conservative despite being a “lifelong New Democrat.”

She said Vane — who has worked as a prosecutor for 20 years and recently organized a “robe bank” for new lawyers — has done “a ton for the profession” and was highly recommended by the independent screening committee.

“This should not be a political process,” Miller said. “It should have to do with what you’ve done for the profession, or for society in general, as a lawyer. It’s no longer an honorific for me.”

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