Executive overseeing B.C. car sales industry misled others into believing she's a lawyer, petition alleges
Law Society court filings says Loraine Lee misrepresented herself in role on 2 tribunals as well
One of the top officials at B.C.'s regulator for car sales has been misrepresenting herself as a lawyer when she hasn't practised in more than three decades, according to court filings from the Law Society of B.C.
Loraine Lee, the chief operating officer and deputy registrar for the Vehicle Sales Authority (VSA), is the subject of a petition filed May 13 in B.C. Supreme Court that calls for an injunction preventing her from acting as a lawyer or holding herself out to be one.
The petition alleges that Lee has not only misrepresented herself in her position at the VSA, but also in her role as a board member for two B.C. tribunals — the Mental Health Review Board and the Passenger Transportation Board.
"By holding herself out variously as a lawyer, counsel and member of the law society, Loraine Lee has misled or attempted to mislead others," the petition reads.
"The law society submits that the VSA specifically sought and believed it was hiring a lawyer to fill its job vacancy, and that the Registrar of Motor Vehicles was misled into believing that Loraine Lee was a lawyer."
Lee was only ever a member of the bar for about seven months beginning in June of 1987, according to the law society's petition.
In her response to the petition, Lee denies any wrongdoing, claiming the VSA hired her in the full knowledge that she is not a practising lawyer. She says her role with the agency is managerial, not legal.
Neither Lee nor spokespeople for the VSA responded to requests for comment.
'Loraine Lee and I are lawyers'
The VSA oversees the sale of cars and trucks for personal use in B.C., licensing dealerships and salespeople, handling complaints and issuing penalties to dealers who break the law.
The law society's petition stems from information provided by a member of the public who began looking into the agency's leadership after becoming concerned about how it dealt with his complaint against a car dealer who is also a member of the VSA board.
In an affidavit filed in support of the law society's petition, the complainant alleges that Lee expressly told him she was a lawyer during a complaint resolution meeting.
The petition also quotes an email addressed to the complainant from registrar Ian Christman in which Christman wrote, "Loraine Lee and I are lawyers for the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority."
Lee has worked for the VSA since 2019, originally holding the job title of director of compliance and consumer services.
The petition alleges that Lee signed "numerous legal submissions" for the VSA in 2019 and 2020 that identified her as "Counsel for the Vehicle Sales Authority." Lee has also been referred to as "legal counsel" for the VSA in at least one decision from the registrar posted online.
But the law society's allegations don't end with her work at the VSA.
The petition also states that Lee falsely represented her qualifications in a job application to the Ministry of Health in March 2019, claiming to be a "Member of the Law Society of British Columbia."
Lee is also a legal member of the Mental Health Review Board — a tribunal that reviews cases where patients have been involuntarily detained in mental health facilities. The Mental Health Act requires that legal members belong to the law society or have "equivalent training."
According to the law society's petition, when Lee completed a candidate profile for the board, she attested to having been a member of the law society continuously since 1987.
Luningning Alcuitas-Imperial, the chair of the Mental Health Review Board, said she was unable to comment on the allegations against Lee because the case is under investigation.
Lee is alleged to have made a similar claim in a candidate profile related to her position with the Passenger Transportation Board, which licenses taxis, limos and inter-city buses. Representatives of the board did not respond to requests for comment.
What is a 'lawyer,' anyway?
Lee's response to the petition, filed June 8, claims she was clear during her job interviews with the VSA that she is not a lawyer and says none of her duties required a lawyer to perform them.
Her response also equivocates about the meaning of the word "lawyer," noting that Black's Law Dictionary defines the word as a "person learned in the law" and that the definitions in B.C.'s Legal Professions Act state that a "lawyer" could mean a former member of the law society in a very narrow set of circumstances.
It goes on to say that there are "inconsistent, confusing and artificial distinctions" in the use of the word in various pieces of legislation, and therefore "lawyer" is a tainted term.
None of the claims in the law society's petition or Lee's response have been proven in court, and a date has not been set for the case to be heard.
Just last week, Lee sent an email to staff at the VSA addressing the legal action.
In that June 16 message, which was shared with CBC News, she informs staff that she cannot provide legal advice and that they "should not refer to me as a 'practicing lawyer' or indicate to anyone that I am a 'practicing lawyer.'"
Lee's email signature ends with a quote whose origin is in dispute but that has been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: "A woman is like a tea bag — you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water."