Disbarred Edmonton lawyer Shawn Beaver sentenced to one year in jail

Shawn Beaver, 52, has been sentenced to one year in jail for contempt of court. The disbarred lawyer continued to covertly practice law despite being disbarred four years ago.

'Mr. Beaver knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway'

Shawn Beaver, shown here in 2014, is about to begin serving a one-year sentence for contempt of court. (Shawn Beaver/Facebook)

Disbarred and disgraced Edmonton lawyer Shawn Beaver must turn himself in by Thursday at the Edmonton Remand Centre to begin serving a one-year sentence for contempt of court.

In a scathing 28-page decision, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice John Rooke noted repeatedly Beaver is the sole author of his own misfortune. 

"After Mr. Beaver's licence to practice law was suspended and Mr. Beaver was then disbarred, Mr. Beaver repeatedly ignored the law," Rooke wrote. "His actions speak of defiance, louder than his words." 

Beaver's troubles date back to 2014 when he stole trust funds from his law firm to support his lifestyle, including money held in trust for a person with mental disabilities, addictions and experiencing homelessness. His licence was suspended in May 2015 and he was disbarred in February 2017.

The misappropriation of funds is still under criminal investigation, the Edmonton Police Service told CBC News on Tuesday. 

'He did it for money'

While Beaver hasn't been allowed to practice law for nearly six years, the Law Society of Alberta and the courts have found he repeatedly looked for loopholes and continued to practice covertly. 

Despite being disbarred, Beaver used junior lawyer Chipo Florence Jura in 2017 and 2018 as a front. When the law society began to investigate, Beaver told Jura to destroy any incriminating evidence that could be used against him. 

"He knew what he was doing was illegal and he tried to hide that, even going so far as to throw his co-conspirator under the bus," Rooke wrote. "He did it for money. Mr. Beaver planned and executed a clandestine illegal enterprise."  

Jura was also disbarred. 

"She may not have been the best junior lawyer in Alberta, but it was Mr. Beaver who hammered home the nails in the coffin for Ms. Jura's legal professional career," Rooke wrote. 

On May 14, 2020, Rooke found Beaver guilty of contempt of court. 

A week later,  Beaver posted a Kijiji ad titled, "Legal instruction from the best," offering legal instructions and trial strategies to lawyers as well as help with wills, claims and landlord/tenant disputes to non-lawyers. 

The law society ordered Beaver to remove the ad and he complied. 

Rooke described the ad as defiant, referring to it as "both thumbing one's nose and mocking." 

Not a credible witness

In written sentencing submissions, the law society suggested a one-year jail term was appropriate. 

In response, Beaver filed an affidavit and made a statement to the court last September that was subject to cross-examination by the law society counsel. 

"I do not find Mr. Beaver to be a credible witness," Rooke wrote. 

Beaver apologized for his past actions, but Rooke rejected the apology, calling it "disingenuous." 

The judge did not believe Beaver was sincerely remorseful — only that he was sorry he got caught.

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice John Rooke noted Beaver "only has himself to blame." (Submitted by Alberta Courts)

"Mr. Beaver knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway." 

Beaver also blamed the law society for "persecuting him." His adult daughters claimed the same in affidavits filed with the court. 

Again, Rooke noted that Beaver can only blame himself for being targeted by the law society.

"The reason that Mr. Beaver has been repeatedly brought before this court by the LSA is because Mr. Beaver repeatedly illegally practices law without a licence, and furthermore goes to great lengths to conceal that activity." 

Additionally, Beaver pointed the finger of blame at the media. He testified that press coverage affected his job prospects, led to hate mail and upset his family. 

"The stories are derisive and intended to embarrass," Beaver said. "In short, I am punished every day due to the manner in which the press chooses to portray me." 

He entered a CBC story as the sole exhibit to prove his point.

Justice Rooke said the article did nothing to prove Beaver is being "punished every day by an unfair press." 

"If Mr. Beaver's complaint that his illegal activity has narrowed his employment opportunities, it cannot be attributed to bad press," Rooke wrote. "Rather, Mr. Beaver only has himself to blame if his stealing money and illegal unlicensed practice of law has meant some potential employers and clients are hesitant to engage Mr. Beaver's services." 

'I have nightmares'

Beaver told the court he lives paycheque to paycheque and is the sole provider for his wife and five children. Rather than sending him to jail, the 52-year-old asked for a fine with time to pay. 

Beaver and Chantal Beaver care for three girls under the age of 10. (Shawn Beaver/Facebook)

"A fine is not a reasonable outcome in this case," Rooke decided. "A more tangible step is required." 

The law society also argued against a financial penalty, noting he has never repaid the funds he stole from his law firm, nor has he paid court or law society costs. 

In a written statement issued Tuesday to the media, Shawn Beaver said he's prepared to face time in jail. 

"I love my wife and children and their care and future remain my highest priority," Beaver wrote. "I have nightmares about how these decisions will affect them."

He added that he respects the legal system and the law.

"I look forward in the future to making amends and reparation to anyone affected by my transgressions for which I am deeply sorry," he wrote. 

Beaver's daughter Erin tearfully told CBC News in a telephone interview Beaver's sentence will be a "financial catastrophe" for her family.

"I am mortified for my little sisters who are two, five and nine," she said. "I am mortified my sister and I will have to step in to fill that void." 

Rooke concluded Beaver needed to be incarcerated as he was unable to accept his promise that he would reform his ways.  

"The punishment imposed on Mr. Beaver must be proportionate to his misconduct," Rooke concluded. "Mr. Beaver's highly aggravating contemptuous illegal conduct favours a heavy step by the court. 

"There are no mitigating factors for Mr. Beaver." 

The conviction will be heard in Court of Appeal on March 31.

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston