Montreal·CBC Investigates

Is Quebec most lenient province at disciplining lawyers who've misappropriated funds?

A CBC News investigation has found that the majority of Quebec lawyers sanctioned for having taken or mishandled money from clients or overcharged them were never charged with crimes — and often only disbarred temporarily.

Dany Perras, Montreal lawyer who orchestrated Ponzi scheme, never criminally charged

The majority of Quebec lawyers sanctioned for having taken or mishandled money from clients or overcharged them, either negligently or intentionally, were never charged with crimes, a CBC News investigation found. (CBC)

Quebec may be the most lenient province when it comes to disciplining lawyers who misuse client funds.

A CBC News investigation has found that the majority of Quebec lawyers sanctioned for having taken or mishandled money from clients or overcharged them, either negligently or intentionally, were never charged with crimes — and often only disbarred temporarily.

One of the most high-profile cases in recent years involves Dany Perras, a Montreal lawyer who orchestrated a Ponzi scheme through his trust account.

Shortly after allegations of misappropriation surfaced in 2011, at least one of his vehicles was deliberately torched outside his home in the Montreal suburb of Hampstead.

'He's still a free man'

Perras was ordered to return more than $3 million to clients in 2014 but was never criminally charged. 

Instead, the Quebec Bar banned him from practising law for 10 years.

The punishment didn't sit well with one of his victims, a Montreal businessman who lost tens of thousands of dollars to Perras and still hasn't gotten any money back.

"He's still a free man, and he's going about his life as if it never happened," said the man, who asked to remain anonymous because he doesn't want his company identified.

Perras did not return a request for comment.

Ontario vs. Quebec

The findings about Quebec are the result of CBC's examination of public records across the country, which show that provincial law societies sanctioned 220 members who misappropriated about $160 million of their clients' funds between 2010 and 2015.

The CBC investigation found Ontario and Quebec had the highest number of disciplined lawyers, but the punishments handed down in Quebec were, by far, the least severe.

In Ontario, 71 lawyers were disciplined for taking money from their clients over the six-year period. Seventeen lawyers were suspended and 49 were disbarred for their misconduct. Others still await punishment.

Public 'adequately protected': Quebec Bar 

In Quebec, 80 lawyers were disciplined for taking money improperly. Four were permanently disbarred, while 58 received temporary disbarments. Several lawyers were disciplined more than once during the time period.

The Perras case is noteworthy because of the amount of money involved. Most other cases involved smaller amounts of cash that resulted in shorter suspensions, with a median duration for temporary disbarment of 12 months.

In an email, a communications officer for the Quebec Bar noted that a temporarily disbarred lawyer is subject to a review before being allowed to practise again in the province.

She said that in some cases, a suspended lawyer won't be readmitted.

The email concludes that the current "disciplinary system is sound and adequately protects the public."

A note on methodology:

CBC News compiled information about discipline cases and prosecutions between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2015, by collecting material from provincial law societies, legal and court databases and media reports. We included all instances in which lawyers were sanctioned by their law societies for improperly taking or mishandling money from client trust funds or overcharging clients to an extent that led to professional misconduct. This includes deliberately overcharging, charging for services never provided, outright fraud and breaching law society rules respecting client funds. Because there is no single comprehensive source for this information, it is possible not all relevant cases of discipline and criminal prosecution were captured. In about 30 discipline cases, it was not possible to provide an estimate of the amount of money clients may have lost.