Nova Scotia

Halifax lawyer Lyle Howe found guilty of professional misconduct, incompetence

A disciplinary panel of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society has found Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe guilty of professional misconduct and professional incompetence.

'Frankly, me and my family are miserable here,' says Howe, who could face disbarment

Lyle Howe argued during the hearing that his charter rights were violated because of his race. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A disciplinary panel of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society has found Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe guilty of professional misconduct and professional incompetence.

The decision, released late Monday afternoon, capped a hearing that took 60 days, spread over a year and a half.

Howe told CBC News he has mixed feelings about the panel's decision.

"I agree with some of the things that the panel said and I disagree with some of the things that the panel said, and I'm just going to need to digest it before I say anything further," Howe said in a phone interview hours after the 140-page decision was released.

"I'm really disappointed in Nova Scotia and part of that is identified or is acknowledged by the panel in terms of some of the issues that I was raising."

Howe, who is black, argued throughout the hearing that he was a victim of systemic racism and was often singled out for criticism because of his race.

He said the society's handling of his case breached his rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Charter rights

The three-member panel found there were times when race factored into decisions that affected Howe while he was practising.

"These decisions were sometimes made by an individual and sometimes by institutional players," the decision said. 

"However, in relation to the institutional decisions where Mr. Howe's race, cultural location and ethnicity were a factor, he has not proven a material violation of [section 15] of the charter in relation to the investigation or prosecution of these complaints."

Section 15 of the charter guarantees equality "before and under the law ... without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."

Policy criticized

In its decision, the panel also criticized the Dartmouth office of the Public Prosecution Service for the way it dealt with Howe after he was charged with sexual assault.

A policy was implemented suggesting Howe be escorted whenever he came to the Crown office. There was conflicting testimony given during the hearing as to how strict the policy was or how rigidly it was enforced.

"Without greater clarity about the contents of, and adherence to, or enforcement of, this policy, the Crown office's approach to addressing Mr. Howe's situation allowed suspicion, speculation and surmise to attach directly to Mr. Howe — as a black male, and as a potential threat of physical or sexual violence to Crown employees."

Howe unsure if he'll appeal, stay in the province

Darrel Pink, executive director of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, said in an emailed statement to CBC News on Tuesday that the panel will reconvene within 60 business days for a penalty hearing — the most serious of which would be disbarment.

"The panel is now in the process of working with the parties to schedule this hearing. A further public notice will be posted once the date is confirmed," Pink said.

Howe said he was still reflecting on whether to file an appeal.

"I don't know what [the society's] position is, I don't know if my position is that I want to stay here. Frankly, me and my family are miserable here," Howe said, referencing his wife, Laura McCarthy, who is also a lawyer.

"Even if they give me my licence, I don't think that means me and her are going to stay here. And I think it's sad because my wife is a talented lawyer. She's one of the only black, private, defence attorneys in Halifax and a lot of us are driven away.

"So it's sad, but whether they push me out with disbarment or I leave because of what I've already experienced, I think me and at least one other black lawyer are on our way out the door."