Violent attacks, threats against lawyers not uncommon, Toronto lawyer says

The shooting of Toronto lawyer Randall Barrs outside his office in the Annex shocked the city on Tuesday, but a criminal lawyer who helped write a safety manual for his profession says threats of violence against lawyers aren't uncommon.

James Morton has written a safety handbook for his fellow lawyers

Criminal lawyer James Morton has had a gun pulled on him three times in work-related situations. (LinkedIn)

The shooting of Toronto lawyer Randall Barrs outside his office in the Annex shocked the city on Tuesday, but a criminal lawyer who helped write a safety manual for his profession says threats of violence against lawyers aren't uncommon.

"My reaction was to be appalled and I know that the criminal lawyer community was appalled," James Morton told CBC's Metro Morning Wednesday.

"It's not something that happens very often and when it does it shakes people," said Morton, a former president of the Ontario Bar Association who's also been threatened by clients.

Barrs was shot outside his office near Bedford Avenue and Prince Arthur Boulevard  around 3.30 p.m. 

Seconds later the alleged shooter was fired upon and wounded by plainclothes officers from Halton Police and taken into custody.

Toronto police officers cordoned off the area near the shooting on Tuesday afternoon. Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is looking into what happened. (CBC)

"The fact that it happened pretty well in broad daylight at his office is something that really did shock a lot of people." Morton said.

'A shocking moment'

But this isn't the first time Morton is hearing of an attack on a lawyer. He has been personally threatened three times in his career.

The first was in the early 1990s when a gun was pulled on him as he was driving a client to a meeting at a police station. The other two times occurred in his office while he was speaking with clients.

"It certainly is startling and I don't think you can predict how you're going to react ... it's certainly a shocking moment."

Morton has heard more cases of family lawyers at risk of attacks than criminal lawyers.

"The emotions in family law are higher," he said, adding that his clients "who are facing serious criminal charges tend to be more rational."

Safety handbook for lawyers

Morton helped write a safety handbook for lawyers to protect them from work-related risks. He worked alongside former crown attorney Paul Vesa, who faced significant threats of violence, Morton says.

"Someone threatened to blow him up and put a bomb under his car."

Morton says the main thing lawyers should do is maintain their privacy by not giving out their home addresses and not divulging details about their personal lives.

He also advises lawyers to recognize when their clients are acting irrationally and to be aware of their surroundings.

However, Morton says in the case Barr there's not much he could do as the address of his office has to be publicly available.

"People can find you coming out of your office if they want to."