Back in the early seventies, when I was an English Literature student at Carleton University, I lived in a communal rented house in Ottawa's Sandy Hill district. My housemates and I were troublesome tenants, and one March day the landlady arrived on our doorstep with her lawyer, a Mr. Landreville, ostensibly to evict us from the premises.
Before the lawyer could hand us our formal Notice to Quit, he stepped into our front hall and spotted a poster of a tank with Chairman Mao sitting on top of it. Without further ado the lawyer, a short bespectacled and sharp-featured man in his early sixties, stalked through our hall, tore the poster off the wall, and ripped it into a dozen pieces, which he threw on the floor. He then served us with the papers he'd brought and left with the landlady.
Though we were thick-skinned young folks, we were plenty outraged by the lawyer's high-handed deed. The poster belonged to my then housemate John Daveikis (who's now a Toronto artist) and to tell the truth, he pinned up the poster more because he liked the tank than the Great Helmsman.
Daveikis originally came from Sudbury, Ontario, and knew Landreville well. He had, John explained, once been mayor of Sudbury but had run into "some kind of trouble" there, so now was a lawyer in Ottawa.
It wasn't until a few years later at McGill law school that it finally dawned on me who the poster-destroyer was and what kind of "trouble" he'd run into. Leo Landreville, I learned, was the only superior court justice in Canadian legal history to resign from the bench in disgrace, not for his actions while he was a judge, but for his apparent misconduct when he was mayor of Sudbury, immediately before his appointment.
William Kaplan is a labour arbitrator and law professor at the University of Ottawa, and he has written an outstanding book about the Landreville affair. In meticulous detail, he documents often bizarre events that took place over twenty-five years, and his very readable book unfolds like a detective story. Kaplan shows Leo Landreville as not so much a victim of the legal and political establishments as the author of his own monumental misfortune.
The story starts in 1953 after the creation by C. D. Howe of the Trans-Canada Pipe Line to bring western natural gas to eastern markets. The pipeline, it turned out, would run by an "all-Canadian route" straight through Northern Ontario. An entrepreneur called Gordon Kelly McLean, "who had never run anything bigger than a crossroads general store," joined up with a wealthy and well-connected Vancouver oilman named Ralph K. Farris, and together they launched a company called Northern Ontario Natural Gas (NONG).
Their idea was simple. Since the big pipeline was going to run near many Northern Ontario cities, towns, mines, and factories, why not take short spur lines off it, to bring gas straight to these consumers? At the time, everyone was using coal, and cheaper gas energy would create a vast potential for economic development in the North.
The cities and businesses didn't want to spend the money installing a gas distribution infrastructure, but NONG offered to do it for them, in exchange for a local long-term monopoly-that's called a "franchise".
In order to build the gas distribution systems, NONG needed piles of money from the New York capital markets, but none of the bankers would fund the schemes unless the franchise arrangements were in place, effectively guaranteeing a long-term return on their investments.
The biggest city in Northern Ontario was Sudbury and the biggest industry was International Nickel: Inco. NONG needed to sign up those two customers if it hoped to even interest New York money in the project. The Ontario government and its regulators were keen, but locally, Sudbury and Inco were dragging their heels.
Ralph Farris met and became friendly with Sudbury's mayor, Leo Landreville; they socialized and ate dinner together. As Landreville's mayoral term was ending, and since he was a well-known local lawyer, he hinted he'd be "useful" working for NONG after he left office. The city council hadn't yet approved a franchise deal with NONG, but Farris and Landreville came to a "deal" nevertheless.
Farris gave him an option to buy, within a year, 10,000 shares of NONG at $2.50 each. Once the franchise deal was approved by city council, investors became very interested in the company, and the value of the shares skyrocketed to $13. On Landreville's behalf, Farris exercised his option anonymously through a Vancouver brokerage, which purchased the shares at the low price, then immediately sold 2,500 of them at full market value to pay itself back and make a small profit. The brokerage then delivered 7,500 full-value shares to Landreville, who paid nothing. He eventually sold them for $117,000.
It was later argued that Landreville was given the shares in consideration for his becoming an employee of NONG, but he never did take that job. Unexpectedly, in September 1956, Landreville, a lifelong Liberal, was offered an appointment to the Supreme Court of Ontario, which he accepted. He never did give back the 7,500 shares. Farris didn't mind and told him to keep the shares. Thanks very much, he wrote back in a fawning letter, and he vowed that while a judge he'd take "an active interest" in the affairs of NONG, although he'd have to remain "outwardly aloof".
Everybody agrees that Landreville was a good judge. He was decent and humane, with a common touch, and tried his cases fairly. But during his early years on the bench, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) was poking its nose into some of NONG's early stock distributions and questioned whether they really were to the company's ultimate benefit.
While Farris got off fairly lightly after a first OSC investigation-he was fined $500 for minor securities law violations-but the problems with NONG just wouldn't go away. It emerged that many of the mayors in Northern Ontario were given low-price NONG shares, and even members of the Leslie Frost cabinet were buying up the stock cheap and early.
Kaplan intricately recounts the lies and chicanery of the Frost Tory government as it attempted to keep the scandal under wraps. One figure emerges as the "real hero" of the piece: Donald C. MacDonald, then leader of the CCF. His relentless questioning of the government in the Ontario legislature did much to keep public attention fixed on NONG and its affairs.
Eventually in 1962, the cops came a-calling on Mr. Justice Landreville, and found his answers evasive and uncertain. At the same time, the OSC launched a second investigation, and focused right in on the mysterious 10,000 shares sold through the Vancouver broker. Farris ended up being charged with perjury, for lying to the first OSC investigation. He was convicted and jailed for nine months.
Landreville found himself before the courts, too. He was charged with municipal corruption and conspiracy, but after a six-day preliminary hearing Magistrate Albert Marck found there was no evidence the judge had broken any laws-indeed, the evidence seemed to point away from his exerting any influence on the Sudbury city council to grant the franchise.
Landreville thought he was in the clear, but all this was just too much for the Toronto legal establishment.
Almost unanimously, his brother judges called on the Pearson government to seek his resignation, but when approached, he refused. Then the Law Society of Upper Canada got into the act.
In secret, the law society's governing body, Convocation, held what Kaplan calls a "Kangaroo court", and released a report finding Landreville had fallen below the "standards of probity" required of one of Her Majesty's justices. The first problem with that report, Kaplan points out, is that the law society governs lawyers, not judges, so it had no legal power to hold its "hearing" on judicial conduct.
Second, and more important, nobody bothered to tell Landreville about the hearing, and that violated one of the basic tenets of fairness: the right to defend yourself against accusers who say mean things about you. As an aide to Lester Pearson later observed, the law society benchers "retired to their carpeted dining hall without granting Landreville so much as one word in his own defence," and "unctuously came to conclusions which were calculated to ruin him forever in the eyes of his brother judges, the legal profession, and the public generally."
The report was leaked out to the press, which joined in the Landreville feeding frenzy. The desperate judge repeatedly demanded a public inquiry into "the facts" behind the share transfer and in 1966 he got one. The federal justice minister appointed a one-man royal commission headed by the craggy, eighty-one-year-old Ivan Rand, a former Supreme Court justice and a man with an almost mythic reputation in Canadian legal circles.
Although his brief was solely "to uncover the facts," Kaplan portrays Rand as a high-handed and overbearing jurist who used the hearing as an opportunity to engage in amateur psychoanalysis and wholesale character assassination. It's apparent that Rand, whom Kaplan characterizes as "Canadian Gothic", hated Landreville, finding him flashy and vulgar, even criticizing him for the kind of car he drove. And although in his raving, over-the-top report Rand comes off as a nutty old man, Kaplan reports he was still cagey enough to trick Landreville's lawyer, the eminent J. J. Robinette, into allowing the law society's infamous (but legally irrelevant) report into the proceedings. While it was appended onto Rand's final report, conspicuously absent was Magistrate Marck's judgement finding no evidence of corruption-something that would have evened up the score a little.
Rand also made a whopping legal error when he released his report. Federal law requires that when persons get slagged by a royal commission, they must be given a formal opportunity to respond before any final report is released. Rand never gave Landreville that chance.
Landreville still refused to resign, so the federal government hauled out the big guns-a joint address by the Senate and House of Commons that would forcibly remove him-without a pension. On the eve of that happening, he was approached by top government officials. If he resigned voluntarily, he was promised, he'd be given a partial judge's pension-and that was a promise directly from the cabinet itself. He wanted that assurance in writing, but was ultimately convinced the cabinet would honour its deal. A big mistake.
After he resigned, he asked the minister of justice, Pierre Trudeau, to hand over the pension, but Trudeau eventually wrote back and told him sorry, the cabinet had decided not to pay him the pension after all!
That statement can only be described charitably as an outrageous "misstatement". Kaplan reveals cabinet documents obtained under the Access to Information Act and he discovered the cabinet had decided nothing of the kind about Landreville's pension; in fact some cabinet members were deeply disturbed that the resignation deal wasn't being honoured. Eventually everybody put the whole thing off and nothing was decided.
Kaplan's revelation reflects extremely poorly on Trudeau; the author told me that he had sent those portions of the book to Trudeau at his Montreal law office for comment and reaction. He received a curt reply from a secretary saying Trudeau was too busy to deal with such requests.
For the next ten years (and this was the time when he tore up my housemate's poster), Landreville fought in the courts for his pension, assisted by the able Ottawa lawyer Gordon F. Henderson, who acted without fee for an extremely "difficult client".
At last, after many court battles, the government handed Landreville a cheque for $250,000 to get him to go away, and the former judge got on with his life, practising law and managing Ottawa real estate. Still alive today, he turned eighty-six last February. He turned his private papers over to Kaplan for his book. And he is still, according to Kaplan, a "difficult client".
The picture that emerges from Kaplan's book is of a man who just "doesn't get it." He doesn't seem to be aware that people might have a problem when a municipal politician, for no good reason, emerges almost $120,000 richer after a city council makes a decision favourable to the company that indirectly forks over the money.
He doesn't seem to be aware that people might not want judges who receive such funds-even if they get it before they're appointed-to sit on the bench and decide the affairs of their fellow men and women.
At the end of it all he doesn't seem to have learned anything. He doubtless still believes he did nothing wrong.
And he didn't seem to be aware that it's not okay for a lawyer, while evicting tenants, to trespass on their domicile and destroy their property. But enough about that-read this book-it's very good.
Michael Fitz-James is Toronto writer who specializes in legal subjects.