A lawyer appointed to a committee tasked with recommending new judges in Alberta has resigned after CBC inquired about his recent comparison of a future COVID-19 vaccine to Auschwitz tattoos and posting of a video that called Black Lives Matter a “leftist lie” controlled by a Jewish philanthropist.
Criminal defence lawyer Leighton Grey’s numerous online posts included opinions that legal and anti-racism experts said should disqualify him from being on the Provincial Court Nominating Committee (PCNC).
“I do not accept this resignation decision lightly. Mr. Grey is a successful Indigenous lawyer with an exemplary record of service,” Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said in a statement Friday.
“I also do not make judgments on Mr. Grey’s ability to carry out his professional duties in practising law.”
CBC asked several legal and anti-racist experts to review Grey’s social media posts and blogs, including Tom Engel, who chairs the policing committee for the Edmonton-based Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association in Alberta.
“My overall impression is that Mr. Grey is on the outer fringe of the right wing and just has no place on a committee … that is in charge of screening,” Engel said.
Bernie Farber, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said he was “disturbed on the basis of just pure humanity” when reviewing Grey’s commentaries and posts.
“Our expectation is that our government will go through a process to pick the people that are most fair, that are most equitable,” Farber said. “The views posted in Mr. Grey’s blog, in my view, are extreme.”
CBC News reached out to Grey and his law firm several times in recent weeks, but he did not reply to requests for comment.
Lawyer says he’s libertarian
Grey has previously been criticized online for his views, and responded to defend his positions.
“I have nothing to do with the alt right. I am a libertarian, which means I may disagree with what you say, but would defend to the death your right to say it,” Grey responded online to one critique on LinkedIn in the last week. “I therefore disagree with your criticism of me, but respect your right to voice it.”
The justice minister declined an interview. In his statement on Friday, Schweitzer said Grey offered his resignation voluntarily so not to distract from the committee’s work.
“Work on the Committee is far from a full-time job, and members are not required to surrender their right to personal views or commentary,” the minister’s statement said.
Schweitzer said he was only recently alerted to posts Grey made after his appointment on April 29. However, CBC identified blog posts written by Grey prior to his appointment and shared those with the minister’s office weeks ago.
Engel said the fact that Grey made such comments prior to his appointment suggests Alberta officials either did not do adequate background checks, or were not concerned when they did.
“The whole process for screening candidates for the judiciary, the provincial court, has in my view been corrupted,” Engel said. “This is an example of it.”
Schweitzer appointed Grey to a three-year term on the Provincial Court Nominating Committee as part of an overhaul of the committee’s membership. The nominating committee is responsible for reviewing applications from Albertans who wish to become judges. Its members contact references and conduct interviews before recommending candidates to an eligibility list, from which the justice minister selects new judges.
In a CBC investigation earlier this week, governance and judiciary experts criticized Schweitzer’s appointments for including a majority of political supporters and for not being done through an open hiring process.
Grey, a senior partner at Grey Wowk Spencer LLP in Cold Lake, is the only criminal defence lawyer on the PCNC.
Several articles Grey recently posted promoted false information and conspiracy theories based on racism and anti-Semitism.
CBC took screenshots of dozens of Grey’s posts before he took down his LinkedIn account last week.
For example, Grey re-posted a claim that billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is a Holocaust survivor, conspired to financially manipulate judges on the European Court of Human Rights. Grey also posted a video that alleged Black Lives Matter “has been hijacked and funded by Soros for his own evil agenda.”
Critical of pandemic response
Before his appointment, Grey also wrote blog posts on LegalMatters.com about coronavirus and personal freedoms. In one, he compared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pandemic response to the actions of the Nazi Party before the Second World War.
He wrote about how Trudeau and provincial officials had discussed whether to invoke the Emergencies Act, which would give sweeping powers to the federal government. Grey wrote that part of the Emergencies Act “looks an awful lot like its Nazi cousin.”
In another post about a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Grey wrote, “The tech Messiah, Bill Gates would have every single man, woman, and child vaccinated and digitally marked, like a tattoo at Auschwitz.”
Farber said “comparing the [pandemic] legislation to Adolf Hitler’s legislation during the development of racial laws that led to the deaths of millions — never mind six million Jewish men, women and children — is simply an outrage.”
Isaac Saney, an African Canadian historian at Dalhousie University who has reviewed Grey’s posts, calls them “racist” and “backward.”
Saney noted that several of Grey’s posts referenced the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, which launched protests for action on systemic racism across North America. Grey disparaged Floyd as sexually promiscuous and disputed the frequency of anti-Black violence.
The posts “seem to be articulating some of the most retrogressive white supremacist ideas that exist out there,” Saney said. “Somebody of that nature should not be appointing judges and should be removed from having that kind of very important position in society.”
Tasked to consider diverse judiciary
The justice ministry’s biography of Grey described the lawyer as having acted for more than 200 Indigenous residential school claimants through alternative dispute resolution and independent assessment process hearings. Grey also sits as an adjudicator for the Law Society of Alberta and holds a Queen’s Counsel designation.
When Grey announced his appointment to the PCNC on LinkedIn in April, he promised to disregard diversity when doing his work.
“I shall consider it my mission to help select the most qualified candidates, regardless of their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation,” Grey wrote on LinkedIn. “In short, I pledge to have no regard for identity politics of any kind. Lady Justice does wear a blindfold after all.”
Part of the PCNC’s mandate, developed by the former NDP government, is to consider diversity when selecting judicial candidates.
Shortly before Grey joined the committee, Alberta’s justice minister appointed seven new judges, five of whom were women.
“If Lady Justice is truly blind,” Grey wrote at the time, “then why does she see gender?”
Questions about judgment
Evan McIntyre, a director with the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, said his organization believes the Alberta government should reassess the suitability of all new PCNC appointees, given Grey’s views.
“The question has to be raised whether they were aware of these posts,” McIntyre said.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Jonah Mozeson said in an earlier email that the ministry rejects the characterization that the blogs would cause some to question Grey’s judgment. He also noted the federal government’s proposed use of the Emergencies Act was “widely panned at the time.”
“It would certainly be unfortunate for the CBC to malign an accomplished First Nations lawyer for advocating checks and balances on state power,” Mozeson wrote.
Farber, who has studied hate and radicalization for decades, said the frequency and thoroughness of Grey’s posts and blogs suggest the lawyer firmly holds these beliefs, which Farber characterized as racist, anti-Semitic and extreme.
Grey’s law firm website details his concerns with “identity politics,” “radical feminism” and “indiscriminate mass immigration,” among other issues.
Minister defends appointments
After the CBC investigation, the NDP raised the PCNC appointments in Question Period. MLA Ifran Sabir asked the justice minister about Grey’s beliefs.
“Does the premier share [Grey’s] sexist opinion that there are too many women being appointed as judges in Alberta?” Sabir said. “And if not, will he condemn it right now?”
Schweitzer did not condemn Grey’s opinion. “This line of questioning is absolutely disgusting,” the minister said.
Schweitzer then pointed out, as CBC reported, that a former PCNC member appointed by the NDP had connections to that party. He said his government had “refreshed” the committee by replacing the members.
The following day, the NDP asked again about the PCNC.
Schweitzer again defended the appointments and noted the committee included, “an Indigenous lawyer who is a leader in his community,” a reference to Grey.
Isaac Saney said the fact that the minister defended Grey illustrates a larger issue with the justice system in Alberta.
“This is not just simply a problem with Mr. Grey. We can’t just reduce it to one individual,” Saney said. “It’s a systemic issue, and that requires very significant policy and structural and systemic change.”