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Unlicensed lawyer for B.C. car sales regulator receives court ban

Loraine Lee, formerly of the Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C., now has a court order against her to prevent her from practicing law and identifying herself as a lawyer
Loraine Lee had been improperly acting as a lawyer for the Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. and a court order now prohibits her from practising law unless she were to reapply — and be approved — to be licensed

The former deputy registrar and chief operating officer of the Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. has been barred from practicing law thanks to a court order successfully sought by the Law Society of B.C.

The society stated Friday that Loraine Lee had been improperly acting as a lawyer for the authority and that a court order now prohibits her from practicing law unless she were to reapply — and be approved — to be licensed.

The authority is an independent regulator supervised by the province’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. It licenses motor vehicle dealers, salespeople and broker agents. It investigates consumer complaints and provides dispute resolution.

The authority hired Lee in 2019 and unwittingly used her as an unlicensed lawyer in regulatory proceedings. 

The society caught wind of this and petitioned for the order against Lee in B.C. Supreme Court last May.

"By holding herself out variously as a lawyer, counsel and member of the Law Society, Loraine Lee has misled or attempted to mislead others," stated the petition.

Last month, Registrar of Motor Dealers Ian Christman tossed out a case against an auto dealer, deeming it a mishearing given Lee represented the VSA in it. He admitted he didn’t know Lee was unlicensed when she was hired. 

“It was my understanding at the time of Loraine Lee’s hiring, that she was a practicing lawyer and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia who would be providing legal services to the Authority, among other duties. This was my understanding until I became aware of the Law Society’s allegation that Loraine Lee was providing legal services while not licensed as a lawyer,” stated Christman in his September 8 ruling.

Lee “drafted and signed numerous legal submissions on behalf of the VSA in regulatory proceedings before the Registrar of Motor Dealers,” over the course of 2019 and 2020, according to the society’s petition.

Lee’s submissions identified herself as “Counsel for the Vehicle Sales Authority.”

It’s unclear if there are any other proceedings that could be compromised. The authority did not respond to questions from Glacier Media.

Lee has a law degree, according to the society, and was a member of the society for a seven-month period after being called to the bar in 1987.

After years of not being a practicing lawyer, Lee inquired about renewing her license and was advised that because she had been out of practice for many years, she would need to go through the credentials process to be reinstated. Lee did not take further steps to be reinstated to practice law and, according to the society, subsequently “misrepresented herself” as being licensed by the society.

The petition claimed Lee also misrepresented herself when she applied for jobs at the BC Mental Health Review Board and the Passenger Transportation Board. In March 2019 Lee also applied to the Ministry of Health for a senior legislative analyst position under false representations, the society claimed.

Lee denied the allegations in her response to the petition

She argued she had not contravened the Legal Profession Act. She noted she only represented the VSA at regulatory hearings, and not members of the public. Furthermore she claimed the authority understood she was not a lawyer.

As for calling herself a lawyer, she claimed the definition of a lawyer is narrow and referenced Black’s Law Dictionary that states a lawyer can be a person learned in the law (and not necessarily a licensed member of a regulatory body).

“Ms. Lee submits there are inconsistent, confusing and artificial distinctions between the various iterations of the term ‘lawyer’ in the various pieces of legislation,” stated her response to the petition.

In her response, Lee outlines her long career in the provincial government. She started work in the Ministry of Finance in 1984 after obtaining her law degree from University of Victoria in 1984. She subsequently worked for various ministries and then became an ICBC consultant in 1996 and until 2001. From 2000 to 2009 she worked as an owner of a retail furniture store.

Society spokesperson Vinnie Yuen told Glacier Media that to be licensed by the society and practise law again, Lee would have to get approval from the society’s credentials committee, including meeting the “competency requirements to practice law and that she is of sufficiently good character and repute.”

According to the latest B.C. Ombudsperson annual report, the authority received 18 complaints in 2020/2021 and closed 12 of those files. Online the last ministerial review is from 2007.

The authority states online it is given authority to administer the Motor Dealer Act, parts of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act and associated regulations through a delegation agreement with the Government of B.C. Glacier Media has reached out to the ministry but has not received a response to questions.

The authority played a peripheral role in the province’s independent public inquiry into money laundering, as it helped track luxury vehicle sales in the province. A report to the B.C. Attorney General showed how car luxury dealers were at the frontline of possible money laundering, as so-called straw (nominee) purchasers buy these vehicles and send them to China, in what is also a tax avoidance scheme.

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