A Lawyer, Her Robes and an Outraged Criminal Defence Bar

For criminal defence lawyers in and around the Greater Toronto Area the Internet broke yesterday. As word spread that their colleague Laura Liscio had been arrested in court and led out of the Brampton courthouse handcuffed and in her barrister’s robes, the outrage mounted and the years of criminal defence lawyers and their clients being treated as second class citizens by a justice system more concerned with efficiency than justice came to a boil.

Apparently, Ms Liscio handed clothes to her client in court yesterday, which were later found to have drugs in them. Whether or not this is even remotely accurate I have no idea.

Let’s first address the question that preoccupies people; is she guilty? The only answer our justice system gives us is that she is not. In fact she is innocent. There has been no trial and no finding of guilt so at this point and at every point until a verdict is rendered Laura Liscio is innocent. That may trouble some people who accept every statement police make as pure and true but the presumption of innocence is central to our justice system so too bad.

By all accounts Laura Liscio is a conscientious advocate for her clients and who is well respected by both defence counsel and crown attorneys. But that meant absolutely nothing to the arresting officers of the Peel Regional Police Service who marched into her courtroom, arrested her and handcuffed her while she was wearing her barrister’s robes. They then ushered her out of the courthouse to a waiting cruiser.

So unlike Police Constable James Forcillo who shot nine bullets into another man and killed him (all of it captured on video), Laura Liscio did not get to go home and wait for twenty-four days while the “authorities investigated.” She didn’t get to go home and wait for twenty-four days while her lawyer and the prosecutor worked out in detail the manner of her turning herself in by a side door to the courthouse away from prying eyes. She didn’t get to go home and wait for twenty-four days while her lawyer and the prosecutor worked out terms of her release so as to spend the least amount of time in court possible. No she didn’t get any of those professional courtesies that are the hallmarks any time police are arrested – rare as that is.

So while some media, the police, and our government leaders trip over themselves reminding the public of the heroic nature of police work and how they’re on the side of good and defence lawyers are on the side of evil, remind yourself of how truly pathetic yesterday was where uniformed police officers, who are handed all sorts of discretion to carry out their jobs, exercised so little of it when arresting, an officer of the court.

The police officers in this case seemed to be motivated to publicly shame and humiliate a criminal defence lawyer. The investigation in to what Ms. Liscio was alleged to have done, appears to have been so cursory as to make even the most ardent tough on crime advocate blush.

But we as a profession need answers. For instance, who were the officers? Let’s also hear from the Crown Attorney for the Brampton courthouse and what his thoughts are. Did he approve of this? What about the Chief Federal Prosecutor for the region? Is this how he believes lawyers and officers of the court are to be treated?

For a justice system that bends over backwards to afford all manner of courtesies and deference to the decisions of police officers let yesterday be a reminder to those of you who aren’t lawyers. Think about this; what sort of treatments awaits you when the police have you in their sights and they could care less about what arresting you will mean to your life? Make sure to remind yourself that courtesies exist only for the police.


  1. Laura is well known to the Calgary area defence bar as well, as a hard working and highly ethical advocate. There is simply no way she would wittingly traffic in narcotics and risk tarnishing a reputation she has literally sacrificed everything for. The Peel police should be ashamed of themselves. They have cast a dark cloud over a brilliant and ethical lawyer and tarnished our entire criminal justice system. Shame also on the crown prosecutors office for approving these charges. Shame! Shame! Shame!

    • The Crown did not “approve the charges”, and in fact, had absolutely nothing to do with the laying of these charges. Police are the ones who form their grounds to lay a charge, and either arrest the suspect on reasonable and probable grounds or on the strength of the warrant. In the vast majority of cases, the Crown has no involvement until after the charge has been laid, and the accused has been arrested and brought before the court.

  2. We invite and encourage you to join in a peaceful gathering at PRP Headquarters on Saturday morning at 9:30am to draw attention to, and denounce, the insidious and shameful police treatment of Ms Liscio at the overzealous hands of the PRPS.

  3. Thank you very much for putting this out there. Despite my faith in the judicial system and perhaps a naive perception that when I pick a jury that people will be fair and open minded it would seem there are many people, lay persons and quasi legal minds who are so willingly to accept any allegation as fact when the police charge and arrest. I am proud to be member of the defence bar and value all of my colleagues for their dedication and passion each and everyday! United we Stand!

  4. Roots you are right. Now is the time for a united defence bar. I’m very proud today to call myself a criminal defence lawyer.

  5. Proud of the article. Proud of Ms. Liscio. Proud to be defence lawyer. Proud of the united front.

    Tough day yesterday. New day today. The sun always comes out.

  6. I have known Ms. Liscio to be a caring, compassionate and effectve advocate whose ethics are of the highest order. She is in no way deserving of such shabby treatment at the hands of the Peel police. Shame on those responsible.

  7. I am honoured to call Laura Liscio a colleague and a friend.
    Laura’s work ethic, honesty, and integrity are second to none.
    My disgust at this situation is only matched by the irony of of it. For years I have been trying to give her more lucrative work, but she has consistently passed it up in order to continue to assist her youth clients, the poor, and the underprivileged . Proud of her. Proud of the support she has received.

  8. It’s interesting. I have no idea whether she is innocent or guilty. The police may have acted out of order. However, for those who issue blanket support of the accused simply based upon what you have seen of her character, consider that you too know nothing as to whether she is innocent or guilty. You are no different than those who had worked with Bill Cosby and who came forward and said things like “I knew him, worked with him for years, and there is no way he would ever have risked his reputation or done anything like drugging and raping women.” Those comments add nothing to the discussion. The unfortunate fact is none of us know whether she is innocent or guilty. Object to the actions of the police, but please do not go further – none of us knows anything regarding the merits of the case.

  9. Very well written Andreas and thank you for bringing attention to this disturbing story.

    If indeed the aim of the arrest was to shame through theatrics, I would understand how this could be a very disappointing day for you and your colleagues.

  10. brampton has a long history of special treatment for police in trouble with the law, not so much for lawyers as we see lately. The special treatment used to extend so far that in Brampton , when Clarence St court was running, any police officer charged would get his trial in front of judge Richards, who was married to a peel regional police officer. Needless to say very poor conviction rate on those cases. It is past time that this uneven police state tactics are driven into the open where we can look closely at how wide the gap is on our level playing field.

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