Saskatchewan’s new law society president aiming for addiction, mental health program 

By Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (January 23, 2023, 2:16 PM EST) -- Eying her province’s immediate neighbour to the east, the new president of Saskatchewan’s law society is aiming to one day have an alternative disciplinary process for lawyers in trouble due to addiction or mental illness.

Andrea Argue — a 44-year-old with a surname fitting for a lawyer of any stripe — was made Law Society of Saskatchewan (LSS) president in December; she will work alongside new vice-president Suzanne Jeanson, 47. 

It is the first time the LSS has had two women holding those top spots at the same time, according to a spokesperson.

Andrea Argue, Law Society of Saskatchewan president

Andrea Argue, Law Society of Saskatchewan president

During an interview with The Lawyer’s Daily, Argue talked about refreshing the LSS’s strategic plan, furthering legal services for the province’s large Indigenous population and developing an alternative to traditional discipline similar to that of the Law Society of Manitoba (LSM).

On Dec. 1, Manitoba’s regulator launched its Health and Wellness Program, which that regulator describes as a path being offered to members whose “conduct or competence issues are linked to health conditions, such as addiction, depression, or other mental health issues.”

Those eligible would be diagnosed by a psychiatrist and then referred to a health-care specialist. Members who successfully complete the program would be able to continue practising and not face any discipline. They may, however, have to adhere to certain practice conditions.  

Argue, who began as an LSS bencher in January 2019, said her law society has been “engaging with colleagues at the [LSM] to learn more about their new initiative with a view to developing our own similar process.”

“For complaint matters … that stem from a wellness issue, the LSS is currently exploring ways to modernize our process. We will assess how lawyer misconduct arising out of mental health issues, addictions or other forms of health crisis may be better handled. We are keenly interested in the Manitoba program that provides a mechanism to deal with these scenarios in ways that may be more appropriate than the traditional discipline stream.”

As for the LSS’s current discipline process, she said it is “an area that is driven by an attitude of continuous improvement.”

She pointed to the revamping of the LSS Conduct Investigation Committee process, developing an “adjudicator training program for the members of [the law society’s] adjudicator roster” and having a “summary dismissal process” for complaints deemed “non-jurisdictional, incomplete, or premature.”

Argue was also asked what is needed to help members better serve Saskatchewan’s large Indigenous population.

The Department of Indigenous Services 2020 annual report to Parliament had Saskatchewan’s Indigenous at 16 per cent of the province’s population — the fifth largest of Canada’s provinces and territories.

Argue said the LSS takes seriously its “obligations to advance reconciliation.”

“We receive guidance and advice from an advisory group, which is comprised of Indigenous members from across the province, an Indigenous member of the legal academy in Saskatchewan and a well-respected Elder from a First Nations community.”

The advisory group, she said, identified a number of items to implement, including a “formal commitment to reconciliation,” a review of “regulatory processes and structures to determine whether these … meet the needs of Indigenous peoples” and the need to continue to build “relationships with Indigenous organizations, the Indigenous bar, and other appropriate groups.”

Argue said another part of her job as president will be ensuring that all of her 18 benchers have their voices heard during her chairing of convocation sessions.

“My objective is to ensure … that all the perspectives are heard around the table,” she said. “We have a really talented group — broad perspectives — and it is important that I do a good job of acting as chair because, effectively, to me, that’s the role.”

Another goal is a “refresh” of LSS’s strategic plan, including its six points of mandate: competency, transparency, access to legal services, equity, diversity and inclusion, wellness and truth and reconciliation.

“Those are all things … that are important and current matters. So, of course we are mindful of those things. For me to prioritize, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do that today. We’re working through the … plan and I would say they are all of equal importance.”

Argue, a partner with Kanuka Thuringer LLP, did her undergrad at the University of Saskatchewan and stayed on for law school. Following that, she clerked at the province’s Court of Appeal in Regina. She then made the move to Swift Current, where she continues to reside.

There, she lives on a working grain farm with her husband, a dentist. Together, they run the farm when not working in their primary professions. They have three kids, ages 19, 16 and 12.

Argue practises in the areas of corporate and commercial law, real estate, business organization and succession and estate planning and administration.

New VP Jeanson was not available for an interview. According to her LSS bio page, she, too, graduated from University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law. A criminal defence lawyer, she started practising with the firm Neil & Jeanson in the western Saskatchewan town of Unity before moving on to Moose Jaw Legal Aid, where she remains to this day.

A bencher since 2018, Jeanson has served on various committees, including the Future of Legal Services, Competency and Conduct Investigation committees.

Jeanson lives in Moose Jaw with her three daughters.

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