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‘Redemption has been given to me’: Ontario’s newest lawyer undoes bad chapter

British Columbia·In Depth

Malcolm Zoraik will have earned more than just the right to practise law when he's called to Ontario's bar later this month. The 56-year-old says he'll have won a decade-long battle to reclaim his reputation.

Macolm Zoraik will be called to Ontario's bar on June 25. He sees getting the right to practice law in Canada's biggest province as a form of redemption.(Malcolm Zoraik)

When Malcolm Zoraik is called to the bar later this month, the 56-year-old will have earned more than just the right to practise law in Ontario.

As Zoraik sees it, he will have won back his name. His reputation. And the right to hold his head high in a harsh world that may know of him only what comes up in a Google search.

Convicted in 2010 of public mischief and fabrication of evidence in relation to a bizarre incident at Victoria's courthouse, Zoraik was disbarred in British Columbia in 2018.

But he has steadfastly refused to allow the worst parts of his past to define his future.

The Parole Board of Canada has pardoned him. An Ontario law firm has invited him to be a partner.

And in a stunning turnaround, an appeal tribunal of Ontario's law society recently found that Zoraik's character was "good" enough for him to be a lawyer again.

"Redemption has been given to me," said Zoraik, who now lives and works in Toronto.

"It's not something that I take for granted. I have a lot to prove and I'm determined to prove to my profession, to my family, friends and larger society that I'm a better person than what has been portrayed back in 2010."

'I have nothing to explain beyond that'

In a profession guided by rules and precedent, it's hard to overstate the significance of Zoraik's victory before the Ontario Law Society's appeal tribunal.

He asked them to overturn a previous decision rejecting his application to practise law because — in essence — the panelists couldn't overcome the notion Zoraik hadn't shown an adequate level of remorse for his actions.

The Law Society of Ontario initially rejected Malcolm Zoraik's bid to be called to the bar based on their assessment of his "good character". That decision has been overturned.

The case highlights a crucial issue in a legal world in which defendants will feign regret to lower a sentence or accept plea bargains on charges they might otherwise be able to beat.

Why should you be punished for refusing to express remorse for a crime you've always maintained you didn't commit?

"I have been charged, I have defended myself in a court of law, I've entered a plea of not guilty, but I was found guilty. And I accept that. So I have nothing to explain beyond that. And that's what the previous panel was insisting on," Zoraik says.

"Your innocence is held against you. You either confess or otherwise there's no redemption, which is totally unfair. You have to judge the person as they are today and what have they been doing since that event."

'Matters of the heart and of the mind'

The "event" in question occurred in May 2009 when someone left an envelope at the Victoria court registry alleging jury tampering in what appeared to be a case that Zoraik had just lost.

According to court documents, police video later showed Zoraik "very close" to the envelope around the time it appeared. One of his fingerprints was found on the back of the envelope.

Malcolm Zoraik was convicted in 2010 of public mischief in relation to a bizarre incident in which he was accused of leaving a note alleging jury tampering. He pleaded not guilty.(Gregor Craigie/CBC)

But Zoraik pleaded not guilty and fought the case tooth and nail. A B.C. provincial court judge convicted him anyway.

No motive was proven, but the trial judge said he couldn't rule out finances or the "profound sense of injustice" Zoraik might have felt in a case where "a seven-year-old boy was struck by a car and suffered a very serious leg injury."

"Matters of the heart and of the mind do not follow rules of logic or reason," the judge wrote.

Zoraik was given an 18-month sentence. He served six months under house arrest and 12 months under curfew.

One of two choices: admit or deny

Zoraik came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia in 1984. He became a Canadian citizen in 1993 and was called to the bar in B.C. in 2001.

Two days after he was found guilty, he agreed not to practise law in B.C. ever again.

But like any other Canadian defendant, Zoraik's life didn't end with his conviction in 2010 or the loss of an appeal two years later. His life wasn't frozen in time at its lowest point.

Malcom Zoraik volunteers with Somali youth in the Toronto area to help them overcome the impact of violence.(Martin Trainor/CBC News)

He moved to Ontario and — after disclosing his past to the province's Law Society — began articling with a personal injury firm. His bosses went to bat for him.

And he started volunteering in the Somali community.

"A lot of our young people are dying through violence," he says. "I'm providing mentorship and guidance and leadership and counselling for the youth."

Zoraik's peers were ready to accept him.

But as the Law Society appeal tribunal's decision makes clear, the panel of lawyers deciding who should be admitted to Ontario's bar was much less forgiving.

They offered Zoraik a binary choice: "either to admit, or to deny, his criminal conduct."

Either way, he was expected to express remorse.

Zoraik chose to forge a third path, essentially saying he accepted the guilty verdict, suffered the consequences, but had nothing more to say about a painful episode that was — for him — done.

'I did it for him'

The original rejection referred more than 10 times to Zoraik's "failure to discuss" his conviction, saying at one point that "we received no explanation for this misconduct."

But the appeal tribunal found that the panel should not have drawn a link between Zoraik's unwillingness to delve into the past and his present good character.

And they noted the "illogical and unrealistic" expectation of remorse for misconduct that someone had denied committing.

"Mr. Zoraik has successfully rehabilitated himself in broader society to the point where his convictions can no longer reflect adversely on his character," the tribunal found.

"We therefore allow the appeal and declare that Mr. Zoraik is of present good character."

Zoraik says he's invited a handful of friends and family to witness his public redemption.

His 25-year-old son is flying out from Victoria.

"I did it for him," he says.

"That was why I was determined to undo this bad chapter in my life, so I would leave for him a better legacy."

About the Author

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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