Criminal law and the hazards of the job: Gadhia

TORONTO – A criminal defence lawyer who once worked on one of the biggest marijuana cases in Canadian history has been identified as the man wounded in a shooting in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood.

Peter Schilling, who witnessed the attack Tuesday afternoon, says J. Randall Barrs was shot near his law office in the Yorkville neighbourhood.

The incident is now being investigated by Ontario’s police watchdog, which says it was called in because the gunman was shot by a plainclothes officer who intervened.

The 66-year-old lawyer, who is now in hospital recovering from gunshot wounds to his legs, says on his website that he has defended clients in several murder and drug cases.

In one high-profile case, Barrs represented farmers who ran a marijuana grow-op in a former Molson brewery in Barrie, Ont. – one of the largest such busts in the country to this day. The men were sentenced to two to five years behind bars.

Schilling, a surgical consultant whose office has been next to Barrs’ for more than two decades, says he watched the incident unfold through a second-floor window.

He says he saw a silver car drive up around 3:30 p.m., then a man got out and shot at the lawyer four or five times.

The consultant says Barrs was hit in the lower body, crumpled to the ground and then began crawling toward his office, leaving a trail of blood that remained on the driveway Wednesday.

Schilling says a man he believed to be an undercover police officer ran to the scene, drew his weapon and began shooting at the gunman, who was wearing a reflective construction vest and hard hat.

The Special Investigations Unit said plainclothes officers from nearby Halton Region were conducting surveillance in the area when a man opened fire on a lawyer who was leaving his office around 3:30 p.m.

The SIU says one of the officers shot the 51-year-old suspect, who is listed in serious condition in hospital after undergoing surgery.

The attack comes roughly a year after a lawyer in Winnipeg was seriously hurt in a letter bombing that police allege was orchestrated by her ex-husband.

Maria Mitousis lost her right hand in the July 2015 incident. Guido Amsel was charged with attempted murder after three letter bombs were sent to his former wife’s workplace and the offices of lawyers who had represented him and his wife in their divorce. He is set to face trial next year.

A former RCMP undercover narcotics agent turned lawyer, Paul Beaudry, was gunned down in his Montreal office by two assailants in 1991.

Months earlier, Sidney Leithman, a prominent Montreal defence lawyer, was killed as he was driving to work. Leithman had represented some of the city’s biggest mobsters and drug-smugglers in his 30-year career.

In 1985, another high-profile defence lawyer, Frank Shoofey, was killed with four shots to the head outside his downtown Montreal office. None of the Montreal cases have been solved.

Lawyer Oscar Fonseca was shot dead in a courtroom rampage in Toronto in 1982.

Kuldip Singh Samra had carried a .357 revolver into an Osgoode Hall hearing about a dispute over a temple election, ostensibly planning to shoot himself in protest. He opened fire instead, killing Fonseca and another person.

Samra was eventually convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

In an interview with, Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says there are disgruntled clients in every profession but criminal defence often attracts some challenging personalities who are in difficult situations.

“And so perhaps the odds are better to be attacked in criminal law,” she tells the online legal news service.

“It’s a lesson sometimes in civility and understanding that extra care and patience is required in this particular profession,” she says, stressing she is commenting generally and not on this case in particular.

“Losing your patience, being dismissive, being condescending or even simply promising more than you can deliver can set off a slew of emotions that clients can’t control.

Sometimes having too much information about a client in the criminal underworld is in and of itself a danger.“

Having said that, however, Gadhia says she has only once in her 20 years of practising felt concerned for her safety.

“Most of the time, clients are grateful for having you in their corner,” she says.

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