Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal is allowed to keep practicing law while he awaits his criminal trial on allegations he defrauded more than $1-million to feed his frantic gambling addiction while in office.
The Law Society of Ontario postponed a disciplinary hearing against Grewal, agreeing to restrictions and monitoring of his activities as a lawyer until after his criminal charges of fraud and breach of trust are dealt with by the court.
Both the criminal charges and the professional disciplinary proceedings relate to Grewal’s activities while he was the member of parliament for Ontario’s Brampton East riding as well as a practicing lawyer.
Nader Hasan, a lawyer representing Grewal, asked for the postponement at a conduct hearing by the Law Society Tribunal Wednesday. He told the tribunal his client was struggling with a gambling addiction when he was receiving large loans.
“The root of what gave rise to this constellation of facts was a gambling problem. Mr. Grewal, since 2018, has been confronting this issue head on and sought medical treatment for the gambling issue,” Hasan said.
“There has been an unbroken chain, since virtually the first quarter of 2019 through to now, that Mr. Grewal is doing very well and that to the extent there was a gambling issue that issue is in remission.”
He hasn’t gambled at all since 2018, the tribunal was told.
Grewal was criminally charged by the RCMP in September 2020, with four counts of breach of trust and one count of fraud over $5,000.
Three breach of trust charges relate to the same loans under scrutiny by the Law Society of Ontario, as well as other loans that Grewal took from family and friends and subsequently repaid, the tribunal was told. The fourth breach of trust charge and the fraud charge relate to alleged financial dealings in Grewal’s constituency office.
Hasan said the law society did not have to worry about a public backlash if it delayed addressing Grewal’s responsibilities as a lawyer.
“This is certainly not a case where the public is clamouring for these proceedings to move forward,” Hasan said. “None of the alleged victims here complained about Mr. Grewal. They were all made whole and none of them complained either to the police or to the law society.”
The law society ordered a disciplinary hearing into Grewal, alleging professional misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.
The society alleges he used false pretences to obtain or borrow money from six people and a company from June 2016 to December 2017 in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 each.
Hasan said those weren’t the only people Grewal was borrowing money from while frantically gambling.
“There were many, many lenders. Far more than seven,” he said. He disputed that any of them were related to Grewal’s practice as a lawyer, however. While the law society has alleged one of the loans was from a corporation which was a client of Grewal’s, Hasan said the loan was really from a friend who owned the company.
Grewal was not at the tribunal hearing, which was held online due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“While my client would like nothing better than to move this matter forward expeditiously to a hearing in this forum, it is the proverbial rock and hard place because he can’t risk these proceedings overtaking the criminal proceedings, which there always is a risk in the disciplinary context,” Hasan said.
Tanus Rutherford, counsel for the law society, agreed to the adjournment.
“The conduct unbecoming or misconduct seems to have been prompted by a mental health issue for which the licensee is now seeking treatment,” Rutherford said.
While waiting for the disciplinary hearing, Grewal retains his law license and ability to work as a lawyer — but with a status of “practice restricted.” He agreed to extensive financial restrictions, reporting and monitoring by the law society, including retaining only one trust account and one general account for his law practice.
He entered into self-exclusion programs with provincial gambling authorities in Ontario and Quebec, promised to not borrow money directly or indirectly from any client except in accordance with law society regulations, and to abstain from gambling, both in person and online.
Hasan said Grewal’s criminal case is scheduled for eight weeks of hearings in October and November in Ottawa.
“We have taken the position that the Crown really shouldn’t be taking the matter to trial on a number of the charges,” he said. He hopes the scope of the Crown’s allegations can be “whittled down further” during pretrial discussions.
He suggested the law society hearing could likely proceed before the end of the year.
Grewal started work as a lawyer in 2014. He became a rookie MP for the Ontario riding of Brampton East in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in 2015 and continued working as a lawyer part-time.
He quit the Liberal caucus on Nov. 22, 2018, citing “personal and medical reasons.” He later admitted he was seeking treatment for a gambling addiction after racking up millions of dollars in personal debts playing high-stakes blackjack.
He remained in the House of Commons as an independent MP but did not seek re-election in 2019.
Since leaving politics he returned to his law practice full-time.
Tribunal chair Frederika Rotter said the panel was satisfied with the arrangements and protections of the public interest in place, and orally granted the postponement at the hearing.
Written reasons for the decision will be issued later.
The Law Society of Ontario regulates, licenses and disciplines lawyers and paralegals working in Ontario. The Law Society Tribunal is an independent adjudicative tribunal within the law society.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021