Violence and Threats against Lawyers Practising in Vancouver, Canada

By Brown, Karen N.; MacAlister, David | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Violence and Threats against Lawyers Practising in Vancouver, Canada


Brown, Karen N., MacAlister, David, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


Introduction

Are lawyers becoming casualties of their profession? Violence, threats, and abuse against practising lawyers have been investigated with little, if any, frequency in Canada. Although some research does exist on this subject, no significant statistics have been compiled in Canada on the forces surrounding violent acts against legal practitioners. Much of the research in this vein has focused on violence against members of the judiciary. Sometimes such research also addresses violence against other courtroom personnel. It cannot be assumed that the phenomenon of violence against the judiciary is similar to that which prevails against lawyers. For example, the primary focus of studies on judiciary violence is the prevalence, severity, and location of the violence, in order to monitor, amend, or improve procedures and protocols for courthouse security. In addition, the dynamics of violence against judges may also be difficult to compare with violence perpetrated solely against lawyers. That is, although some of the tenets of violence may be similar, judiciary violence may be quite different and diverse, thereby leading to erroneous assumptions about violence against lawyers. Take, for instance, the location of judiciary violence. It can be assumed that a good percentage of incidents occur inside a courtroom (Calhoun 1998), whereas violent acts against lawyers likely vary in the number of occurrences, as well as the severity and location of incidents.

In both Canada and the United States, there is no established system for reporting threats or violence against lawyers to their respective professional associations--the Canadian Bar Association and the American Bar Association. If there were such a process, analysis of the phenomenon might be facilitated. Reports of violent or threatening incidents to the police are lost into the uniform crime-reporting system, which does not permit analysis of incidents based on the occupation of the victim. Since there are no statistics readily available to facilitate analysis of how insidious the problem may be, or to determine whether such violent incidents are on the rise (Brady 1998), researchers are left to collect their own data directly from those working in the legal profession.

Accordingly, using survey data from Vancouver, BC, and its surrounding suburbs, this research will address the extent to which lawyers are affected by threats and/or violence.

Nature of work-related violence

The terms workplace and work-related violence have varied meanings in the context of this article. In a manner consonant with that of Wynne, Clarkin, Cox, and Griffiths (1996), "work-related" violence is defined as "incidents where persons are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their work [italics added], involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being and health" (1).

Accordingly, there can be numerous differences between what is considered workplace and work-related violence. Workplace violence occurs usually when aggressive disputes take place between employers and employees, or contentious issues arise between personnel. Furthermore, although the construction of workplace often conjures images of predetermined physical locations where individuals usually work, it may not take into account "mobile or geographically diverse occupations" where workers are not fixed in one location but travel or move in diverse directions in the course of their occupation (Martino 2003: 886). Those with jobs that require them to travel while working may experience violence that does not occur in their immediate workplace, yet the violent incidents may still be work-related. Accordingly, lawyers may often practise law in various sites--from their business offices to courthouses or other government institutions, in or about which threatening or violent incidents may occur. For that reason, it is important to distinguish between workplace and work-related violence in relation to this topic, because it is imperative to understand that work-related violence pertaining to lawyers can encompass varied scenarios in numerous locations--that is, in or around courthouses or other judicial buildings, at or near their businesses or residences, on the street, and so forth. …

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