A former Toronto city councillor, lawyer and immigration adjudicator who served seven months in jail for breach of trust and agreeing to accept benefit has been granted permission to surrender his licence to practise law and ordered to pay $5,000 in costs for the investigation against him.
In reasons released this week, Steve Graham Ellis, 56, was granted permission by the Law Society of Upper Canada’s disciplinary tribunal to surrender the licence rather than revocation due to the mitigating factor of his bipolar II disorder.
“We find, based on the medical evidence, that Mr. Ellis’ choices were affected by his bipolar II disorder,” wrote the tribunal panel, chaired by David Wright with Eva Krangle and Sandra Nishikawa rounding out the trio. “Given this, and how contrary his actions were to the core values of the legal profession, reassurance to the public requires that Mr. Ellis no longer practise law.
“His illness’ impact on his inhibitions and feeling of grandiosity are not sufficient to overcome the lack of integrity in the choices he made,” the tribunal wrote. “On the other hand, we find the circumstances sufficiently exceptional to justify granting Mr. Ellis permission to surrender his licence.”
“This is a recognition of the effects of his illness on his actions.”
In a high-profile matter that came to light in 2006, Ellis had been caught on videotape attempting to pressure a 25-year-old South Korean refugee claimant into having a sexual relationship with him in return for a favourable ruling through his role as an adjudicator in her case.
In a 2010 trial on the matter, the prosecution sought a three-year jail term but the trial judge found Ellis’ diagnosed psychiatric and medical condition to be a mitigating factor and handed him an 18-month sentence. He was ultimately released on early parole after serving seven months in 2014.
Ellis and his defence counsel, James Camp, argued the lawyer, who served on Toronto city council first in 1991 for Ward 9 and won re-election in 1994 before losing in 1997, was a man who was “spinning out of control” at the time due to his intense work schedule, inability to sleep and overall drive to succeed while suffering from a bipolar disorder and chaotic bouts of hypomania.
The government first appointed him to the refugee protection division in 2000 and reappointed him every two years until his removal in 2006 following the criminal charges.
Although Camp and Ellis declined to comment prior to posting time, during the disciplinary hearing, Ellis told the panel that in the time leading up to his offences, he was only getting a few hours of sleep each night. He was suffering from nightmares as he tried to lay the groundwork for a political career he hoped would lead to the mayor’s seat in Toronto and worked to be the most effective and productive refugee claim adjudicator in the country, he said. Two separate investigations of each refugee file Ellis had worked on found no other wrongdoing or breaches of his position.
“Looking back, I can see I was ill for a long time,” he said during his hearing, adding he was having an affair that was taking an emotional toll on him and was generally acting in a very impulsive way.
“I felt I had to be the number-one producer in Canada. I thought I could help people and make a difference in their lives. But I was constantly revved up. I was constantly in a whirlwind.”
The LSUC was asking for costs of $7,000, but in recognition of the financial difficulties he has faced since his release from prison, his cooperation during the investigation and the fact he would not be returning to practise, the tribunal set $5,000, payable over four years, as the cost award.
The LSUC, through its communications advisor Susan Tonkin says, “The decision of the hearing panel speaks for itself.”