Borden Ladner Gervais LLP lawyers Daniel Urbas and Amélie Gouin are not criminal lawyers, but when they heard about the parents of Montreal student Jun Lin, who was killed and dismembered in the summer of 2012, they say they wanted to help them anyway.
On top of their unimaginable grief, the lawyers say they knew Lin’s parents, who are from China, must try to cope with cultural and linguistic barriers while trying to find answers within the Canadian justice system.
“We asked ourselves a simple question. Amélie and I asked, ‘If this type of thing happened to us while we were in a foreign country, what would we want someone to do?” Urbas says. “The answer obviously is anything and everything.”
“We knew enough as lawyers and regular citizens that the criminal process can be tough for victims and that there’s going to be a lot of legal questions for the family to answer and that’s the minimum that we could offer to do,” Urbas says.
So this week, when Lin’s father attended the trial for the accused Luka Magnotta, Gouin and Urbas, both commercial litigators, were there — answering questions through interpreters. Since approaching the family two years ago, the lawyers say they’ve helped them select evidence they need or don’t need to see, gotten them to and from the courtroom, assisted them in finding accommodation or just a nice restaurant where they could eat.
Although they’re not criminal lawyers, Gouin and Urbas say they’re “tenacious” and able to find answers to questions they’re unfamiliar with. But, “it soon became more about how to make this entire process a little bit more tolerable for the family,” Urbas says.
So far, they’ve had to explain the values underlying a criminal trial in Canada, including the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof on the Crown, and the role of the defence counsel.
“What they’ve noticed the most is the number of steps that are in the process to ensure that the prosecution gets to make its case, the defendant gets to make a robust defence, and the media has access,” Urbas adds. “So the open court system combined with the robust rules for defending the accused — they found this remarkable.”
At first, Lin’s family was reluctant about taking Urbas and Gouin’s offer. It took convincing them that it was a genuine pro bono offer, says Urbas, adding they were still “open-minded and trusting.”
Representing people who are going through terrible grief, something the two lawyers don’t have a lot of experience in, has been “humbling,” says Urbas.
“You have to sort of put aside your own reaction to the evidence and say, ‘If I were in that situation, what would I want to be done?’”
The lawyers say they wont speak about the issues in the trial or details about the family.
Magnotta, a Montreal porn actor and model, had admitted to the physical act of killing Lin and mailing his dismembered body parts to different addresses in Canada but he has pleaded not guilty. His defence counsel will argue his client is not criminally responsible because he suffers from mental illness.