An abiding belief in the system

An abiding belief in the system
There are many words to describe Donald Bayne, a member of the defence bar for some 43 years, but one of his associates has a choice few. “You would expect him to be incredibly intimidating but he’s not so at all,” says Meaghan Thomas, one of Bayne’s colleagues at Bayne Sellar Boxall LLP in Ottawa. “He’s a wonderful guy, incredibly approachable, and probably one of the happiest lawyers around. He’s got so much energy.”

Bayne, a former quarterback during his days at Queens University, prefers triathlons these days, but it’s his passion and enthusiasm for law that is tireless. “He has a love for criminal law that few people have,” says partner Rod Sellar. “He still loves doing it, even at the age that he is. He loves the challenge, he loves the court work, and when he’s in, he’s in. He has an unbelievable commitment to the case once he’s involved, and he may not have the same number of files that other people have, and when he has one, there’s no one that can spend more time on it.”

Bayne himself says he’s committed to criminal law because he really believes in it “I believe in legal, human, civil rights, and it’s where you get to have an impact on that daily,” he says. “Let’s be realistic — it’s where the action is. A lot of people become lawyers and never see the inside of a courtroom. It’s really where the advocacy action takes place.”

It is also his particular sense of the importance of the system, and ensuring a person gets the best defence possible, no matter how unpopular the accused may be. It’s why he’s defended the RCMP before the Arar inquiry, accused war criminals, and most recently, disgraced senator Mike Duffy. “It’s not only for the popular,” Bayne says of the criminal law procedures and the presumption of innocence. “Otherwise, you’re back into a privileged, elitist system where only the powerful and popular have rights.”

Beyond his passion for the law, one thing Bayne is particularly known for among his colleagues is his desire to teach and mentor, particularly the associates and articling students at the firm. “He takes the time to get to know each person individually and wants to know what you’re genuinely interested in and what you’re working on,” says Thomas. “No matter how trivial the matter is, as compared to what he’s doing, he’s sincerely interested in what I’m doing, why I’m doing it that way, and what my thinking is. That’s always been his perspective on it — that it’s as much about teaching as it is about having the associates there to assist, and that is permeated throughout Bayne Sellar Boxall’s history.”

Sellar notes Bayne takes a great satisfaction in explaining at length — stressing the at length — how to do it right and properly. “Sometimes you’ve heard the same lecture three times, and perhaps don’t want to hear it again, but years later you always remember what he’s told people,” says Sellar, who articled under Bayne 38 years ago. “He’s a great teacher.”

Bayne says his passion for teaching comes from his appreciation of young people, and notes he’s now a grandfather of seven. “The reality is you want to do what you do well, and you want to help other people be as good as they can be if they want to become criminal lawyers,” says Bayne. “It’s an honour to do it well, and the reality is too that a lot of younger people start out now, and there isn’t quite the amount of accessible mentoring there used to be in the profession. We’ve always had articling students, even though a lot of firms have dropped them. It’s something everybody in our firm believes in.”

Many of those articling students go on to prestigious careers. One such student was Dalton McGuinty, who later became Ontario premier. Others, like both Rod Sellar and Norm Boxall, became partners. In fact, only one member of the firm didn’t article there. “We’ve built the firm from within,” says Bayne. “That’s what I mean about having very good articling students. We’ve worked very hard at that too. We go through an interview process, we try to select the right people, we try to provide a good, healthy work environment. It’s a demanding profession. I think the actuaries say the trial lawyer has one of the shortest life spans, but we believe in a much more rounded life, and try to show that to people too.”

The people at the firm have described the atmosphere as familial, stemming from that shared history. “We are very good friends,” says Bayne. “We’ve never had a partnership agreement; we’ve never needed one. We get along extremely well, we’re close friends as well as respectful partners. My partners are much better lawyers than I am, and have talents that I just don’t have, so there’s much to respect in the other people.”

Within the firm, Bayne is notorious for his meticulous preparation for cases. “You can still find some of the old books around the library here at the office, with his original hand notes in the margins from the cases he’s read,” says Thomas. “He’s just so incredibly thorough and puts so much preparation into everything, I definitely wouldn’t want to ever go up against him.”

What do his opponents have to say about him? When asked, the Ottawa Crown’s office respectfully declined comment.

Looking forward, Bayne has no plans to slow down anytime soon. “You should know when it’s time to go — you should go out at the top of your game, but I’m not even thinking about that at this point,” says Bayne, noting his physical powers are not yet waning, and that life remains wonderful and varied. “I like the people with whom I work, and the other lawyers and judges in the profession. It’s a very noble profession.”

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