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Retiring to law school

The power of persuasion lands a career law enforcement officer in Osgoode Hall. James Lowry is the subject of our Q&A this week.

James Lowry
James Lowry

As a police detective for 33 years, James Lowry was known for detailed case preparation and solid evidence presentation for significant cases, not to mention being assigned to the largest police corruption probe in Canadian history, catching an American fugitive and recovering $84,000 in proceeds of crime.

“I planned to retire, do a Master's degree in history and then work part time after retirement perhaps at a Park's Canada historic site”, says Lowry. But it took him only 20 minutes to decide to scratch the history masters and pursue law after a discussion with two encouraging DOJ prosecutors with whom he had worked alongside.

National: What prompted you to pursue a law degree after a long career in policing?

James Lowry: Honestly I had no desire to be a lawyer whatsoever having completed my undergraduate degree in criminology and history.

My last 6 years as a police officer I was assigned to the largest police corruption probe in Canadian history where I was the lead affiant and an investigator. One of the spin-offs from that case involved a police officer who was up on domestic related and gun charges. Circumstances had me executing a search warrant on his premises that resulted in additional drug charges.

This case required a tremendous amount of work and I was designated as the officer in charge. I worked with two brilliant DOJ prosecutors, one of whom is now a Superior Court Justice. One day I received a telephone call from them and they requested that I attend their offices. I thought it was about the case, not knowing what they had planned. They had agreed between the two of them that I had to be a lawyer and they told me that I was not going to "just" retire; I was going to law school.

I told them that they were nuts. Twenty minutes later they had me convinced. Here I am.

N: How has your knowledge of law enforcement helped you manoeuvre through law school and how do you expect it to help your future clients?

JL: I definitely have had an advantage when it comes to criminal law, especially since Osgoode Hall Law School allowed me to pursue and finish an LL.M. in Criminal Law and Procedure (without a degree at common law) prior to entering the University of Ottawa's JD program. Since most of my service on the Toronto Police was in investigative functions and in specialized squads I find it amusing that a number of cases I have studied actually have me in them. However, that is where it ends as any of the non-criminal courses I have studied have me on a level playing field with everyone else.

N: What path have you chosen: criminal defense lawyer or crown attorney?

JL: I will be doing criminal defense work and was absolutely ecstatic that I was hired for articles by Bueti Wasyliw Wiebe, the largest criminal firm in Manitoba. I knew prior to being interviewed that the lawyers in that firm were top notch and feel myself extremely fortunate to be starting a legal career with them.

N: Do you feel you there is something you’d like to accomplish as a lawyer that you couldn’t accomplish working in law enforcement?

JL: Definitely. When I went into Professional Standards (Internal Affairs) I had 27 years of police service and had my eyes opened. I couldn't believe the types of police misconduct I saw and the way supposedly high level cases were thrown together along with the various Charter and administrative breeches. I was also extremely disappointed with the conduct of some senior police managers in the way they tried to derail or manipulate a high level corruption probe. I spent six years seeing a very ugly side of policing and that, combined with my other experience, gives me a unique perspective and knowledge of how that side of the system can sometimes operate.

N: For example, in a court room setting or during discoveries, do you feel that having been an investigator will be to your advantage?

JL: I hope so. I had my first court appearance in 1976 and there were times that I was in court continually, almost every day of the week. I have had the advantage of being on cases with some pretty impressive lawyers, both Crown and defense and have been at the counsel table alongside pretty experienced Crown attorneys on some very high level cases. I recall during one moot in my criminal trial advocacy class the professor commenting on the advantage of my life skills (I guess I could emulate some of the talent that I had always been around).