In conversation with George Leven, Dawson Creek's only criminal defence lawyer – Alaska Highway News

If you’ve ever found yourself in legal trouble in Dawson Creek, chances are you’ve met George Leven. 

Leven is the only full-time criminal defence attorney in the city, where he defends clients at trial and serves as duty counsel for accused people who don’t have money to hire a lawyer. 

He’s lived in Dawson Creek since 2013, and plans to spend the rest of his career here.  

“Once I got settled into the north, I really liked it and never had any reason to leave, nor will I,” said Leven. “I plan to stay here until the day I retire, and even after that.”

In addition to taking cases to trial, Leven serves as duty counsel—a publicly-funded defence attorney who helps people navigate the courts prior to trial.  That’s given him a unique perspective on the latest oil downturn.

You’re always dealing with people at their worst. Very few people who come into my office are happy to be there. It’s a matter of doing damage control and doing the best that you can for them. 

“When the economy gets bad, the crime seems to change,” he said. “It’s not the working person any more. It’s the desperate person that’s in trouble.” 

Leven grew up in a German-speaking family in the Okanagan, before leaving to study law at the University of Alberta. He was called to the bar in 1995 after articling at a law firm in Prince George—a city where he stayed until moving to Dawson Creek in 2013. 

Leven sat down with the Dawson Creek Mirror last month to talk about his toughest cases, and why he plans to stay in the north for good. 

So how does the boom and bust cycle impact a criminal defence lawyer? Are things slow for you now?

It impacts everybody. As a lawyer, you don’t get less busy when the economy slows down, but the type of work you do changes a lot. A couple of years ago, I was practically too busy to do certain types of work—for example, it was hard to fit a lot of duty counsel in my schedule. 

That changes a lot with the economy. A lot of people don’t have the money they used to have to pay a lawyer. Once they’re out of a job, they no longer have funds, and they start to gravitate to legal aid assistance. 

There are cases that you think back on all the time. They never leave you. That might be a result of the type of person your client was, it might be as a result of things they’ve allegedly done, what kind of results you get in court, and whether you agree with those results or not. 

The other thing is the types of crimes tend to change. When you have a lot of people working, there tends to be more driving offences, more simple types of drug offences. When the economy gets bad, the crime seems to change. It’s not the working person any more. It’s the desperate person that’s in trouble. 

There were a lot of people here from other provinces, and a lot of those people have returned home now. The oilpatch obviously has dried up and the transient nature of a lot of the workers has led to them going back home. That’s not unusual, and I continue to represent people at a distance. As long as we can be in touch, I can handle everything here, and they’ll probably eventually return for their trial date, which could be months down the road. 

I’m guessing you’re unique in that you’re practicing law and have spent most of your career in Northern B.C. Is that a fair assumption? 

I grew up in the Okanagan, and I knew I wanted to return to the Interior of B.C. I’m not much for big cities. Once I got settled into the north I really liked it and never had any reason to leave, nor will I. I plan to stay here until the day I retire, and even after that. 

I like the outdoors, and the appeal of the north and the community is that I fit in well here. And most people that live here have very similar interests. I’m able to relate to the majority of my clients. It’s not a facade, it’s who I am, and I want people to know that. 

What’s the difference between practicing law in the north versus, say, working for a massive firm in Vancouver? 

You don’t get the exposure down south you get up here. I had a criminal law professor that said ‘if you want experience quickly, go up north.’ And nothing could be more accurate. You come up here and you’re faced with everything. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You wake up one morning, you go to court, and there could be just anything there for you to deal with. I have lots of friends in larger communities, and a lot of them are doing desk work after a ten-year stint as a lawyer. You work your way up a lot quicker here. 

Are there cases you’ve worked that are especially memorable? 

I won’t give any examples, but of course. There are cases that you think back on all the time. They never leave you. That might be a result of the type of person your client was, it might be as a result of things they’ve allegedly done, what kind of results you get in court, and whether you agree with those results or not. 

Some of the difficult cases are cases where you think there wasn’t a right decision. Those tend to live with you. You question if you’ve done everything you could have done. There are many of those. 

Law seems like a line of work where you’re always seeing people on the worst days of their lives. How do you deal with that?

You’re always dealing with people at their worst. Very few people who come into my office are happy to be there. It’s a matter of doing damage control and doing the best that you can for them. 

So why practice criminal law in the first place? 

I have an interest in people, I don’t have an interest in paperwork. And lawyers that do paperwork will tell you it’s more than that, but for me, nothing is worse than sitting behind a desk all day. This gets me out, and I find the human aspect of it fascinating, whether you’re dealing with the client, the accused, or Crown counsel or the probation officer or the judge. You’re dealing with human beings all day long and you’re dealing with all the complexities of human beings. 

reporter@dcdn.ca 

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