Lawyer’s bold courtroom exploits made him a legend in his own time
Legendary Crown prosecutor Brian Purdy wanted me to drop over to his home for a beer and to discuss one of the most complex trials in Canadian history.
But when Purdy, now retired from the legal world, said the disclosure papers he agreed to give to the defence in Regina Vs. Joseph Biasi et al numbered 100,000 pages even I blanched.
Hey, I told this larger-than-life character, I get to write precisely just 80 lines a column, never 81, and not even 79.
In “Hour disrespect” (July 31) I wrote to how Purdy, who also won considerable fame as a defence lawyer, bemoaned the current lack of respect for the legal profession, suggesting too much emphasis on ‘billable hours’ and profit rather than public service is to blame.
Purdy surely is larger-than-life and flamboyant—throughout his 10 years in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, he travelled extensively with the court, by small plane, often in harsh weather, to every community in the two territories.
Yes, friends, someone should write a book about this man.
Anyway, describing Purdy as being “legendary” in legal circles was no exaggeration.
He prosecuted the narcotics case of Regina vs. Joseph Biasi, which became the longest jury trial in western Canadian history involving 29 accused, 27 defence lawyers and lasting 13 months.
Appeals against convictions to the Supreme Court, which Purdy also handled, took a further three years.
The case stemmed from Royal Canadian Mounted Police suspicions the Mafia in Toronto and Montreal were planning to expand into Vancouver.
Months of undercover police work went into the operation zeroing in on whether money was flowing to Vancouver and heroin back to Toronto.
Some 500 men and women were sifted through as potential jurors for the 12 needed for the complex trial.
At the conclusion, 18 of the defendants were found guilty, including kingpins Joseph Biasi, who received 20 years imprisonment, and Carlo Gallo who was sentenced to life.
Gallo had been held in custody without bail but somehow managed to abscond, and was sentenced in absentia.
On the run, he didn’t enjoy being a fugitive and later gave himself up, anticipating an appeal would free him.
Foolishly, he hadn’t counted on Purdy’s determination.
The Biasi case set legal precedents but let’s note Purdy’s claim to fame isn’t only as a hard-nosed prosecutor.
The highlight of his career in Yellowknife was his handling of the appeals of Joseph Drybones, who was charged with being an Indian intoxicated off a reserve.
Purdy took three appeals, through to the Supreme Court of Canada all successfully, on the grounds the charge was discriminatory because of race.
The case remains to this day the only one in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a federal law was inoperative because it was contrary to John Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights.
This tough-minded man actually has a heart of gold when it comes to a question of what is right and what is wrong.
Now, Brian knows I’m a fellow of strong Conservatives convictions—even a member of Republicans Abroad, being a supporter of the likes of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush—so in one of our chats I asked why there has been a breakdown in respect for the law and authority in recent years.
His answer: It stems back to the 1960s and the hippie generation when drugs were looked on by the so-called flower children as a way of expanding your horizons, liberated sex promised finding true love, and dropping out of getting an education was supposedly a way of finding yourself.
“Let’s reject society’s standards, let’s be anarchistic—but let’s also make sure we can get social welfare paid by those who do work for a living. That was the philosophy.”
You likely recall those self-indulgent, hypocritical times when a lack of responsibility was seen by many as being a virtue.
Well, as Purdy explained, many of those people are now in positions of influence—some as school teachers, some in universities, some as civil rights lawyers, some sitting on boards and commissions, or in the CBC—where they can influence minds or decisions relating to authority.
While many of us in the mainstream are uncomfortable with what’s been going on, we haven’t known how to counter it.
Purdy believes a cleansing against this rampant liberalism—nihilism, I call it—won’t come until those now in authority are eased out by age and retirement.
That’s a pretty bleak assessment but it comes from a man whose perceptive eyes are wide open.