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Law society revokes Garth Drabinsky's licence over fraud convictions

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TORONTO - Ontario's law society revoked Garth Drabinsky's licence Thursday, despite a plea from the disgraced theatre impresario that he retain it so he can "climb out of the abyss."

He and business partner Myron Gottlieb served several years in prison for a fraud that ultimately resulted in the demise of now-defunct Livent Inc. — the company behind such hits as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Ragtime."

Drabinsky, who was called to the bar in 1975, admitted to the Law Society of Upper Canada that his conduct was unbecoming of a licensee.

He hasn't actually practised law since 1981, but was still a member of the law society and a licensee. Drabinsky had already agreed not to practise law since his fraud convictions, and he argued that his self-imposed suspension and restrictions on his practice should suffice as punishment.

Drabinsky had argued for a retroactive three-year suspension as well as restricting his practice to the field of entertainment and media law, providing services only to other lawyers for five years, and not operating a trust account nor having signing authority over their bank accounts.

The law licence was "one of the few assets I have left in my life to be able to use in an effective way to climb out of the abyss that I have been in for these past 15 years," Drabinsky told the panel, referring to when his company went bankrupt.

The demise of the publicly traded company ultimately cost investors an estimated $500 million.

The law society found that his serious criminal offences mandated the penalty of revocation.

"Given that the lawyer was found to have orchestrated major frauds over many years, no penalty short of revocation is appropriate for a profession that depends on the ability of the public to have absolute trust in each licensee," the law society panel wrote in its decision.

Drabinsky filed letters of support from prominent entertainment industry figures, including Richard Stursberg, the former head of English services at CBC, and actor Albert Schultz, retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci and even a former prime minister.

Brian Mulroney wrote that Drabinsky was indispensable in securing U.S. President Ronald Reagan's endorsement of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement because the president was concerned about provisions dealing with the motion picture and entertainment industry.

The law society found that even though Drabinsky made "tremendous contributions to the entertainment industry," his offences are inconsistent with holding a licence to practice law.

Drabinsky is also fighting to reclaim the Order of Canada he lost while serving his prison sentence. He was released on day parole in 2013 and was granted full parole early this year.

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