06/21/2012 04:33 EDT | Updated 08/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Luka Magnotta Trial: Luc Leclair, Tory Lawyer, To Defend Man Accused Of Mailing Body Parts

MONTREAL - So who will defend Luka Rocco Magnotta — the man accused of mailing a severed foot to the Conservative Party of Canada?

Ironically, it will be a Conservative.

Toronto attorney Luc Leclair will lead the legal team representing Magnotta, who is accused of first-degree murder in the gruesome death of Montreal university student Jun Lin.

Leclair's client allegedly mailed Lin's body parts to different Canadian cities, including a foot to the Ottawa offices of the federal governing party. The package was opened up by a senior Conservative figure who was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2011 campaign manager.

Police also allege that the 29-year-old also mailed separate parcels containing Lin's hands and his other foot to two Vancouver schools and the federal Liberals.

As a result, Magnotta faces charges for distributing something obscene through the mail and for harassing Harper and MPs.

His lawyer, meanwhile, has described himself as a lifelong Tory voter who has been active in Conservative politics at every level.

A website supporting Leclair in his 2005 bid to win a seat on the Conservatives' national council outlined some of his political experience.

Leclair has worked on leadership campaigns for several prominent conservatives, as a regional organizer for northern Ontario.

He helped organize campaigns for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, in his successful bid for the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2003; Belinda Stronach, when she ran for the leadership of the new federal party and lost to Prime Minister Stephen Harper; and John Tory, when he won the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Leclair's councillor campaign website also includes endorsements from several Tories, including Nigel Wright, who now serves as Harper's chief or staff.

In December, he was appointed to the Office of the Commissioner of Review Tribunals for the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security.

The bilingual Leclair told the court Thursday that he's received special dispensation from the Quebec bar to represent Magnotta in the case.

The Conservative party could not immediately be reached Thursday for comment about Leclair. A PMO spokesman declined to weigh in, saying it was not a government matter.

One law expert said there's no legal or professional conflict with a lawyer, tied to the Tory party, defending a man accused of harassing its members.

Carissima Mathen, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Thursday that conflicts only arise for lawyers when they're acting for people after they've previously been associated with a side that now directly opposes their client.

Mathen also said conflicts can arise when a lawyer's been in a decision-making role in a trial.

"There may be a little bit of an optics issue, as some people think about this particular lawyer's political past and the specifics of this case," Mathen said.

"But I wouldn't personally see that as an issue."

She also indicated that the only person who could challenge Magnotta's choice, potentially, is Magnotta himself.

Down the road, in the case of an appeal following a conviction, she said it might be possible for Magnotta's appeal attorney to raise the issue.

"But it would be very difficult to succeed in that — I think that would be a very long shot," she said.

At the Montreal courthouse Thursday, Leclair addressed a horde of media following Magnotta's much-anticipated appearance.

Leclair, who did not take questions from journalists, gave a brief statement. He did not say why he was brought in from outside the province for the case.

"I have advised my Montreal colleagues... not to make any comments," said Leclair, who will represent Magnotta with two Quebec lawyers.

"Comments will be made and addressed to the judge in court."

He will defend Magnotta against two experienced Crown prosecutors who have fought high-profile cases — Louis Bouthillier and Helene Di Salvo.

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