Firm's expertise, dedication and 'entrepreneurial spirit' made it a natural fit for esteemed lawyer
This article was produced in partnership with Conlin Bedard LLP.
When Jean Bédard was asked to join the powerhouse team at Conlin Bedard LLP, he had no hesitation in accepting the invitation. A top-ranked international trade law and procurement law firm, Conlin Bedard has been among the most active firms in Canada in trade and procurement litigation over the last decade.
“Few law firms in Canada have more than a handful of lawyers who do this work – sometimes no more than one or two. At Conlin Bedard, the whole team is highly capable and experienced in cases before the CITT and in providing strategic, business critical advice to their clients,” Bédard says. “They also have an entrepreneurial spirit, making it a natural fit for me.”
A respected adjudicator, Bédard was appointed as a member of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) in 2014 and served until 2021 as a full-time Member and Chairperson. Prior to his appointment to the CITT, Bédard practised corporate and commercial law with a focus on domestic and international franchising and was a Deputy Judge of the Small Claims Court of Ontario. Bédard is still active in public service and is currently a part-time member of Ontario’s Health Services Appeal and Review Board and Health Professions Appeal and Review Board. He is also a Qualified Arbitrator and is an Accredited Arbitrator by the Barreau du Québec, and will continue to develop his arbitration practice, providing services in both English and French, in his new role.
In his capacity as counsel at Conlin Bedard, Bédard will provide strategic advice to the firm’s existing clients on trade, procurement and public law matters as well as to his own set of Canadian and global clients. Bédard’s diverse experience as a business lawyer and CITT member gives him a unique perspective on Canadian procurement and trade law, as well as on Canada’s international trade law firms. The International Trade Bar being a small and collegial one, Bédard was afforded a front-row seat to Conlin Bedard’s lawyers in action, noting the firm has “a well-earned and well-deserved reputation” as one of the top tier law firms appearing regularly before the CITT - and the feeling was mutual.
“Jean was a highly respected and admired CITT member who was known as judicious, thoughtful and even handed,” Conlin Bedard partner Paul Conlin recalls. “We were sad to see him retire from the CITT – but we are very excited to have him join us at Conlin Bedard.”
As Bédard enters this new phase of his career, his expertise will serve him well. Transferring his diligence and perceptiveness to Conlin Bedard’s clients’ matters, Bédard looks forward to working with small and large manufacturers facing legal and strategic challenges in the areas of public law, government procurement, customs and dumped and subsidized imports. Presiding over trade remedy cases during his term as member and chair of the CITT provided him with insight into various Canadian industries and the impact they have on Canadian communities. Ensuring companies receive timely, efficient and equitable access to the legal remedies to which they are entitled was a key priority for him then and continues to be his main focus in his new role.
“Canada’s trade protections are available to the full range of producers in Canada, from agricultural products to complex manufactured goods like building envelope systems or power transformers,” Bédard says, adding that efficiency and certainty are hallmarks of Canada’s trade remedies system.
One of the CITT’s exceptional features is the speed at which the regime moves cases along: from the time a complaint is filed, preliminary duties can be in place on imports within 141 to no more than 186 days and if the complainant is successful, these duties can be final as early as day 261 or no later than day 306. This timeline is in stark contrast to civil or commercial litigation that drags on and often ends in settlement, Bédard says, because “parties to trade remedy cases know where they stand by the end of the proceeding.”
If a complaint is successful, duties are in place for an initial period of five years and can be renewed thereafter. These duties are highly effective at addressing unfair trade competition, with border taxes in some cases exceeding 100% and even 200%.
“In our increasingly globalized world, Canadian industries often find that they are suddenly facing imports at prices that are impossible to match, sometimes from countries that heavily subsidize their producers,” says Conlin. “A trade complaint is one of the few tools available for these industries to level the playing field and protect their future.”
Bédard is also watching with interest the development of changes to the trade remedy system that were recently announced in the Federal Budget. While currently the CITT must conduct a preliminary proceeding to decide whether a full review of the measure is warranted, the Federal Government is proposing to automatically initiate a review proceeding if requested by the domestic industry. The goal is to streamline the process for reviewing trade remedies approaching expiry, leading to less costly and more efficient proceedings for all parties. Canada will also create a Trade Remedy Counselling Unit, which Bédard calls welcome news.
“Providing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with a better access to trade remedies was a recurrent theme at the CITT’s advisory committee when I was the Chairperson of the Tribunal,” he says. “The importance of SMEs to the Canadian economy, and many peoples’ livelihoods, cannot be overemphasized. My hope is that the creation of this unit will provide them with better access to Canada’s trade remedy system.”
One of the unique features of Canada’s trade remedies regime is the business case for taking action. Preparing and proceeding with a complaint is an investment, however the return on that investment if the case is successful is often many-fold. Especially in price sensitive industries, an anti-dumping or countervailing measure can be the difference between thriving and seeing a Canadian industry shuttered, says Conlin.
“Our clients who use the system for the first time often wish they had discovered trade remedies sooner. Canadian manufacturing is competitive and dynamic, but no one can or should have to compete with unfairly traded goods that are often heavily subsidized by foreign governments.”
Conlin adds that the rate of success in trade actions over the past five years is further evidence that unfair trade is a real and pressing problem in Canada, and that Canada’s trade remedy tools are likely underutilized. Since 2005, approximately three-quarters of all new cases have been successful. While trade remedies cases are a big endeavour, “if the case is properly prepared and presented, there is a good chance of success – with the result that the Canadian manufacturer is able to realize meaningful market benefits for an initial term of five years with the possibility of renewals after that.”
For Bédard, the fundamental importance of trade rules for Canadian businesses and the Canadian economy motivated him in his former role and will continue to motivate him at Conlin Bedard.
“Canada is a trading nation: Canadian businesses rely on international trade rules, and trade remedies are a very important part of that framework,” he says. “I look forward to helping Canadian businesses understand and use these rules to achieve their objectives.”
Bédard also brings considerable expertise to Conlin Bedard’s procurement practice. Public procurement disputes are often complex, with tight timelines and high stakes, but having decided many such disputes over his career at the CITT, Bédard is uniquely situated to assess strengths and weaknesses and provide expert legal and strategic advice. Having seen Conlin Bedard as counsel in some of the highest value, most complex procurement disputes, he is looking forward to being part of their team and contributing to their reputation for sound counsel and fierce advocacy.
By partnering with Conlin Bedard, Bédard will have access to the firm’s deep expertise and resources in delivering legal services to clients – but he is also bringing with him the long-standing desire to hear from new members of the bar. Throughout his career, Bédard has appreciated up-and-coming voices and eagerly anticipates dedicating more time to mentorship. This dovetails with his forward-looking approach to his own practice, the continued success of the firm and the bar as a whole.
“Younger lawyers are the future of the International Trade Bar,” he says. “Having an opportunity to work with and mentor younger lawyers is a priority for me in this next stage of my career.”