The Top 25 Most Influential is not just about bright stars, big deals, or number of media mentions — although those may play a part. We have endeavoured to select lawyers who have been influential within the profession as well as Canadian society over the last 18 months. Closing a high-worth deal, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact beyond that particular business or industry. The Top 25 is about a level of respect, the ability to influence public opinion, and help shape the laws of this country; contribution to the strength and quality of legal services; and social and political influence and involvement. It can include regulators and politicians — although former Justice and Public Safety ministers Rob Nicholson and Vict Toews were shut out this year.
Once again, we split the list up into five areas of influence, changing them slightly from last year, and have chosen the top five in each of: corporate-commercial law; changemakers; criminal and human rights law; government, associations, and non-profits including public inquiries and officers of Parliament; and have brought back the in-house counsel category. Nominees were put in the category in which the individual exercised their influence in the time period.
A number of previous winners are back this year, such as B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman, Vancouver criminal lawyer Joseph Arvay, Osgoode Hall Law dean Lorne Sossin, and the University of Ottawa’s Michael Geist. This year’s list also sees a strong cohort of new movers and shakers including corruption expert Kristine Robidoux, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella, Quebec corruption inquiry chairwoman Justice France Charbonneau, incoming Canadian Bar Association president Fred Headon, and a group of highly respected changemakers.
Some of our winners proved to be quite controversial including Joe Groia, whose nomination one voter called “a travesty that cheapens this entire exercise.” However the majority of comments lauded his efforts in the battle with the Law Society of Upper Canada over civility in the courtroom. Echoing the sentiments of many, one voter noted: “His commitment to his clients and his beliefs is to be rewarded, not punished!” Ontario’s ombudsman André Marin is often criticized for his brash style but he received more positive comments on his nomination than any other candidate in the Top 25.
So without further ado, here are the 2013 Top 25 Most Influential. They are listed with the top vote getter in each category first, followed by the others in alphabetical order.
Disagree with the choices? Did we miss someone obvious? Post your feedback at below or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORPORATE- COMMERCIAL LAW
Partner, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, Calgary
Calgary lawyer Kristine Robidoux is a leading authority on corruption who specializes in helping businesses comply with anti-bribery and corruption laws, including the often-tricky business of operating in foreign jurisdictions. In 2011, she acted as defence counsel in the first prosecution under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. This year, as lead counsel representing Griffiths Energy, which was charged with bribing the Chadian ambassador to Canada, Robidoux oversaw the largest-ever settlement under the CFPOA, to the tune of more than $10 million. By advocating for a robust response to corruption allegations, complete with voluntary disclosures, and turning managers into what she calls “whistle blowers on their own company,” Robidoux has positioned herself as a go-to person for compliance with the CFPOA.
Her proactive approach to dealing with investigations, by trying to display good faith co-operation with authorities, has helped her clients mitigate the fallout from game-changing corruption charges.
What voters had to say: “I worked with Kris on an anti-corruption file over several months. It involved a forensic audit of over 75,000 e-mails and involved the discharge of three top executives due to bribery of elected officials in Africa. She knew her stuff. She worked tirelessly. She was responsive. Amazingly, she was fun and enthusiastic to work with throughout the file. Kris is one of the best lawyers that I have had the pleasure of working with.”
Partner, Stikeman Elliott, Toronto
Alan D’Silva is a veteran commercial litigator with 75 appeals under his belt, including eight appearances before the Supreme Court of Canada. Defending metal producer Timminco Ltd. against fraud allegations before the Ontario Court of Appeal last year, he helped set an important precedent barring plaintiffs from bringing secondary-market class action suits if they failed to get leave to appeal within three years. Experts say the decision could significantly reduce defendants’ exposure in class proceedings. Known also for his philanthropic work, D’Silva has created the Len and Maureen D’Silva Entrance Scholarship for financially disadvantaged law students at the University of Ottawa and is a strong proponent of pro bono work.
What voters had to say: “One of the smartest lawyers around. Well known for his civility in dealing with people.”
Professor, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law,
University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Ottawa
Michael Geist appeared in the Top 25 in 2012 and 2011 and continues to be a leading voice on technology law. A prolific author and blogger, his column on technology issues appears in the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen, and the BBC. Through his academic work and public outreach, Geist illuminates issues surrounding copyright law and the Internet. He was a leading critic of the embattled Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which was recently rejected by the European Parliament. Expect to hear more from Geist as the federal government seeks Canada’s compliance with the ACTA.
What voters had to say: “Communicates issues well.”
Principal, Groia & Co. PC, Toronto
Securities lawyer Joe Groia found himself at the centre of a debate about the limits on vigorous advocacy in the courtroom when the Law Society of Upper Canada slammed him with a whopping fine of nearly a quarter-million dollars for “uncivil” behaviour. Twelve years ago Groia successfully defended a Bre-X Minerals geologist against insider trading charges, but his conduct during the trial landed him in a prolonged battle with the LSUC. The legal profession remains split, with some applauding his temerity while others suggest he might have gone too far. Groia continues to speak out against the “civility movement,” and plans to appeal the law society’s finding. His case may well redefine the boundaries of acceptable behaviour inside a courtroom.
What voters had to say: “Even if he is found by some to go too far, we need fearless advocates who push and test the bounds that need pushing and testing. Frankly, most of us don’t have that courage.”
Founding partner, Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP, Toronto
Though pushing 70, Alan Lenczner doesn’t seem to be slowing down and is one of Canada’s top litigators. In May, he took on a case seeking to have a Canadian court enforce a $19-billion Ecuadorian judgment against multinational oil giant Chevron Corp. Recently Lenczner made his mark as the “man in Rob Ford’s corner,” as the Toronto Star dubbed him. He was the man who fought the Toronto mayor’s very public conflict of interest charges all the way to the Court of Appeal and was instrumental in helping Ford keep his job as leader of Canada’s largest city. He was named a commissioner of the Ontario Securities Commission this year.
What voters had to say: “From Conrad Black to Rob Ford, he’s been the go-to counsel for folks in big trouble for a very long time and never more than today.”
Chief Justice Robert Bauman
Chief Justice, British Columbia Court of Appeal, Vancouver
Chief Justice Robert Bauman has not been shy about warning of the threats facing the Canadian legal system. He became chief justice of British Columbia in mid-June following four years as chief justice of the Supreme Court of B.C. Since being named one of our most influential in 2012 for taking a strong stance on judicial independence, Bauman continues to be outspoken about problems of accessibility and accountability in the profession. Recently he highlighted his concerns in a speech before the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, where he received the 2013 Bench Award. While many talk about access to justice issues, Bauman shook up the legal community when he warned these problems could be “potentially fatal to our profession as we know it.” At the same time, Bauman praised national access to justice initiatives, and urged lawyers to embrace change. In April, he called on lawyers to: “Wake up to the realities of these challenges; speak up about our value and our critical relevance in the lives of ordinary Canadians; and shakeup our attitudes toward lawyering.”
What voters had to say: “Chief Justice Bauman is an unfailing advocate of access to justice and should be applauded for his willingness to take on the system from within in order to foment change.”
Treasurer, Law Society of Upper Canada, Ottawa
As treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, Tom Conway is overseeing a massive change in the profession, leading efforts to respond to the articling crisis in Ontario by proposing an alternative to articling through the introduction of the Law Practice Program. Now that the law society is accepting proposals for LPP pilot projects, Conway’s influence promises to reshape legal licensing in Ontario. He faced significant opposition to get it through and is now heralding further changes to legal training in the province. His leadership on this front will likely change the face of legal licensing across the country.
What voters had to say: “Tom has continued to push for change in his second term engaging with everyone from the law schools to sole practitioners to the national firms on law society issues.”
Chairman and chief executive officer,
McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Toronto
In a time of uncertainty in the legal profession, Marc-André Blanchard has been proactive in reimagining how big firms will deliver legal services in the future. Through his tenure as chairman and CEO of McCarthy Tétrault, he has introduced significant changes to the business of law. Under Blanchard, the firm was first to introduce legal project management to identify inefficiencies, make budgets more predictable, and increase value. He also helped establish a dedicated service delivery team that works to assess clients’ needs and creates staffing models using firm lawyers, in-house counsel, and third-party providers. He, too, has also made diversity a priority, and was recently given a Catalyst Canada Honours award for promotion of women in the profession.
What voters had to say: “Marc-André’s influence is creating a permanent shift in the way law firms operate and interact with clients and the public in Canada.”
Justice David M. Brown
Judge, Ontario Superior Court, Toronto
Justice David Brown has developed a reputation as much for his colourful delivery as for his outspoken judgments. Brown decried the court’s continued reliance on paper rather than an electronic document system as “scandalous.” He criticized the “motions culture” that sees lawyers preferring to bring complex motions rather than settle matters through a civil trial. For avoiding civil trials without good reason, Brown once likened counsel to a Dr. Seuss character who does not like “green eggs and ham.” In January, he issued injunctions to end railway blockades associated with the Idle No More protest movement. In the ruling, in which he scolded police for their passivity, Brown noted, “No person in Canada stands above or outside of the law.”
What voters had to say: “His tenacity and fearlessness in regard to trying to bring about change to our antiquated court system is to be commended.”
Dean, Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto
For the second year Lorne Sossin is one of our Top 25 Most Influential for his leadership in Canadian legal education. As dean of Osgoode Hall Law School since 2010, Sossin has been leading efforts at experiential education. With the Law Society of Upper Canada planning radical changes to legal licensing in Ontario, Sossin’s novel and creative approaches to legal education promise to play an important role in the profession in the coming years. He is the author of numerous books and articles, most recently as co-editor of Middle Income Access to Justice.
What voters had to say: “I do not understand how this leader in the profession does so much — truly an inspiration to the students at Osgoode.”
CRIMINAL LAW/HUMAN RIGHTS
Justice Rosalie Abella
Judge, Supreme Court of Canada, Ottawa
Since being appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, Justice Rosalie Abella has become known for her strong presence on the bench, particularly when pushing the limits of Canada’s human rights laws. Abella was the sole dissenter in the 2012 case of R. v. N.S., where she argued that requiring a witness to remove her niqab would effectively force her to choose between her religious beliefs and participating in the justice system. In her dissent, Abella likened the religious face coverings to those “who are unable to testify under ideal circumstances because of visual, oral, or aural impediments.” Abella has been setting a high bar for the profession since 1976 when, at the age of 29 and while pregnant, she became the first Jewish woman and the youngest Canadian to be made a judge. With reasonable accommodation issues at the forefront of Canadian society, Abella remains an incredibly influential figure in the profession.
What the panel had to say: “Justice Abella has always had and continues to have a deep commitment to human rights that influences the nation.”
Partner, Arvay Finlay
From the right to die, to aboriginal rights and civil liberties, Joseph Arvay seems to be at the centre of every legal story of significance in Canada. In 2012, Arvay argued a constitutional challenge to Canada’s sex worker laws before the Supreme Court of Canada. He worked with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to have assisted suicide decriminalized. He has fought to defend Insight, Vancouver’s safe-injection site, and the rights of children of sperm donors. Last fall, he was the Asper Centre’s inaugural constitutional-litigator-in-residence as well as a visiting clinical practitioner in residence at Osgoode Hall Law School. Arvay has been on the Top 25 for the past three years.
What the panel had to say: “Arvay never shies away from taking on divisive and socially controversial cases in his pursuit of civil liberties and human rights.”
Partner, Greenspan Humphrey Lavine, Toronto
Brian Greenspan continues to play a significant role in Canadian criminal law. Before the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Ryan, Greenspan helped redefine the scope of the defence of duress now available to all accused. He is also lead counsel for the Ontario Provincial Police Association in Schaeffer v. Wood, where the Supreme Court will determine whether the notes of a police officer under investigation should be vetted by a lawyer prior to being formally documented in police records. Greenspan also gave the speech at June’s call to the bar in Toronto, where he also received an honourary doctorate from the Law Society of Upper Canada. Greenspan appeared in the very first Top 25 in 2010.
What voters had to say: “Obviously, these brief statements do not do justice to Brian’s influence and power.”
Professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Ottawa
Joseph Magnet has long been one of Canada’s foremost constitutional scholars. In the past year, his work has paid off for some of Canada’s most disadvantaged and neglected minorities. In the landmark decision Daniels v. Canada, together with co-counsel Andrew Lokan — also a Top 25 nominee — Magnet persuaded the Federal Court that Métis and non-status Indians are indeed “Indians” according to the Constitution. Magnet has also been active advancing minority rights in East Africa. Since 2010, he has been working pro bono for the Afar people, a minority in northern Ethiopia, advising them on a series of constitutional and human rights issues.
What voters had to say: “Many of the most challenging aboriginal constitutional law cases end up on his desk because of his reputation for taking on tough cases.”
Associate professor, Ryerson University Department of Politics and Public Administration, Toronto
Pam Palmater is a Mi’kmaq lawyer whose family originates from the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick. As the chair in Indigenous Governance and academic director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson, she has had a huge impact on aboriginal governance issues. Following her unsuccessful race last year for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, Palmater took centre stage during the Idle No More protests that shook the leadership of AFN rival Shawn Atleo. By bringing her message to both the mainstream and social media, Palmater has been challenging Canadians to think seriously about aboriginal issues.
What voters had to say: “This is an honourable, brave woman who serves her people in the area of justice in an unjust society.”
Justice France Charbonneau
Chairwoman, Charbonneau Commission, Quebec
A decade ago, Justice France Charbonneau, then a Crown prosecutor with 23 years of trials under her belt, successfully took down the once elusive Hell’s Angels boss Maurice “Mom” Boucher, who is now serving a life sentence for the murder of two prison guards. Now her work as the head of the Charbonneau Commission, the public inquiry into allegations of widespread corruption in Quebec’s multibillion-dollar construction industry, could ultimately have an important impact on how business is conducted in the province, help prevent corruption in the awarding of public contracts, and limit undue influence of elected officials. The Charbonneau Commission has shaken up Quebec politics. Corruption allegations that surfaced at the commission led to Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay’s resignation, and to the arrest of 37 politicians, bureaucrats, and construction bosses, including former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt and Montreal interim mayor Michael Applebaum. By taking on some of Quebec’s toughest cases, Charbonneau has developed a reputation for being an even tougher presence on the bench.
What voters had to say: “No lawyer or judge is having as significant an impact on Canadian legal culture this year.”
Chairman, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Gatineau, Que.
Jean-Pierre Blais, a career public servant who has worked at the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Canadian Heritage, took over the CRTC at a time of significant change in the industry. In an ambitious set of proposals, Blais has laid out his view of a regulatory regime based on a convergence of public and private sector interests. In 2012, he released a three-year plan promising to “create, connect, and protect.” Recently Blais introduced the CRTC’s new wireless code, which includes some long-awaited regulations of cellular service providers. The code will require providers to stick to the terms of their contracts, limit the amortization period for cell phone contracts, and put caps on overcharges.
What voters had to say: “Making waves with a consumer focus as head of the CRTC.”
Partner, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Vancouver
As chairman of the British Columbia Justice Reform Initiative, Geoffrey Cowper was tasked with crafting a proposal to modernize the criminal justice system and help carry it into the 21st century. After incorporating input from over a hundred members of the justice system and the public, Cowper produced his report, “A Criminal Justice System for the 21st Century.” The B.C. Civil Liberties Association praised the report for laying a path for system-wide improvements to timeliness and accessibility. The resulting Justice Reform and Transparency Act, which received Royal assent in March, promises to fulfill key recommendations from Cowper’s report.
What the panel had to say: “Geoff Cowper has literally written the book on much-needed justice reform in B.C.”
Professor, Yogis & Keddy Chair in Human Rights Law,
Schulich School of Law, Halifax
Since several tragic cases in the news led the public to demand action to prevent cyberbullying, Wayne MacKay is increasingly looked to as an authoritative voice. As chairman of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Cyberbullying, MacKay produced a report in 2012, subtitled “There’s No App for That,” which has been cited by the Supreme Court and underpins recent anti-bullying legislative efforts. Since then MacKay has continued to campaign for a more robust response to the problem, calling on Nova Scotia’s newly appointed anti-bullying co-ordinator to spend less time collecting data and more time creating anti-bullying programs. He also suggested the province add a course on “digital citizenship” to school curriculums, and has advocated for making bullying a separate offence under the law.
What voters had to say: “Professor MacKay’s work on bullying could literally save young people’s lives. I can’t think of any more noble contribution from a legal scholar.”
Ombudsman, Province of Ontario, Toronto
As the person responsible for investigating complaints about Ontario government services, you would expect André Marin to have his hands full, and he does. Last year, Marin started looking into the issue of closed-door meetings in Ontario municipalities. He also launched an investigation into the lack of services for adults suffering from autism, and criticized the Ontario Provincial Police for failing to take action on post-traumatic stress disorder. Recently he’s been pushing to have his office granted oversight powers over the embattled air ambulance service ORNGE, and he has begun to address allegations of excessive use of force by correctional officers. In his annual report, he called the province to the mat for not following up on promised changes in a variety of sectors. Many Ontarians have come to see Marin as an honest and tenacious advocate who has been effective in pushing the boundaries to ensure they are treated fairly and their tax dollars are not wasted.
What voters had to say: “Holding those in power responsible and accountable, Marin is the voice of reason, logic, justice and of our society’s most marginalized citizens. Courageous, tenacious, principled, innovative.”
Assistant general counsel, Labour and Employment, Air Canada, Montreal
Fred Headon is changing dynamics as the first in-house lawyer to be elected president of the Canadian Bar Association, a position he’ll be assuming this month. Headon heads the in-house labour and employment law team at Air Canada and brings a unique perspective to the association, traditionally led by private practice lawyers. At the helm of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative, he is a leading voice in the push for changes to the profession given the new realities of today’s legal market. As corporate counsel, he will bring a certain sensitivity to the pressures and expectations of both private practitioners and their clients. “Lead the change, or be forced to follow,” he has said about the profession. “Change is happening. It may not be happening everywhere at once, and it may not affect everyone to the same degree, but to ignore it could very well be folly.”
What voters had to say: “Very much looking forward to Fred’s upcoming year as our CBA national president; his perspective transcends his in-house counsel world and there’s no doubt he will be an effective advocate for lawyers and the rule of law in 2013-14.
Executive vice president investments and chief counsel, Emergo Group of Companies, Calgary
Under Grant Borbridge’s leadership this past year, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, together with the Rotman School of Management, introduced a first-of-its-kind certification program for in-house counsel, which will be geared towards mid-level in-house lawyers who are aiming to become general counsel or business executives. In his day job, Borbridge is responsible for Emergo Group’s worldwide legal and compliance activities, a member of its Global Portfolio Investment Committee, and co-leader of its transactions team. He is also the current chairman of the Association of General Counsel of Alberta.
What the panel had to say: “Grant gives 150 per cent to everything he does.”
Group head, legal, compliance and anti money laundering, and general counsel, TD Bank Group, Toronto
Norie Campbell was appointed TD’s top legal counsel in April. She now leads a team of 60-some lawyers at Canada’s second-largest bank, at a time when TD is making serious inroads into the U.S. market. As a trailblazing woman in the in-house practice, Campbell has been named one of Canada’s “top 40 under 40” by a variety of influential publications. Her story will also appear in the upcoming book Breaking Through: Tales from the Top Canadian Women General Counsel, which highlights successful careers of Canadian women general counsel. She also participates in the Law Cabinet for United Way and is on the advisory board of the University of Toronto program on ethics in law and business.
What voters had to say: “Norie combines excellent legal skills with finely honed leadership talents. She enjoys the confidence of those she works with.”
General counsel and secretary to the board, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Toronto
Ken Fredeen is involved in a number of community and diversity initiatives. He is responsible for Deloitte’s corporate responsibility mandate, chairs the firm’s diversity and inclusion council, and sponsors the Deloitte LGBT people’s network. Under his leadership, Fredeen and his legal department were last year awarded the Canadian General Counsel Award for social responsibility. Fredeen was recently the chairman of the government’s Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, and he is an executive member and co-founder of Legal Leaders for Diversity, a group of more than 70 general counsel dedicated to supporting diversity. He was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012 for his community work.
What voters had to say: “Ken does an unbelievable amount of work for Legal Leaders for Diversity and is in many ways the engine of this group.”
Executive vice president, corporate development and strategy, and chief risk officer, Agrium Inc., Calgary
In her role at Agrium, Leslie O’Donoghue is responsible for handling several core areas of the agriculture giant’s business. She recently helped Agrium emerge victorious from a 10-month proxy battle with the hedge fund Jana Partners, Agrium’s largest shareholder. O’Donoghue helped prevent Jana from installing its own board members and breaking up the company. She established the Agrium Women’s Leadership Group, an organization created to provide mentoring, networking, and developmental opportunities for women within the company, and she is a member of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s leadership council.
What voters had to say: “What a terrific year Leslie has had . . . proxy battles are a TEST!”
This article prepared with the assistance of David Gruber.