Operating though just two offices in eastern Canada, in Toronto and Montréal, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg boasts a presence in both the Ontario and Québec litigation markets rivaling that of any of its larger and/or national-level peers. "Davies remains solid and strong all across the board," observes a competitor. "We see them all the time and, what's more, they are known as a group that is ready, willing and able to try cases. More than others, they have a reputation as having successfully crafted a team that is multi-generational and trial-ready." Clients have provided particularly detailed and enthusiastic feedback; "Davies is extraordinary in litigation and disputes. Without exception, they are the leaders in this area. I have worked with several Bay Street and boutique litigation groups and the team at Davies is head and shoulders above the others that we have worked with from an ability perspective as well as a cost management/cost perspective. Our approach is to use the very best litigators available, and Davies fits that bill."
In Toronto, Kent Thomson is viewed, nearly unanimously, as not only the most active and visible litigator within the firm, but also within the province. Thomson generates a pronounced level of client appreciation; one raves, "Kent was involved in providing strategic direction for us and also took primary carriage of one of the litigation matters when it went to trial. I can't think of anyone better suited for this." Another concurs, "His courtroom advocacy is without peer, his written work is precise and sharp, and he has an incomparable sense of finding the winning argument. He's just the best in the business." Peers are not short on praise either; one confirms, "Kent is a force of nature, among the hardest working senior counsel I've come across, and it shows. He's bright, committed and every ounce a trial lawyer." Thomson has a leading role as co-counsel for General Motors of Canada in a class action brought on behalf of GM automotive dealers that were discontinued as part of the client's restructuring arising out of the 2008 economic crisis. The plaintiff has claimed, on behalf of the class, damages of $750 million for alleged breaches of contractual duties, the statutory duty of fair dealing and the statutory right to associate. Thomson is also acting for Barrick Gold Corporation and certain of its former and existing officers and directors in relation to multi-jurisdictional class actions alleging breaches of the public disclosure requirements under the Ontario Securities Act. Acting with Thomson on the Barrick matter is Luis Sarabia, who is addressed by a client as "a very talented litigator. He has great skill in walking us through the highly unusual factual scenarios we find ourselves in. He is also very responsive and strong in client service." Sarabia, along with James Doris and Matthew Milne-Smith, is also acting as Canadian co-counsel to the Joint Administrators of Nortel Networks UK Limited and certain other Nortel companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa that are currently engaged in litigation with the Canadian Nortel Debtors and the US Nortel Debtors. Milne-Smith in particular has been widely cheered for his role in this matter by peers; one in particular offers, "Matthew is very bright, very polished and credible in court. He really impressed me on [the] Nortel [file]." A client concurs, "Matthew is sharp, well organized and thoughtful about the litigation matter. His written and oral advocacies are very high quality. I would rank him on the higher end of the outside litigation counsel that I've dealt with." Sandra Forbes, who is identified by a client as "among the first rank of litigators in the Canadian competition bar," is lead counsel for the Canadian Real Estate Association, an intervenor, in a rehearing before the Competition Tribunal and an appeal before the Federal Court of Appeal, which was heard in December 2016 and the decision is under reserve. This case will be the first time the Court will decide the appropriate test for a substantial lessening of competition in an abuse of dominance case. Forbes is also lead counsel for Denso, one of the main defendants in the multiple and national auto parts price-fixing class actions, which will determine some of the unresolved issues arising out of the Supreme Court of Canada 2013 trilogy on the test for certification of price fixing class actions. Forbes is also senior counsel for the audit committee of Deloitte, the members of which are third parties in this case scheduled for trial in September 2017. The issue is whether Deloitte was negligent in respect of financial statements for the company and, if yes, whether the third parties are liable for contribution and indemnity. At the future star level, Derek Ricci lends credence to the observation of the firm's generational bench strength. A commercial litigator with a practice that spans securities, mining and product liability elements, Ricci is commended by a client as "imaginative, resourceful, hard-working and terrific to work with. Derek is an exceptional lawyer whose wisdom, judgment and tactical advice is far beyond his years."
Like its Toronto counterpart, the Montréal office houses a relatively lean team of litigators that regularly come recommended as some of the "best in class," particularly for practices containing corporate, class action, competition, insolvency, securities or criminal and regulatory elements. One peer notes, "They don't do it all, and they don't claim to. What they do is the premium commercial work, and they do it extremely well." Beyond civil work, the firm is said to be "pioneers in the criminal litigation world. Other firms claim to do this work, but they are improvising, and it shows. Davies is the firm that stands out as having the seasoned pros."
Perhaps no one fits the "seasoned pro" title better than Guy Du Pont, a "classic litigator," who is revered as "equally at home in the criminal litigation element, the straight commercial world and, increasingly, the hybrid of family and commercial work." On the other end of the spectrum, Marc-André Boutin is (along with Du Pont) working on an estate litigation concerning the promise between two brothers regarding the transfer of a share investment valued at $100 million that was allegedly made in the 1970s. Boutin also represents a publicly traded Italian company in a $120 million contract dispute with Bombardier, lending credence to the peer observation that "Davies is one of the only mavericks in Montreal that would dare act against Bombardier – most other firms in the city won't touch that work!" A peer champions Boutin as "an excellent litigation lawyer, with particular ability to follow up on the client needs in terms of understanding the business expectations and representing them vis-à-vis the courts and our counterparts."
Cara Cameron sees her profile steadily rising on the strength of her balance of white-collar crime and commercial files. Cameron represented Cast Steel Products, who sued one of its independent sales contractors and certain third parties for having illegally appropriated and made use of confidential commercially sensitive information concerning the client's business and clients. In December, 2015, the Québec Superior Court issued an order effectively enjoining the defendants from competing with the client. A client raves, "Cara has also been tremendous in understanding the cost benefit to our company throughout the process by handling negotiations and potential settlements. She prepped us for the cross examinations and handled the examinations of the defendants with great skill advancing our claim and case along very well." Louis-Martin O'Neill, who is increasingly cheered by peers as "really the golden boy at Davies right now," represented IOU Financial in connection with its response to an unsolicited partial takeover bid, including in injunctive proceedings. The litigation was ultimately settled shortly before the court hearing, with pursuing party agreeing to suspend its takeover bid for 100 days from the date of its announcement to allow IOU to pursue alternative proposals. Nick Rodrigo, heralded as "the kingpin for class actions in that office," is praised for having an active hand in a variety of matters for a diverse basket of clients including Sears Canada, Morgan Stanley and Barrick Gold. Insolvency specialist Denis Ferland represents Hale Capital in an enforcement of lender's rights and sale of assets, through court process and proceedings. He also represents HSBC Bank Canada in the restructuring of Homburg, securing the bank's position on many loans. Stéphane Eljarrat mines a unique niche that straddles tax and regulatory/white-collar criminal law, and he enjoys a pronounced spike in profile on the strength of both. Also acting in the white-collar space is Jean-Philippe Groleau, who also acts in the class action capacity, along with Rodrigo, on several of actions against retailers. On his own, Groleau is lead counsel for the Association Québécoise des Pharmaciens Propriétaires in an unprecedented dispute against the Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux, Québec's ministry of health. Groleau is also acting as lead counsel for the City of Lévis, the defendant in a $60 million class action and other related actions concerning property damages to homes in a new residential area. The damage was incurred as a result of soil that was allegedly unfit for supporting the homes' construction.
Not content with being the dominant firm in Saskatchewan, the former MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman firm recently initiated an ambitious expansion plan that has proven markedly successful. The firm made its first move into Alberta in 2015, managing to attract key partners from other shops to its burgeoning Calgary and Edmonton offices. Then, in January 2017, it scored a major coup when it combined with Aikins MacAulay & Thorvaldson, the largest firm in Manitoba, securing it a formidable position in the Winnipeg market as well. The combined entity, rebranded MLT Aikins, earns plaudits not only for its collective bench strength but also for its sheer pluck. Beyond its now indisputable presence as a Prairies powerhouse, it is poised to be a serious competitor in the market covering all of western Canada. "Talk about bold, it looks like MLT Aikins is vying to become nothing short of a full-on regional contender," marvels one peer. "And they may just make that happen! They're now the biggest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they're in Calgary, and there have even been rumors of them eyeing the Vancouver market." A client cheers the firm with the praise, "The key to MLT's litigation team that we work with is that they are concerned about delivering value as well as world-class legal advice. The lead litigator will limit their involvement with the file as necessary in order to ensure value is delivered."
In Saskatchewan, where the firm has offices in Regina and Saskatoon, MLT Aikins attends to all manner of litigation including commercial contract disputes, mass tort actions, intellectual property claims, tax litigation, banking, construction and property claims, and insurance-related litigation including personal injury, professional liability, property, casualty and subrogated claims. The firm is also noted for its status as a go-to for appeals. In this capacity, Regina star litigator and arguably the firm's most visible partner Robert Leurer recently handled an appeal on behalf of Zurich Insurance in what is, according to peers, "the largest bad faith claim in Canadian history for a private disability claim involving a miner who was injured on the job site. The judge felt he was wronged by the insurance company." Leurer was retained on appeal, with the court's decision being rendered in June 2015. According to a peer, "MLT did not run the trial – that was run by an out-of-province counsel, who got whacked." Leurer also acted as lead counsel for the plaintiff in an important constitutional case, the trial of which began in November 2015 and concluded in July 2016. The case, presently under reserve, deals with Canada's constitutional allowance for the establishment and government funding for separate schools on behalf of Catholic and Protestant minorities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario. In particular, the decision in the case should ultimately determine such issues as whether the government can provide funding for the attendance of children who are not of the minority faith on whose behalf separate schools are established. Leurer is also noted for a robust class actions capacity that has earned the acknowledgment and acclaim of fellow class-action practitioners nationwide. "Robert is great, if I had to pick a class action figurehead in Saskatchewan, he's the guy," says a Toronto partner, while a Vancouver peer calls him "a go-to, high-quality lawyer." Leurer's practice is largely composed of class actions in the consumer products arena, and he recently triumphed for Saskatchewan Power Corporation when he obtained summary judgment striking the plaintiff's claim and application to certify a class action claiming that the defendant overcharged bulk-metered service locations. Peer recognition is also strong for fellow Regina partner Maurice Laprairie, who has extensive trial and appellate litigation experience. His practice includes defense litigation, class actions, insurance subrogation claims, construction litigation, labor and civil arbitrations, injunction applications, personal injury claims, and professional negligence actions. "I regard Maurice as preeminent," offers a peer. "He spent the last couple of years on very confidential dispute, incredibly successful in true bet-the-company litigation in Alberta."
In the firm's Saskatoon outpost, Douglas Hodson is identified as "their main litigator, who does a lot of inquiry work." Peers note, "A good chunk of his work is done outside of Saskatchewan." To this end, Hodson took a case to the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2015 regarding the validity of regulations of rail. Hodson acted for national railway CNR in a matter in which grain farmers sued for $1 billion, claiming that railways had overcharged farmers, initially going back to 1983. Shaunt Parthev has kept especially busy, representing Saskatchewan Medical Association on a proposed class action seeking additional compensation for certain physicians under the Medicare regime established by The Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act. Parthev also represents the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on an application to strike the plaintiffs' statement of claim and dismiss the action in which the plaintiffs were seeking nearly $15 million as a result of the alleged negligence, abuse of office, and intimidation of the Commission said to arise out of the Commission's receipt of a sexual harassment complaint filed against the plaintiffs. Recognition is also strong for Saskatoon partner Kurt Wintermute, who is "very busy with these quirky tax litigation cases that very few others in this region have an appetite for. Leah Schatz was lead counsel representing the intervenor Health Regions in a case concerning a constitutional infringement. Schatz was also lead counsel in a case concerning the right of an employee to pursue an Occupational Health and Safety complaint after signing a full and final release concerning matters related to her employment at the Saskatoon Convalescent Home, Schatz's client. Insolvency specialist Jeffrey Lee represents companies in financial distress, lenders and court officers in restructuring and insolvency proceedings across Western Canada.
Established in 1879, the Winnipeg office of MLT Aikins, under its former moniker of Aikins, is the oldest law firm in Manitoba. "Aikins is most likely the firm you've already heard about before," opines a peer. The firm offers clients a diverse spectrum of legal services, but it is in litigation that the firm perhaps sees its greatest strength and depth; over a third of its lawyers attend to litigation, with 36 practitioners fulfilling this capacity. A competitor confirms, "Aikins tends to attract the biggest commercial work." Additionally, the firm is noted for its work for the Canadian Medical Protective Association.
Senior counsel Thor Hansell is a frequent recipient of praise. Hansell has extensive experience defending physicians and other professionals and regularly is involved in actions for and against brokers and brokerage firms, securities-related litigation, and commercial and tax litigation. He is rated by peers as "one of the best in town. He doesn't have that disease of 'folding the file up' when it gets shakey." Jonathan Kroft is cheered by a client, who testifies, "Jonathan is working with us on a matter, and from what I've witnessed he's got external and internal experience, he's practical and responsive. He's quite well known in general litigation." Kroft is lead counsel for Manitoba Telecom Services in seeking approval of a plan of arrangement facilitating a sale to BCE. Civil and commercial litigator Ted Bock, currently the president of the Law Society of Manitoba, is also respected by peers, one of whom states, "I think very highly of him and refer work to him periodically if my firm is in conflicts, which is always a pretty good testament. He is a gentleman and one of the best speakers I've heard." Another testifies, "I recently finished an 11-day trial in which Ted was on the other side. He was absolutely excellent! [He was] Also very civil and a treat to work with and against, and I would put him right up there with the best litigator in [that] firm."