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A life lived by the book

People of Collingwood: William McDowell, legal counsel for the town in the judicial inquiry into the 2012 sale of COLLUS Power
2018-06-23 McDowell JO-001
William McDowell. Contributed image

A Toronto lawyer will be making the trek up to Collingwood this summer to help the town untangle the confusing sale of a Collingwood utility.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we sat down with William McDowell, legal counsel for the town in the judicial inquiry into the 2012 sale of 50% of COLLUS to Powerstream.

Q: What drew you toward practising law in the first place? Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?

A: Law wasn’t my choice as a kid. I had a beloved grandfather and two uncles who were doctors, so naturally I wanted to follow them. Then one of my uncles sat me down and explained why he didn’t think this was the right ambition for me. In undergraduate at Queen’s, I began to become quite interested in law.

Q: Do you get to pick which cases you’ll work on? What draws you to certain cases over others?

A: My firm (Lenczner Slaght LLP) and I get approached to do all sorts of different cases. I do get to pick, but who takes an individual case depends very much on the skills required. For example, if I am approached to do an insolvency case, I will likely pass it to one of my partners. Similarly, if they are approached to take on a libel case, it will usually find its way to my desk.

Q: Your biography states that you’ve done a lot of work in libel and media law. Have there been any noteworthy cases?

A: Yes. In the past few years, I have gone to the Supreme Court of Canada a number of times as the law begins to grapple with libel, jurisdiction and the internet. These cases include Crookes v. Newton, Google v. Equustek and Goldhar v. Haaretz. You can Google them if you’re interested.

Q: You had a stint at the Canadian Associate Deputy Minister of Justice. Please describe your time there.

A: It was a fascinating time. I was only there for three years but I served under both the Martin and Harper governments. The contrast in the two approaches was very interesting. I spent a lot of time advising the Cabinet and Prime Minister(s), but also overseeing litigation involving the Federal government. I had a lot of involvement in national security issues, which were fascinating, but sometimes nerve-wracking.

Q: You’ve done a lot of work with aboriginal affairs and protests. What draws you to this kind of work?

A: The courts and governments have dramatically changed their approach to these issues. How we collectively deal with them forms an important part of the process of reconciliation with indigenous people in this country.

Q: You received a Department of Justice National Award for your work on the Maher Arar v. Canada case. How did it feel for your work to be recognized?

A: It was very satisfying to help resolve that case. Maher Arar was treated very badly, and neither he nor his family had any faith in Canada or its institutions. I was glad to be able to help bridge that trust gap.

Q: You have taught trial advocacy at Queen’s and Osgoode. What is trial advocacy, and why is it important?

A: Trial advocacy is a way of describing the bundle of skills that those who appear before courts and tribunals must have – for example, making arguments, examining or cross-examining witnesses and registering objections. It may seem obvious that advocates must have these skills; but it is remarkable how many don’t.

Q: What would you say are some of your biggest accomplishments, work-wise?

A: Time will tell. We litigation lawyers like to take ourselves awfully seriously. But, as was said of a famous English barrister, “Forensic oratory is written upon the sand.”

Q: Is there anything else you want people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I look forward to working with and for them.

For our new feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way. This feature will run on Collingwood Today every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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