Gowling WLG, an international law firm with offices across Canada, has launched a practice group of 34 lawyers who are working with clients in Northern Canada. This group, Canada North, is working in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and northern regions of other provinces.
“We’ve always done, as a firm, work in the North,” says Harry Dahme, a partner in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office. Dahme created the Canada North group, but he credits the arrival of another partner in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office, Adam Chamberlain, for energizing the team and helping them all to realize this “tremendous” opportunity. Chamberlain is the former leader of Team North at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto.
“The interesting thing about our practice is that, in the North, there are very different types of clients so at times we’re working for governments, at times we work for indigenous organizations and at other times private sector entities,” says Chamberlain. “A big part of what we do is work with helping them through regulatory processes. I’ve done work with mining companies in the North quarries and I’ve also done similar work in Nunavut, dealing with the Impact Review Board and the land and water boards.”
The regulatory processes Chamberlain refers to are a part of a northern system that businesses and institutions must navigate through to get their projects approved. On April 1, 2014, the Northwest Territories became the second territory, after Yukon in 2003, to assume responsibility for their land and water resources as outlined in the Northwest Territories Devolution Act. This act meant that the N.W.T. would be regulating their own resources, but it also meant the merging of four regional land and water boards into one larger board: The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board.
“Devolution is still fairly recent to the N.W.T. . . . I think the regulatory process is unfolding and developing and that the bodies themselves are still in relatively early stages of getting things moving,” says Chamberlain. “I don’t know if business would say that they’ve experienced huge changes in the N.W.T in particular. I think that the hope is that in time as regulatory processes become more established that they will be feeling much better about how we can get through these processes.”
Lawyers in the Canada North group work on North-related projects and cases, in addition to their other areas of practice, and while there are a few other North-focused practice groups, Dahme says that Canada North is different because of its range.
“What we have is the geographic scope,” he says. “We do more work across the North and we do a greater variety of work. We work with a complete range of groups: government, indigenous and business, and the idea is that we understand what’s important to each one of those groups and we really deliver the services in a way that leads to success,” Dahme says.
Dahme says the delivery of legal services in the north can often look very different than in the south. “There are differences in everything from organizing a meeting to the way in which the meeting is held.
“There’s the need to consult extensively, the need to accommodate, and it’s something that many [clients] really have difficulty understanding,” he says. “Where they really need guidance is on how to do that effectively in order to get the projects approved.”