Ontario’s best lawyers in Aboriginal law in 2021

Here are Ontario’s best lawyers in field of Aboriginal law based on Lexpert’s latest peer survey
Ontario’s best lawyers in Aboriginal law in 2021

These are Ontario’s best lawyers in field of Aboriginal law based on Lexpert’s extensive yearly peer survey. The full roster of the province’s most recommended lawyers and law firms in Indigenous law practice can be viewed on our latest practice area rankings.

In our survey, Aboriginal law encompasses Indigenous, Métis and Inuit treaty and other legal rights. The practice includes comprehensive and specific land and property compensation claims, the duty to consult, treaty claims and interpretation, Aboriginal self-government and the fiduciary relationship between governments and Aboriginal people. It also involves advising and acting on claims to renewable and non-renewable natural resources, hunting, fishing and trapping rights, government relations, economic development, taxation and various public policy issues.

Most frequently recommended lawyers in Aboriginal law

Julie A. Abouchar
Law firm: Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP
Year called to the bar: 1994 (ON); 1994 (NB); 2014 (NU); 2015 (NT)
City: Toronto

Julie Abouchar is partner at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP. She is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in environmental law and in Indigenous legal issues. Abouchar provides advice and representation to clients about environmental compliance and due diligence, environmental assessment and approvals, environmental prosecutions and contaminated land remediation. She appears before the Environmental Review Tribunal, Energy Board and the courts and assists with environmental inspections and investigations and negotiates with regulators. Abouchar also has a substantial Indigenous law practice, negotiating and drafting resource agreements for industry and Indigenous clients, advising on Aboriginal consultation and facilitating dispute resolution in the mining, infrastructure and energy sectors. She also advises about resource development in Canada’s near and far North. Abouchar is co-author of Ontario Water Law, published by Canada Law Book.

Adam Chamberlain
Law firm: Gowling WLG
Year called to the bar: 1994 (ON); 2011 (NU); 2016 (YT); 2017 (NWT)
City: Toronto

Adam Chamberlain is a partner in Gowling WLG’s Toronto office. He is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in environmental law and Indigenous legal issues, involving corporate and commercial matters. Chamberlain practises environmental and regulatory law focusing on natural resources and infrastructure development. His practice encompasses diverse matters related to the environmental and other regulatory requirements involved with project development. Chamberlain is also extensively involved in relationships between Indigenous communities, governments and project proponents, including on matters related to all manner of developments. He acts as impact assessment (IA) counsel on an array of infrastructure projects including energy, mining, waste and water projects and is active with IAs in a variety of Canadian jurisdictions. Chamberlain is also active in Arctic natural resource development and regulatory matters. He has long been involved in climate change matters and has advised clients on offset and related agreements, international initiatives and GHG emissions management.

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Brian A. Crane
Law firm: Gowling WLG
Year called to the bar: 1962
City: Ottawa

Brian A. Crane is a partner and senior member of Gowling WLG’s advocacy group, where he practises constitutional, administrative and Indigenous law. Crane is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in civil litigation. He has appeared as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada, Federal Court and provincial and territorial courts and tribunals. He has worked extensively in the negotiation of Indigenous land claims and self-government agreements and related litigation. Crane was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1977 and is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He has chaired Canadian Bar Association committees on reform of parliament, federal judiciary and reform of civil justice. Crane has co-authored First Nations Governance Law, second edition, published by LexisNexis Canada.

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Bryce Edwards
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 2003
City: Toronto

Bryce Edwards is a partner at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. He provides legal and strategic advice to First Nations governments and companies on a range of issues, including mining, energy and oil and gas projects, intergovernmental negotiations and treaty and rights claims. Before joining OKT, Edwards worked at Shearman & Sterling LLP in New York. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, where he co-founded and became the first editor-in-chief of the Indigenous Law Journal. Edwards is a member of the Ontario and New York Bars.

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Robert C. Freedman
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 1994 (BC); 2004 (AB); 2011 (YT)
City: Toronto

Robert C. Freedman is a senior counsel at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. He works with Indigenous groups, with a focus on advising clients in IBA negotiations and treaty and land claim negotiations. Freedman also advises First Nations and First Nation organizations on a variety of matters, including environmental assessments, treaty and Aboriginal rights, oil and gas-related matters, hydro-electric matters and water rights. He is an expert in assisting First Nations in their consultations with federal and provincial governments and industry and in negotiating consultation and accommodation agreements. Freedman has appeared at all levels of court in Canada, including the Supreme Court of Canada.

Sandra A. Gogal
Law firm: Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP
Year called to the bar: 1992 (NL); 2005 (ON)
City: Toronto

Sandra Gogal is a partner at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP’s Aboriginal law group. She has a nationally recognized practice with extensive regulatory experience in mining, hydro-electric, nuclear, forestry and oil and gas. Gogal advises resource developers, investors, governments and agencies on matters relating to Aboriginal and environmental law. She has a combined 25+ years of experience in-house with the government of Ontario and in private practice, providing strategic legal advice to clients in the resource sector across Canada on matters relating to Aboriginal rights and consultation, environmental assessments, permitting and government relations. An astute negotiator, Gogal has navigated several successful commercial arrangements, settlements, impact and benefit agreements, and partnerships between industry and First Nations on major Canadian hydro-electric projects, pipelines and mining projects.

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Frank Iacobucci
Law firm: Torys LLP
Year called to the bar: 1970
City: Toronto

Frank Iacobucci joined Torys LLP as counsel in September 2004 after retiring as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. He now serves as senior counsel in the firm. Iacobucci was chief justice of the Federal Court and deputy attorney-general for Canada prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court. He also began serving as interim president of the University of Toronto in September 2004 and assumed a full-time senior advisory role at Torys in July 2005. Iacobucci advises government and businesses on important legal and policy matters. He provides guidance, advice and support to the firm’s clients and members. Iacobucci has authored numerous publications and recipient of many awards and honours in Canada, the US, the UK and Italy.

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Larry Innes
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 2004 (ON); 2012 (AB); 2005 (NL); 2013 (NT)
City: Toronto

Larry Innes is a partner at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. He practises at the intersections of Indigenous rights and environmental law. Innes has worked with First Nations on lands and resources issues for more than 25 years. He has developed extensive experience in the negotiation of impacts and benefits agreements, environmental assessment, co-management measures, self-government and treaty provisions. Innes also represents and advises First Nations dealing with major mining, forestry and energy developments. He is involved in several leading Indigenous land and resource management initiatives across Canada. Innes is a frequent speaker on these issues at national conferences.

Kate Kempton
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 2001 (ON); 2016 (MB)
City: Toronto

Kate Kempton is a partner at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. She has a diverse practice, serving Indigenous clients in negotiations and litigation in the areas of Aboriginal and treaty rights, environmental law, IBAs and commercial transactions, energy and mining law, administrative law, issues facing reserves and Indian Act matters. Kempton works with and advises Indigenous clients in reassertion of inherent sovereignty, inherent governance and international law. She has successfully litigated defences against harvesting charges, constitutional challenges to legislation, injunctions to prevent unilateral third-party development, tort and treaty claims. Kempton has also successfully negotiated and concluded, on behalf of clients, major economic development and commercial ownership transactions and several impact-benefit, mining exploration, interim measures, forestry and energy related and other types of agreements.

Nancy J. Kleer
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 1988 (ON); 2003 (NL)
City: Toronto

Nancy J. Kleer is one of the founding partners of Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. She represents Aboriginal clients responding to a variety of resource developments, including mineral exploration, mining and hydroelectric development and in negotiations and litigation. She also advises on federal and provincial environmental protection and assessment law. Kleer provides legal advice and does legal drafting on issues addressed in negotiations for comprehensive land claims, Aboriginal self-government, specific claims and impacts and benefits agreements between developers and First Nations, including advice about the duty to consult and accommodate. She advises on trust establishment and administration matters for First Nations. Kleer has also provided legal advice to establish or add to Indian reserves under the Additions to Reserve Policy, and provides advice on Band Council governance issues, reserve land management and corporate structuring advice for First Nations.

Sara Mainville
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 2005
City: Toronto

Sara Mainville is a partner at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. She has earned an LLM (Toronto), which has engaged her in a lifetime study of Indigenous jurisdiction’s important role in legally reconciling Indigenous sovereignty in Canada. Mainville has practised law as a solo practitioner and taught jurisprudence to undergraduate students after being an associate for a well-known Anishinaabe-led law firm in Ontario. In 2014, she was elected chief of Couchiching First Nation. Mainville returned to law in 2016 by joining OKT, becoming a partner in 2018. Mainville takes pride on her participation in the negotiations that led to the creation of the First Nation Sovereign Wealth LP, a partnership of 129 First Nations in Ontario that involved 14 million Hydro One shares and $29 million in seed capital. Mainville is greatly interested in First Nation’s inherent regulatory authority and advocating for its legitimate place in Canada.

John A. Olthuis
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 1965 (AB); 1987 (ON)
City: Toronto

John A. Olthuis is one of the founding partners of Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. His practice includes litigation, comprehensive and specific land rights, self-government and impacts and benefits agreements. Olthuis was on the legal team of the Assembly of First Nations in negotiations with Canada and the provinces lending to the inclusion of Section 35 in Canada’s repatriated Constitution in 1982. He was also legal counsel to Chiefs of Ontario and table negotiator at the Aboriginal government table for the Assembly of First Nations in the Charlottetown Accord Constitutional negotiations. Olthuis has appeared as counsel before numerous government boards and agencies.

Renée Pelletier
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 2002 (ON); 2013 (NB)
City: Toronto

Renée Pelletier is the managing partner at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. She is of Maliseet ancestry. Her practice includes work on Aboriginal, treaty rights litigation and specific claims. Pelletier has litigated judicial review applications and appeared before various levels of courts on motions, trials and appeals. She was cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in the high-profile case R. v Ipeelee, 2012 SCC 13. Pelletier regularly advises and represents her Indigenous clients on consultation matters, regulatory and environmental matters, reserve land management and impacts and benefits agreements. She is especially passionate about assisting her Indigenous clients in achieving greater self-determination. Pelletier has also served as a member of the Independent Federal Environmental Assessment Expert Review Panel. She is currently one of the lead counsels in Canada's first Aboriginal title to water case. Pelletier is French Acadian and is fluently bilingual in French and English. She is also a member of the Indigenous Bar Association. Pelletier is a frequent guest lecturer in Aboriginal and environmental law.

Maggie Wente
Law firm: Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP
Year called to the bar: 2003
City: Toronto

Maggie Wente is a partner at Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP. She is of Anishinaabe and settler descent and a member of Serpent River First Nation. Wente litigates Treaty and Aboriginal rights, equality rights, employment and governance matters. As a solicitor, she advises on governance, employment and human rights law and matters related to the Indian Act. A significant portion of her practice is devoted to the pursuit of equality in health and social services for Indigenous children and the exercise of First Nations’ jurisdiction over child welfare. Wente is a member of the law societies of Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador. She has appeared in courts of appeal and trial-level courts in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Federal Court and before arbitrators and adjudicators in commercial and labour arbitrations. Wente is past president of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto and was a Commissioner at the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 2006 to 2015.