Associate, Stockwoods LLP
Called to the bar in 2010
“It was terrifying,” says Justin Safayeni, of his first appearance at the Supreme Court of Canada. He was a third-year lawyer at Stockwoods LLP, 29 years of age, when Amnesty International, who he’d done work for two years earlier, hired him to argue on their behalf as an intervener in a major Indigenous-rights case.
Back in 1983, the Province of British Columbia allowed a lumber company to clear-cut trees on the historical land of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation. And a lawsuit against the government had wound its way through the courts over three decades. By the time Safayeni came on board, it was at the Supreme Court. He spent months preparing for his oral arguments. In the end, the court ruled the Tsilhqot’in First Nation had Aboriginal rights to the land, so the province had no authority to grant the clear-cutting permit. Safayeni had won.
It was a dream case. “When you have a client that cares deeply about an important issue, it gets you passionate,” says the 33-year-old. “That’s what you’re a litigator for: to go and fight.” His passion paid off. “He loves the law,” says Luisa Ritacca, a partner at Stockwoods. “He also grasps its significance for vulnerable Canadians.”
The B.C. case cemented Safayeni’s place as an emerging litigator in Toronto. His caseload is broad. He’s defended the CBC in libel lawsuits and worked with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, prosecuting athletes who test positive for banned substances.
When Safayeni isn’t poring over cases, he’s spending time with his family. He and his wife, Sarah Vincent, have a two-year-old son, Oscar. “I’m home from work at 6:30 every night to have dinner with him. Hanging out with him is a great way to recharge.”