Who is the Lawdawg?
Peter began his working life at 15 when he started his long standing part-time job at Superior Tire in the east end of Toronto.
He worked changing tires through much of high school and during his early university years.
Peter completed his Bachelor’s degree, in political science, at the University of Toronto in 1979.
The following year he received a scholarship to pursue graduate studies, again in political science; he completed his Master’s degree at the University of Toronto in 1980.
He spent the next year as a part-time student at Laval University in Quebec (while working as a waiter at the Quebec Hilton).
When he returned to Ontario in 1982, with the benefit of another graduate scholarship, Peter attended the Envrionmental Studies program at York University. Peter concentrated on public participation in environmental assessments.
The following year, Peter began law school at the Faculty of Law of the University of Western Ontario.
He made the Dean’s Team and worked as a tutorial assistant.
He also worked as a researcher at the Privacy Project where he was part of a team that wrote “Privacy and Data Protection: An International Bibliography”.
He co-authored the “Social Insurance Number” entry for the Canadian Encyclopedia with David Flaherty – The Social Insurance Number.
Peter graduated from law school in 1985 and articled at McCarthy & McCarthy (now McCarthy Tetrault) in Toronto.
After his call to the Bar, Peter worked for a year as Law Clerk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario; the next year Peter worked as an Assistant Crown Attorney in the County of Simcoe.
In 1990, Peter joined the Law Firm of Hacker Gignac Rice in Midland. At HGR, he practiced a mix of criminal and civil litigation and continued to work as a part-time Assistant Crown Attorney and as an Agent for the Federal Department of Justice prosecuting drug offences.
Although normally lawyers become Deputy Judges only after 10 years of practice, Peter was appointed a Deputy Judge of the Superior Court of Justice in 1994.
Peter moved to Cambridge Bay Nunavut in January of 2004 with his wife Karen Wilford and their 2 sons Kierson and Liam.
Karen and Peter both worked for the Legal Services Board of Nunavut (Legal Aid); Karen worked as a family lawyer and Peter worked as a criminal lawyer.
Initially they were hired on a two-year contract but after a year or so in Cambridge Bay, they decided that they wanted to become Nunavummiut. They sold their home in Ontario and bought a home in Cambridge Bay.
Over time, Peter and Karen took on management roles with Legal Aid; Karen became Senior Family Counsel with responsibility for managing the family practice and Peter became Senior Criminal Counsel, in charge of the criminal practice.
While he was in Cambridge Bay Peter developed several community projects intended to keep people from coming into conflict with the law.
Peter started a Youth Panel process where local high school students attended court and made recommendations to the presiding judge regarding the treatment of young offender.
He started a Family Violence Initiative which involved going into grade 6 classes in the Kitikmeot during court circuits and speaking to classes about domestic violence.
The Kitikmeot Law Centre awarded an mp3 player to the student who produced the best poster with a solution to the problem. Finally, after consulting with local elders and community groups he drafted a circle healing proposal – Kitiqmiut Mamisaqatigiit – that would have had offenders apologising to their victims before a circle of community members and elders.
When Peter became the Senior Criminal Counsel for Legal Aid in 2008, it was Peter’s job to make sure that offenders got lawyers who were able to take care of their legal needs.
Peter wanted to make sure that there was a lawyer who was responsible for every community in Nunavut so that there was always someone to talk to if people had questions or concerns about what was happening in Court.
The community lawyers were supposed to know about local resources in each community and be able to help people get help with mental health problems that were turning into legal problems.
Peter also wanted to have all of the Legal Aid lawyers attend the schools in their communities to talk about legal issues and to have Youth Panels during circuit court.
Peter was the Legal Aid representative on the Nunavut Mental Health Diversion Committee; he drafted a protocol to get people with mental health problems out of court and into care.
He was also the Legal Aid representative on the Court Users Committee; he was one of several committee members who were trying to make sure that Nunavummiut had access to justice. Peter left the Legal Services Board to work as the Lawdawg full time in February of 2012.
Move South (sort of)
Peter and family moved to Yellowknife in June of 2012. Karen took a position with NWT Legal Aid (she is now its Executive Director) and Peter continued to work as a sole practitioner focusing on criminal defence work.
Peter now finds himself working in communities throughout the NWT in the Territorial and Supreme Courts.
Access to Justice and Public Legal Education continue to be key priorities for Peter and his columns and radio work are based on making the law something everyone understands. If he is in your community, don’t hesitate to ask him to witness a document or answer a legal question. If he can’t help you then and there, he will connect you to the resource that can.
Peter is a member of the Law Societies of Upper Canada and the Northwest Territories.
He is on the Admissions Committee of the Law Society of the NWT.
He is a member of the executive of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Counsel.
Peter’s ongoing Professional Development project with the NWT Law Society is a series of Lunch and Learn Seminars on leading cases in Canadian Criminal Jurisprudence.