By Brian Dunn

The Maritime Law Group is headed by Darren McGuire, who assumed the official title as “National Leader” in January. Internally, the Maritime Group is a focus group within BLG’s Insurance and Tort Liability Group. The group serves Canadian and international clients throughout the marine industry world. With the 2000 merger with what was then Vancouver-based Ladner Downs, BLG is Canada’s only law firm with a dedicated and fully integrated national maritime law practice capable of providing a seamless service “from coast to coast” stated Mr. McGuire.

The role of National Leader is to coordinate the Group’s marketing efforts and strategic long-term planning and to act as a “cheerleader and overall coordinator and administrator,” explained Mr. McGuire who joined BLG in 1991. There are currently seven lawyers within the Maritime Law Group in Montreal, including himself, four in Toronto and three in Vancouver, some of whom, like Mr. McGuire, practice in other areas as well. For his part, in addition to maritime law, Mr. McGuire has an active business immigration practice and is the Regional Leader of BLG’s Business Immigration Group.

“My immigration practice in part grew out of my experience in maritime law. Representing as we do, international carriers with subsidiary offices or branches in Canada, there is a steady stream of intra-company transfers of senior executives and managers, to say nothing of a steady stream of crewing, stowaway and deserter issues, facilitating entries for expert surveyors and witnesses etc. Another common link is the Federal Court which has exclusive jurisdiction in immigration matters and is the general court of choice for most maritime matters.”

Mr. McGuire is one of eight children born and raised in the rough and tumble district of Pointe St. Charles, a largely poor Irish working class neighbourhood when he was growing up. In an area plagued by chronic high dropout rates, he managed to stay on the “straight and narrow” to become the only one in his family and one of only a few in “the Point” to make it through university, ultimately earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a Common Law and Civil Law degrees from McGill University in addition to an MBA from Concordia. He completed his two law degrees and his MBA at the same time as a full-time student in both universities.

“I was lucky enough to realize at an early age that education was a way out. Inspired by my mother, who became a single parent when I was seven years of age, I was highly motivated to do well in school and to see it through. Besides, doing well in school was relatively easy compared to what she had to face on a daily basis.” Asked when he decided to become a lawyer, Mr. McGuire replied, “probably when I was seven or eight. I recall watching a session of parliament on TV and seeing that just about everyone who spoke, including Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, had the caption ‘lawyer’ after their name. I remember asking my mother what ‘lawyer’ meant and her response was ‘it means they make a pretty good living’.”

Anxious to give back to his community and with the support of BLG, which places a great deal of importance on community service, Mr. McGuire is an Executive Committee member of the Pointe St. Charles Hall of Recognition event and co-Chair of its Scholarship Selection Committee. The Hall of Recognition event celebrated its 10th Anniversary on September 28 and since its inception, has raised and distributed some $288,500 to the Pointe St Charles community, including $ $153,500 in scholarships to the community’s youth. One of its more notable recipients is Fraser Munden, a Concordia graduate who won second place for the short film program at the recent Toronto International Film Festival for his film “The Chaperone 3D.” 

The Maritime Law Group has been involved in a number of important precedent setting cases in Canada, including, amongst others, in the matter of Ford Motor Company vs. OOCL and CP Ships (UK) Ltd. and the vessel Canmar Pride. The ship had lost some containers during bad weather en route from Le Havre to Montreal, including car transmissions belonging to Ford which were ultimately destined for Detroit. Ford initially instituted an action in the United States, which was the choice of jurisdiction in its service agreement with OOCL. But then it decided to institute an action in Canada after realizing there was potentially a greater chance the Canadian court would apply the higher Hague Visby Rules (HVR) limitations of liability ($4.5 million vs. $210,000 or $500 per lost/damaged package under the U.S. Carriage of Goods by Sea Act). BLG represented CP Ships and the vessel. Ford’s attempt to discontinue the U.S. proceedings was contested and ultimately denied, and in Canada the defendants were successful in obtaining a stay of proceedings.

The decision to grant a stay was significant at the time because the Marine Liability Act (MLA) had only recently come into force and there was a concern that the effect of the MLA would be to oust the Court’s discretion on jurisdiction. The case also recognized the validity of the forbearance of suit clause in the contractual carrier’s bill of lading, noted Mr. McGuire.

“Another notable case was Boutique Jacob – 2008 FCA 85, where we were successful in having the Federal Court of Appeal confirm the rules regarding the application of Himalaya-type protection for rail carriers which operate as part of a larger multi-modal marine contract of carriage in Canada. Also, in Westwood Anette – 2012 FCA 16 (FCA), BLG was successful in having the Federal Court of Appeal confirm that sea waybills are to be treated differently in Canada than bills of lading as regards the compulsory application of liability regimes such as the HVR.”

More recently, BLG also acted on behalf of CMA CGM and was successful in having the Federal Court of Canada confirm that a freight forwarder was bound by the terms and conditions of CMA CGM’s bill of lading even though a freight forwarder might claim it acted only as an agent for a shipper.