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Canada's former competition chief opens Washington office

by William McConnell In Washington  |  Published January 14, 2013 at 4:05 PM
Former Canadian Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken has rejoined her former law firm and will set up a Washington office for the firm, Toronto-based Bennett Jones LLP.

Aitken, 46, was a partner at Bennett Jones when she joined the Competition Bureau in 2005.

In an interview, Aitken said the increasing prevalence of cross-border deals makes this the right time for her firm to set up an office in Washington. "I've long believed that there is a real opportunity for a Canadian firm to have a presence in Washington, particularly in the antitrust area. This is a terrific opportunity and I'm glad we're going to be first," she said.

She will manage the Washington office and serve as co-chairwoman of the Bennett Jones' Antitrust and Competition practice, advising Canadian and foreign clients on issues arising for those carrying on business or investing in Canada.

She joined the Competition Bureau in 2005 as assistant deputy commissioner of competition, mergers and was appointed senior deputy commissioner, mergers in May 2007. She held the position of interim commissioner from January to August 2009, when she was appointed as commissioner for a full five-year term. By the time she left the post in September 2012, she had helped craft important amendments to Canada's competition law and draft a law making cartels a per se criminal offense.

As a Bennett Jones partner from 2003 to 2005, Aitken was a commercial and competition litigator.

She also served a two-year term between 2001 and 2003 as a senior counsel to Canada's Department of Justice, where she was involved in major competition and trade litigation before the Competition Tribunal and the Federal Courts. Before that, she was a partner at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP in Toronto.

During her recent tenure as head of the Competition Bureau, she put together a successful litigation record, enhanced relationships with government agencies in the U.S. and other countries and helped cooperation among enforcement authorities around the world with active participation in the International Competition Network and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

"Melanie brings extraordinary legal and business acumen to our Antitrust and Competition group, and we are very pleased that she is rejoining Bennett Jones having earned a reputation as a top antitrust counselor and a superb litigation and strategic thinker," said Bennett Jones chairman and CEO Hugh MacKinnon.

Aitken said, "I am enormously excited to be rejoining Bennett Jones, a firm I have long admired for its unwavering commitment to excellence, breadth of legal and industry expertise and strategic vision in advising clients in an increasingly global market. "

She is a 1991 graduate of the University of Toronto Law School

In private practice, Aitken has acted as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada and has had an active trial and appellate practice, including serving as a counsel for Superior Propane in its legal fight to acquire IGC Propane. The legal battle became Canada's leading merger efficiencies case. The final ruling by Canada's federal appeals court confirmed that otherwise illegal mergers can be permitted if the benefits of post-merger efficiencies outweigh the harm to competition.

Aitken was chosen by Women's Executive Network as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women in 2012, and as one of Canada's Most Influential Lawyers in 2011 and 2012. She has been recognized as a leading Competition/Antitrust lawyer in Chambers Global, The World's Leading Lawyers and as Top 40 Under 40 by Lexpert (2005). Ms. Aitken was an elected Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada from 2007 until her appointment as commissioner. She has been an adjunct professor at Osgoode and Queen's Law Schools.

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Tags: Bennett Jones LLP | Canadian Competition Commissioner | Competition Bureau | Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP | Department of Justice | Hugh MacKinnon | Melanie Aitken | OECD | Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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William McConnell

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