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Criminal defence runs in the blood for feisty McKay

When the Crown makes an offer to Calgary criminal lawyer Ian McKay, it has to be something pretty special to get his attention.

“I’ve never been a resolution-based type of lawyer,” McKay, principal of McKay Criminal Defence LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Oftentimes, clients come to me when they want someone who will fight for them. I’ve always found that by going to court and making a strong case, the Crown treats you differently.”

Somewhat ironically, his feisty approach generates a high volume of resolution offers from Crown lawyers who know he’s rarely bluffing about his desire to go to trial.  

“Sometimes you’ll get an offer you just can’t refuse, but I really believe in fighting for my clients and their Charter rights. You have to make applications, and prepare aggressive cross-examinations because it’s generally in the client's best interests to challenge the other side,” McKay says.

A disclosure package can sometimes make a plea deal look more appealing if it seems like the case is stacked against a client, but McKay says experience has shown him that appearances can be deceiving.

“What you get on paper and what comes out in court can be two very different things,” he explains. “When you challenge witnesses in court and know how to expose the Crown’s weaknesses, I’ve found it can lead to some very good results for clients.”

For example, McKay recently fought the charges on a case of second-degree murder.

“There was an offer of manslaughter, but the client decided to fight. We brought motions in court to get information and evidence we needed and then used those materials to cross-examine the witnesses," he says. "Ultimately, we were successful and she was fully acquitted.”

Criminal defence runs in the blood for McKay, whose father, Ian McKay Q.C., is a well-known lawyer in Regina.

“I grew up seeing my dad doing a lot of criminal law work, and I loved it,” he says. “I was the kind of kid who would sneak up to try and get a glimpse of some of the crime scene photos, so I always knew what I wanted to do.”

His father still runs a practice in the city, which can occasionally cause confusion for court staff when McKay Jr. brings his well-travelled practice to town.

“I have clients all over. I’ve done stuff in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. I’ll go wherever people need me,” he says.

But his path to criminal law wasn’t entirely straightforward. After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan’s faculty of law and articling in Regina, McKay moved to Calgary, where he wasn’t so familiar with the legal scene.

He accepted an offer to work at a large firm, developing a practice in construction law litigation, before joining the city’s Crown Prosecutor’s office, where he spent an enjoyable, if slightly uncomfortable, two years.

“Working for the government wasn't something I liked. Policy decisions can make your work quite restricted, and there was no chance to practise the restorative and rehabilitative justice that I believe in,” McKay says. “I knew I was a defence lawyer at heart, so it just wasn’t my thing. But after a couple of years, people saw what I could do, and I was scooped out of there by a defence lawyer who was appointed to the bench soon after.

“I got to do some really interesting things from the get-go. I had a ton of impaired driving cases from a referral source and was doing homicides from the start. That kept me busy, and I immediately loved it,” he adds.

Still, McKay says the experience in civil litigation and on the other side of the criminal bar have proved very useful professional exercises.

“I always tell people that you should take any opportunity that will broaden your perspective of society in general. Knowing a whole variety of areas of the law has helped me, particularly when I do white-collar cases,” he says. “I also know how Crowns think, and how they do business, which is some invaluable insight that assists clients on this side.”

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