Peter Sankoff

Lead Counsel

There are lots of capable criminal defence lawyers. But if you want the lawyer who: (a) is regularly consulted by other lawyers for advice; (b) runs a business focused on teaching other lawyers how to excel; (c) has literally written the book on criminal law and evidence – you want to hire Peter Sankoff.

Peter Sankoff is a law professor, author, podcaster and appeal lawyer who, in 2020, was recognized by Canadian Lawyer Magazine as one of the country’s 25 Most Influential Lawyers. He has spent the past 20+ years conducting research and teaching students about the law of evidence, the substantive criminal law, the criminal trial process and the relationship between animals and the law. He is the recipient of numerous awards for teaching, podcasting, research and service to the community.

Peter has acted successfully on a number of important cases in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, including R v DLW (considering the legal definition of bestiality), R v Suter (reversing the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision to raise sentence from 4  months imprisonment to 26 months imprisonment for refusing to provide a breath sample) and R v Barton (major case on sexual assault, murder/manslaughter). He has also won significant appeals at the Alberta Court of Appeal including R v Churchill (sentence reduced in trafficking case); R v Al-Askari (unlawful search and seizure); R v Sunderji (assault causing bodily harm conviction struck – this resulted in the law being invalidated in Alberta) and, most recently, R v Whiskeyjack (first degree murder conviction overturned and new trial ordered). Along with William van Engen, he brought a successful constitutional challenge in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench against a section of the Criminal Code that imposed disclosure requirements on accused persons. This resulted in the law being invalidated in Alberta. Peter also has considerable expertise in seeking bail pending appeal, and has won a number of cases contested by the Crown, including R v Mitchell.

Peter graduated from the University of Toronto in 1996 and then worked as a law clerk to Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada. After working on a Master’s Degree at Osgoode Hall Law School under the supervision of Professor Jamie Cameron, he joined the Department of Justice in Ottawa, working in the human rights law section on constitutional and criminal issues. While there, Peter gained critical knowledge about how statutes are enacted, and the best way to interpret them. He also learned what makes a successful constitutional challenge.

In 2001, Peter left Canada to teach law at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He taught there from 2001-2010 and began an extensive period of writing and teaching as a visiting professor at universities in Australia, Israel, Japan and the USA. Peter returned to Canada in 2012, joining the University of Alberta, where is he is now a full Professor.

Peter is a prolific writer and researcher, having written, co-authored or co-edited eight law books and more than fifty law articles, many of which have appeared in some of the world’s most distinguished legal journals. He is also the Founder and Director of Professor Sankoff’s Criminal Defence Essentials, which now provide a variety of resources for the busy criminal trial lawyer.

Peter maintains a very busy practice, litigating appeals, running complex applications and providing advice to lawyers across Canada. He assists with/or conducts trials only on rare occasions. Contact us if you’d like a consultation with Peter.