Usman M. Sheikh

Usman Sheikh is a partner in Gowling WLG's Toronto office. Named in 2018 as one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers" by Canadian Lawyer and one of the top three fintech lawyers in Canada by Chambers, he serves as the national head of the firm's Blockchain & Smart Contracts Group, as well as the national litigation lead of the firm's Securities, Compliance & Investigations Group.

As leader of the firm's Blockchain & Smart Contracts Group, Usman oversees a diverse team comprising more than 80 practitioners. Among the group's many accomplishments is the listing of the very first blockchain company in the world.

Usman's practice focuses on complex corporate/commercial litigation, with an emphasis on securities litigation, cryptocurrency litigation (Bitcoin, Ether and other cryptocurrencies), professional liability claims and class proceedings. He also provides legal advice on blockchain advisory mandates, including cutting-edge token sales, cryptocurrency exchanges and others. His clients include Canada's largest banks, the co-founders of Ethereum, nine of the largest cryptocurrencies in the world, as well as several blockchain pioneers.

A highly sought-after thought leader on blockchain and distributed ledger technology, Usman has briefed the offices of several prime ministers, as well as ministers, on blockchain's disruptive power, and is regularly invited to speak to business leaders and at global blockchain conferences throughout the world. He has lectured at the International Monetary Fund and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, co-lectured with the heads of blockchain for Nasdaq and the TMX, and has also presented to the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, the Law Society of Ontario, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, and several other regulatory organizations.

In 2019, Usman is set to publish The Law of Blockchain Technology (Thomson Reuters).

In addition to blockchain, Usman's litigation expertise includes:

  • Securities enforcement proceedings
  • Shareholder activism
  • Corporate governance issues
  • Corporate transaction and M&A disputes
  • Cross-border litigation
  • Corruption claims
  • Compliance matters
  • Securities class actions
  • Accounting & auditing matters
  • Crisis management & internal investigations
  • Market conduct/trading disputes
  • White collar defence (criminal & quasi-criminal)
  • Shareholder disputes & oppression remedy claims

Usman has served as counsel on several precedent-setting securities and commercial cases in Canada, including cases before the Supreme Court of Canada. He has appeared before all levels of court in Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia, as well as before a wide variety of administrative tribunals, including the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) and IIROC.

Prior to joining Gowling WLG, Usman spent four years as a prosecutor in the OSC's Enforcement Branch, including within the specialist Insider Trading/Market Manipulation Unit. In this role, he investigated and prosecuted all forms of securities law violations, including the largest criminal case of insider trading in Canadian history, as well as a recent regulatory case of insider trading for which the highest sanctions in Canada were ordered.

Usman was appointed as the inaugural co-chair of the American Bar Association's Securities Litigation Sub-Committee for Canada. In April 2016, the ABA Section of Litigation honoured Usman with the 2016 Outstanding Subcommittee Chair Award, making him first ever Canadian recipient of this award. He formerly served as co-chair of The Advocates' Society's Securities Litigation Practice Group, one of the largest collectives of securities litigators in Canada.

Author of over 25 legal and academic publications, he is a frequent lecturer at the C.D. Howe Institute, the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law and Rotman School of Management, Osgoode Hall Law School, the Ted Rogers School of Business Management at Ryerson University and the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. In addition, he is a regular speaker at various continuing legal education seminars and conferences. In 2019, Usman will also be serving as an Adjunct Professor with the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

In 2016, Usman was recognized by Benchmark Canada's Definitive Guide to Canada's Leading Litigation Firms & Attorneys as a "Future Star" in litigation. More recently, in 2018, he was distinguished in the 2018 edition of Benchmark Litigation's "Under 40 Hot List" and the 2018 Acritas Stars rankings. That same year, he also received the South Asian Bar Association (SABA) Legal Excellence Award, which recognizes South Asian lawyers who have achieved excellence in their areas of practice and exceptionally contributed to the legal profession. In 2018, he was recognized as one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers" by Canadian Lawyer and also identified in Chambers FinTech 2018 as one of top three fintech lawyers in Canada.

Usman has completed the Canadian Securities Course (CSC) and the Trader Training Course (TTC).

Community involvement

Usman currently serves as a member of the Ontario Securities Commission Securities Proceedings Advisory Committee (SPAC).

Usman currently serves as the national president of the Canadian Friends of the LSE (CFLSE), the national alumni association for the London School of Economics and Political Science in Canada.

He also co-founded the Ontario Securities Commission Litigation Assistance Program (LAP), a pro bono program - the first of its kind in North America - that provides free legal advice to unrepresented respondents appearing in OSC enforcement proceedings.

Usman has also served as a director of several non-profit organizations, including the London Goodenough Association of Canada (LGAC).

Career & Recognition

Filter timeline:

Memberships

  • American Bar Association
  • Canadian Bar Association
  • The Advocates' Society
  • Toronto Lawyers Association

Speaking Engagements

  • Speaker (with David Swayze, Law Society of Manitoba; Florian Martin-Bariteau, Asst Professor of Law and Technology, University of Ottawa; and Sevgi Kelci, Quebec Notary), "Making it All Make Sense: Blockchain and Lawyering in the 21st Century," Federation of Law Societies of Canada Annual Conference (Charlottetown, PEI), Oct. 18, 2018.
  • Co-Panelist (with Edward Anderson, Director, IMF; Laura Shin, Journalist, Forbes; Nasir Zubairi, CEO, Luxembourg House of Financial Technology), "Introduction to Fintech and Some Legal Considerations," International Monetary Fund (IMF) (Washington, D.C.), Sept. 26, 2018.
  • Co-Panelist (with Ryan Leopold and Pascal Vollmann, PwC Canada), "Accounting for Cryptographic Assets under IFRS," Charter Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA), Aug. 14, 2018.
  • Keynote Speaker, "Blockchain Technology: Capital Markets & Regulatory Developments," Strategy Session of the Board, Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC), July 11, 2018.
  • Co-Presenter (with Christopher Colorado, Partner, Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP), "Virtual Currency: Current Regulatory and Civil Litigation Trends," American Bar Association, June 27, 2018.
  • Co-Chair and Presenter, "What You Need to Know about Crypto Litigation," Ontario Bar Association Blockchain Law Conference ("Your Comprehensive Guide to Blockchain"), June 18, 2018.
  • Co-Presenter, "How Innovative Technologies are Impacting Businesses," The Future of Business: Managing and Growing in the Age of Disruption (Private Enterprise 24/7 Speaker Series), hosted by MNP and Gluskin Sheff, June 14, 2018.
  • Co-Chair, Smart Contracts, Blockchain Technology and Artificial Intelligence for Financial Services Conference, OpenForum, May 29, 2018.
  • Co-Chair (with Don Tapscott, blockchain pioneer), Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) Regulation Roundtable, "Regulation & Blockchain," May 10, 2018.
  • Speaker, American Bar Association (ABA) Regulatory Roundtable, "Virtual Currency Litigation," April 26, 2018.
  • Speaker, Ontario Bar Association (OBA) Privacy Law Summit 2018, "Key Privacy Considerations in Blockchain Technology," April 12, 2018.
  • Lecturer, Blockchain Hub (York University), "Blockchain Litigation," April 4, 2018.
  • Panelist, Global Blockchain Conference (Santa Clara, CA), "Blockchain 2.0: Application of DLT in Capital Markets, Banking and Other Industries," April 2, 2018).
  • Panelist, Blockchain West Summit (San Francisco, CA, "Smart Contracts - Where Technology & the Law Collide," March 26, 2018.
  • Lecturer, University of Toronto (Faculty of Law) Global Professional LLM Program, Cryptocurrencies, Cryptoventures & the Future of Exchange, "Blockchain Case Law and Articles," March 10, 2018.
  • Moderator with key Fintech leaders from the OSC, AMF, BCSC and ASC, FFCON18: Velocity Conference, "CSA Regulatory Updates on Fintech, Blockchain and Crypto," March 5, 2018.
  • Co-Host with the Province of Ontario and DIACC, Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) Digital Identity Roundtable, "Digital Identity," March 2, 2017.
  • Speaker (with John Lee, Head of Blockchain, Toronto Stock Exchange), Ryerson University, "Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies: The Disruption Ahead," Feb. 15, 2018.
  • Speaker, London School of Economics Alumni Association of Canada, "Demystifying Blockchain - How it Will Transform Business and Society?," Feb. 7, 2018.
  • Speaker (with Fredrick Voss, Head of Blockchain, Nasdaq), C.D. Howe Institute, "Blockchain 2.0 - Applying Blockchain to Capital Markets," Feb. 7, 2018.
  • Speaker, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), "Blockchain Technology: Securities & Criminal Law Developments," Jan. 30, 2018.
  • Speaker, Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, Cryptocurrency Working Group, "Blockchain Technology: Capital Markets & Regulatory Developments"), Jan. 29, 2018.
  • Lecturer, Rotman School of Management, Banking Course (Professor Richard Nesbitt, former COO of CIBC), "Fintech, Blockchain, Crypto Currencies & Cybersecurity," Jan. 25, 2018.
  • Lecturer, Osgoode Hall Law School, Securities Law Course (Professor Mary Condon, former OSC Vice-Chair), "The Future is Now - Blockchain Technology & The Capital Markets," Jan. 16, 2018.
  • Speaker, Blockchain Impact: Bootcamp & Event, "Blockchain Litigation," Dec. 8, 2017.
  • Speaker, Blockchain Expo (Santa Clara, CA), "Smart Contract Management & Innovation," Nov. 29-30, 2017.
  • Speaker (with Anthony Diiorio, co-founder, Ethereum), Gowling WLG Seminar, "Blockchain: Recent Developments and Applications," Nov. 22, 2017.
  • Speaker, New Frontiers in Capital Innovation: ICOs, "Initial Coin Offerings, Cryptocurrency Exchanges and Funds: Legal Developments," Nov. 16, 2017.
  • Speaker, Blockchains, Smart Contracts and the Law Conference, Osgoode Hall CPD Development, "Blockchain Litigation," Nov. 15, 2017.
  • Speaker, Blockchain Research Institute (BRI) All-Members Summit, "Chief Legal Officer & Legal/Regulatory Developments," Nov. 8, 2017.
  • Speaker, Cooley LLP (Boston, MA), "Cryptocurrencies, ICOs and More," Nov. 7, 2018.
  • Speaker, Blockchain Breakfast: Leading Movers and Key Developments, Gowling WLG, "Capital Markets Developments: Blockchain," Nov. 2, 2017.
  • Keynote Speaker, Benchers Retreat: Law Society of Upper Canada, "Blockchain Technology and its Application to the Legal Profession," Oct. 25, 2017.
  • Speaker, ETHWaterloo (largest Ethereum hackathon in the world), Closing Address, Oct. 13-15, 2017.
  • Speaker, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, Blockchain Seminar: When Will Blockchain Matter?, "Blockchain Litigation: Recent Developments," June 7, 2017.
  • Speaker (with blockchain developers at IIROC), Gowling WLG Seminar, "The Blockchain Revolution: A Technology Primer," March 14, 2017.
  • Speaker, Blockchain Symposium: Key Developments, Gowling WLG, Dec. 7, 2016.
  • Lecturer (with Annick Demers, Blakes LLP and Parkash Hariharan, Analytix Insight), "Blockchain & the Capital Markets," IIROC CLS Annual Conference, Dec. 6, 2016.

Media

  • "Hail, hail the blockchain kings!," Jim Middlemiss, Canadian Lawyer, April 2, 2018.
  • "Blockhain Reaction" (cover story), Scott Neilson, Canadian Lawyer, May 14, 2018.
  • "Bitcoin investors party like it's 1999," Alexandra Posadzki, The Globe & Mail, Nov. 11, 2017.
  • "Smart Contracts: Coming Soon to a Law Firm Near You", Ann Macaulay, Canadian Bar Association, Feb. 26, 2018.
  • "Blockchain is coming your way: Blockchain technology is transforming businesses in a wide range of industries. Are you ready?," Julius Melnitzer, Lexpert, July 6, 2018.
  • "Embracing emerging technologies across industry," Toronto Stock Exchange, June 14, 2018.
  • "Regulations about crypto-currencies remain uncertain," Meagan Gillmore, Law Times, Aug. 6, 2018.
  • "The job market on Bay Street is holding strong: You can thank cannabis and blockchain for that," Hamzia Bawa-Zeba, Precedent Magazine, Sept. 5, 2018.
  • "A look into the future of blockchain litigation," Carolyn Gruske, The Lawyer's Daily, Nov. 24, 2017.
  • "Usman Sheikh named one of Canada's top 25 most influential lawyers," The Lawyer, Aug. 9, 2018.
  • "Gowling launches blockchain group," Carodlyn Gruske, The Lawyer's Daily, Oct. 23, 2017.
  • "Gowling WLG supports blockchain with crypto legal team," James Langton, Investment Executive, Oct. 24, 2017.
  • "Gowling WLG teams up with blockchain company," Carolyn Gruske, The Lawyer's Daily, March 16, 2018.

Previous speaking engagements

Representative Work

  • Represent several prominent blockchain clients currently involved in enforcement investigations / proceedings before various regulatory authorities, including securities regulators (OSC, SEC, CFTC, FBI).
  • Represent numerous parties considering initial coin offerings (ICOs) as well as those establishing digital asset trading platforms, crypto investment funds, crypto-mining operations and those seeking public listings.
  • Represent several major sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and asset managers in Canada's first known securities litigation "opt-out" case in relation to a major Canadian securities class action.
  • Represented a high profile activist investor in an urgent OSC proceeding contesting a decision of the TSX to permit the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) to complete a very complex and dilutive share issuance within the context of a multi-billion dollar transaction.
  • Represented several investment advisors and banks in civil and regulatory enforcement prosecutions relating to allegations of unsuitability, misrepresentations and over-concentration of complex financial products (e.g., rate reset preferred shares, asset-backed securities, etc.).
  • Represented an investment dealer in an appeal before the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) brought by a dissident shareholder to challenge a decision by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) District Council which approved the recapitalization of the firm. Successfully moved to strike the appeal on the grounds that it was statute-barred and that the investor did not have standing.
  • Represented a chief compliance officer and supervisor of an investment dealer in a prosecution by staff of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada for the failure to adequately supervise the activities of a portfolio manager.
  • Represented a party in a contractual dispute concerning the custody and trading of Bitcoins.
  • Acted for the largest sponsor of asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) in connection with the $35-billion restructuring of Canada's ABCP market.
  • Represented a major auditing firm in a cross-border investigation involving allegations of auditor independence violations by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Canadian Public Accountability Board (CPAB).
  • Represented a Canadian reporting issuer in an application that successfully dismissed a shareholder's nomination of candidates at an annual meeting on the basis of the issuer's advance notice by-law.
  • Represented a Canadian mining issuer in litigation with a foreign joint venture partner in a dispute regarding a partnership agreement, compliance with NI 43-101 (Standards of Disclosure for Mineral Projects) requirements and the ownership of mineral rights.
  • Represented an individual and corporation in a securities enforcement proceeding involving Forex trading.
  • Represented investors in the recovery of money from an unlawful syndicated mortgage scheme and with complaints to the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO).
  • Represented foreign parties in a land dispute with a major Canadian mining issuer, which included a whistleblower submission to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower.
  • Acted for staff of the Ontario Securities Commission in the first contested cases of fraud and market manipulation in Ontario, as well as the first Ontario case post-Bre-X involving the manipulation of assay (gold) results and NI 43-101 violations by a Qualified Person.
  • Intervened on behalf of the Ontario Securities Commission before the Supreme Court of Canada in McLean v. Executive Director of the British Columbia Securities Commission on the issue of reciprocal orders, interprovincial enforcement and the standard of review.
  • Acted for staff of the Ontario Securities Commission in several poison pill applications, contested related party transactions, as well as hearing and reviews of IIROC and TSX Listing Committee decisions.
  • Acted as Canadian counsel to an American parent corporation in a complex, cross-border insolvency proceeding, which included CCAA proceedings in Alberta and simultaneous Chapter 11 proceedings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The case was one of the largest restructurings in Canadian restructuring history, and the (then) sixth-largest case to file Chapter 11 in the United States.

Client work