Gift allows Western to mine industry expertise

May 29, 2012

By Jason Winders

Steve Vaughan not only knows the problem, he has lived it.

“Lawyers are lawyers and the mining business is the mining business,” said Vaughan, a leading expert on mining and natural resources law, and partner in the Business Law Group of Heenan Blaikie. “A lot of lawyers play in this game who don’t really understand it. It’s a unique business, and lawyers don’t fully understand that.”

A geologist by training, who came to law later in his career, Vaughan “picked it up” as he went along in his career, combining first-hand experience while chasing mining programs and training across the country. Recruited by Western Law to help formulate its Mining Law program, Vaughn hopes to close the gap between law school training and real world need for the next generation of mining lawyers.

And thanks to a new $1.525 million gift from Stephen Dattels, LLB’72, that may be a reality.

The gift in the area of mining law and finance will help prepare Western Law students to play a role in one of Canada’s most vital economic engines. Announced May 15, this new gift builds on his previous gifts to Western Law that have helped support the School’s January Term course in Mining Law and Finance.

The gift supports two key areas: The Stephen Dattels Visiting Series in Mining Law and Finance will bring visiting national and international practitioners to the school to teach in a variety of areas. The Fellowship in Mining Law and Finance will allow the Faculty of Law to recruit an international scholar or practitioner to lead an advanced intensive course in mining law and finance.

“I strongly believe in the importance of education with a functional focus,” Dattels said. “I hope this gift will help ensure Western Law graduates are well prepared to excel and become leading international lawyers in mining law.”

The industry, expecting an estimated $130 billion worth of investment over the next five years, has two distinct areas: Exploration/development, run by scientists and engineers who understand Mother Nature, and the business side, run by lawyers, who understand human nature.

In the latter, the country is lacking, he said.

“Canadians understand, everything we have, everything that has advanced humanity is 100 per cent minerals,” Vaughn said. “It’s a fundamental thing. It’s the only thing we’re good it. And we’re really good at it.

“But we need to educate lawyers to the mineral process. Now.”

And right now, there is no place in the world where you can get courses like the ones being put together at Western, Vaughan said.

“Stephen Dattels’ generous commitment will deepen the school’s expertise in the important field of mining law and support future mining law leaders,” said Iain Scott, Western Law dean. “We are truly grateful for Mr. Dattels’ leadership and support.”

Dattels, a Canadian-born businessman and humanitarian, earned a bachelor of arts from McGill University, a law degree (cum laude) from Western and completed the Program for Management Development at Harvard.

Dattels has held top positions at some of the most well-known companies in the mining industry such as Extract Resources Limited, Regent Pacific Group Limited and Berkeley Resources Limited. For more than two decades, he has been active in international mining markets spearheading projects in North and South America, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, China and Russia.

He now serves as executive co-chairman and CEO of both Polo Resources Limited and West African Minerals Corporation, both of which are listed on the AIM market of The London Stock Exchange.