For PhD student Kenneth Grad, it was a week to remember.
On June 7, he was awarded this year’s Peter Oliver Prize by the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. A few days later, in the early morning of June 10, he and his wife welcomed their second daughter into the world. Later that same morning, he was notified that he had been named a co-winner of the Osgoode Society’s other major student prize: the R. Roy McMurtry Fellowship in Legal History, valued at $10,000.
Receiving both the Peter Oliver Prize and the R. Roy McMurtry Fellowship – let alone in the same year – is a rare accomplishment. But Grad wasn’t done there. On June 16, he was awarded the Switzer-Cooperstock Student Prize by the Jewish Heritage Centre for Western Canada. In addition, Grad also recently received the Avrom Silver Graduate Research Fund Award from York University’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies.
A former criminal lawyer with the prominent Toronto firm Henein Hutchison Robitaille LLP, Grad received the awards for work produced in connection with his doctoral research. His dissertation is entitled Prosecuting Hateful Speech: An Historical Analysis of Zundel, Keegstra, and the Criminal Law’s Ability to Protect Vulnerable Communities.
The Peter Oliver Prize is awarded annually for a published work on Canadian legal history written by a student and is named for the society’s founding editor-in-chief. The R. Roy McMurtry Fellowship in Legal History was created in 2007 to help graduate students or those with a recently completed doctorate to conduct research on Canadian legal history for one year. It is named for the former chief justice of Ontario, attorney general and founder of the Osgoode Society. The Switzer-Cooperstock Prize, established by the Switzer family to honour their parents and grandparents, is awarded for the best student essay on Jewish history in Western Canada. And the Avrom Silver award supports the research of graduate students affiliated with York’s Centre for Jewish Studies.
“It’s a huge honour,” Grad said of the awards. “The Osgoode Society does such great work in legal history and it’s just personally rewarding to be recognized by them. The same goes for the Jewish Heritage Centre for Western Canada and Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, which do incredibly valuable research in the area of Jewish history
“It’s nice that all the work I’ve put in is paying off,” he added, “and it shows the relevance of my research – especially with the increase in transphobia, racism and hate speech, especially during the pandemic.”
Professor Patricia McMahon, who was on the selection committee for the Oliver Prize, said the society received an exceptional number of strong submissions from students this year, but Grad’s work rose to the top.
“His article, A Gesture of Criminal Law: Jews and the Criminalization of Hate Speech in Canada, stood out not just for its clear prose and excellent research,” she said, “but for telling a compelling story about the role of the Canadian Jewish Congress in the development of Canada’s hate speech laws more than 50 years ago.”
Grad said the award-winning paper and his dissertation both combine his legal interest in criminal law with his personal background as the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
“Issues of racism and empowering minority groups are important to me – and that’s how I landed on this topic,” he explained.
He said his PhD studies at Osgoode have been “incredibly rewarding” but very hectic with the birth of his two daughters and the COVID-19 pandemic. He paid tribute to the support he’s received from his PhD supervisor, Professor Benjamin Berger, and his PhD committee members, Professors Philip Girard and Emily Kidd White.
Berger also paid homage to his accomplished doctoral student.
“Kenneth is already a tremendous scholar, making creative and rich contributions to our understanding of Canadian legal history, pluralism and the complexity of public law,” he said. “I am so proud of the careful, compassionate approach he takes to his work and so pleased that he has received this recognition.”
Grad will teach a course on criminal law at Osgoode in the fall of 2023.