Osgoode celebrates four PhD in Law graduates at 2023 convocation

Photos of 2023 Osgoode PhD in Law graduates, Tamera Burnett, Robert Clifford, Vanisha Sukdeo and Summaiya Zaidi

In the world of legal studies, it’s an impressive accomplishment that relatively few achieve: a PhD in Law. The entire Osgoode community celebrates this year’s PhD graduates, who received their degrees during convocation on June 23. Congratulations to Tamera Burnett, Robert Clifford, Vanisha Sukdeo and Summaiya Zaidi! 

Tamera Burnett

A fundamental question occurred to Tamera Burnett in the course of doing her master’s degree in law at the University of British Columbia from 2013 to 2014: No one really knew what sexual assault survivors themselves wanted in terms of justice. So as a PhD student at Osgoode under the supervision of Professor Janet Mosher, she set about to study that. The result is her doctoral dissertation: The Elusive Pursuit of Justice: Sexual Assault Survivors Speak About Redress in the Aftermath of Violence. The Ottawa-based Burnett, who, in addition to her UBC LLM holds a JD degree from the University of Ottawa and an undergraduate degree from McGill University, has combined her research at Osgoode with teaching legal processes to first-year law students. She decided to pursue her PhD in law, she said, because “I figured out early in my law school career that I was more interested in working on systemic issues of injustice through research rather than helping clients in private practice.” She also took time at Osgoode to pursue some of her other passions. In 2018, for example, she was the co-organizer of a conference on speculative fiction and the law. With her PhD completed, she is now looking ahead to building her own research and consulting practice. For the past year, she has been working on a project for the Toronto-based Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) on restorative and transformative justice and sexual assault.

Robert Clifford

As an assistant professor the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law, Robert YELḰÁTŦE Clifford is focused on the revitalization of Indigenous legal traditions, specifically as they relate to his own W̱SÁNEĆ Nations, located along the north coast of B.C.’s Gulf and San Juan Islands, southern Vancouver Island and the southern edge of the Lower Mainland. During the year he spent at Osgoode, he continued to develop his dissertation, titled The Old People are the Song and We are Their Echo: Resurgence of W̱SÁNEĆ Law and Legal Theory. “The highlight for me is easily the people I met and became friends with while I was here,” he recalled of his time at Osgoode. “My supervisor, Professor Andrée Boisselle, and committee member, Professor Dayna Scott, are such amazing people and scholars. I feel so fortunate to have had their guidance and friendship.” But returning to B.C. was important, he said, because of the extent to which his research and methodology are rooted in place and community. His PhD research, for example, used community participation methodologies to explore the ways WSÁNEĆ laws are generated by and reflect the values, philosophies, lands and worldviews of the WSÁNEĆ people. At Allard, he is teaching Indigenous Law and Climate Change and Aboriginal & Treaty Rights to JD students.

Vanisha Sukdeo

Even before she arrived at Osgoode to pursue her PhD, Vanisha Sukdeo had a history of making change. As an undergraduate political science student at York University, she was already developing an interest in working environments, worker protections and how corporations can be held accountable for their treatment of workers. And as a law student at Queen’s University in 2004, she played a key role in Queen’s declaring itself a “no sweat” campus by boycotting products made by sweatshop labour. Her passion for workers’ rights and her fascination with corporate governance came together in her doctoral dissertation, Regulating the Corporation from Within and Without: Corporate Governance, Codes of Conduct and Workers’ Interests. In carrying out her PhD research, Professor Poonam Puri served as her supervisor. But she has worn two hats at Osgoode – as both a doctoral student and an adjunct professor, teaching legal processes and legal research and writing. With Osgoode’s location in Canada’s largest city, she said she’s been grateful for all the opportunities that the law school offers to network and develop as both an instructor and a student. And for the near-term at least, she plans to stay in the big city, continuing her work as an adjunct law professor at both Osgoode and Toronto Metropolitan University.

Summaiya Zaidi

As an award-winning legal historian, Summaiya Zaidi sometimes enjoys turning her writing talents to more current topics, especially when it comes to her native Pakistan. In May, for example, she co-wrote a piece for the English website of Pakistan’s Aaj 24-hour news channel that cast a critical eye on the Pakistani government’s decision to tax imported condoms, even as it confronts a population explosion. Her doctoral dissertation digs deep into legal education in Pakistan, exploring its practice-focused approach and a landmark intervention by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in August 2018 that approved structural reforms to legal education in the country. Supervised by Professor Philip Girard, her research brought together law, history and sociology to understand the colonial context of legal education in Pakistan and made use of archival sources, legislative and case law reviews, focus groups and interviews. With law degrees from Lahore University of Management Sciences and SOAS University of London, Zaidi has also combined her research with teaching and numerous international conference presentations. She is the recipient of several awards for her work, including Osgoode’s Sidney Peck Scholarship Award in 2020, the MITACs Research Award that same year, and the Harry W. Arthurs Fellowship Grant in both 2017 and 2018.