Perspective Options

Below is a sample of Perspective Option seminars:

Comparative Law: Indigenous Legal Traditions

Our focus will be on an Anishinaabe constitutional order. A basic premise of this seminar is that to understand Anishinaabe law, we must first understand the worldview and the constitutional order that underlies Anishinaabe law. We will draw out Anishinaabe constitutional principles from Anishinaabe stories, while being guided by the works of Anishinaabe elders, knowledge keepers, and scholars. The principles that form an Anishinaabe constitutional order will be contrasted with the principles that inform the normative framework underlying the non-Indigenous Canadian Constitution and legal system.

Globalization and the Law

This course critically examines the phenomenon of globalization in its connection with law from various angles. The main objective of investigation is to ask: if globalization is really a relatively new phenomenon and what it means to relocate it in historical perspective; if it is uniformly visible and equally significant in different spheres of social life; what is the connection, if any, between the globalization of ideas and material objects in the social world; whether globalization has necessarily been reaffirmed by the increase of digital connections; what is the role of technology, emerging or old, in shaping our understanding of global versus local; whether law merely reflects and adapts to the inevitability of globalization or has an active role in the formation of the concept; if and in what ways the surge of populism, which at times is accompanied by nationalism, might be a threat to globalization and more. In this pursuit, we will take aid from other disciplines just as from in-depth readings, discussions, potential guest speakers, and collective, in-class exercises.

Law, Gender, Equality

This course explores the importance of gender as a category that structures identity, opportunity, and hierarchy. Gender intersects with other categories of hierarchy such as race, class, religion, citizenship status, ethnicity, sexual preference and identity, and able-bodiedness. The course will explore both theories of how intersectionality works, and the role it plays in the particular spheres of law we will focus on. The primary focus of this course is the complex role that law plays in constructing gender (understood in intersectional terms) and in both maintaining and attempting to overcome inequality. The first overarching topic is violence: Sexual Assault on Trial; Law, Gender and Violence: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives; Structural Violence and Indigenous Women. Another very basic way that gender organizes people’s lives and opportunities is the way gender structures who provides the basic care that all human beings rely on, and how paid work is organized. Thus, the second broad topic is how law intersects with issues of work and care: gender identity, labour law, international migration, tax law, and the global economy. We will look at issues of: Masculinity, Care, and the Legal Structuring of Gender Relations; The Intersecting Structure of Work and Care; Care, Work and “Domestic Work”; Restructuring Work and Care; Law and Gender in Global Context. The readings will provide a range of approaches from feminist theory, to legal history, to empirical studies of lawyers and courts, to doctrinal analysis, to proposals for fundamental societal transformation.

Law, Society & State: Critical Race Theory

One way of describing critical race theory (CRT), a body of work which began in the 1980s, is to say it aims to expose and explain the role of law in creating and sustaining societal structures of race and racial oppression. In this model, in contrast to the more liberal civil rights model, law is understood to be the problem, not the solution. Scholars also often describe CRT as praxis, theory that exists in how it is enacted. In this seminar, we will read key early texts from the originators of CRT and then consider more recent scholarship. Our goal will include exploring the utility of CRT as a way of understanding law and our relationship to it. Students should expect to engage with scholarly proposals and prescriptions, to understand internal and external critiques of CRT as theory and method, and to determine how and why something should be – or not be – considered part of the CRT tradition. We will carefully consider the role of the lawyer if the legal system is part of the support structure for racial inequality. Members of the seminar will be expected to engage both in class and in the form of weekly small exercises, and the classroom time will focus on efforts to consider the theory and its application carefully and deliberately, and to discern with precision zones of uncertainty and disagreement. Guest speakers including practicing lawyers will visit this classroom to discuss their experiences and teach from their expertise. This class will feature guidance through the stages of writing a research paper, including developing a research question, preliminary research, organization and argument.

Legal Biography

Judges play a critical role in the common law world. Since the emergence of legal realism, it has been accepted that judicial decision-making is not a value-free exercise from which a judge’s personal predilections can be eliminated. Judicial biography is one way to study how judges’ background, personal makeup and worldview influence their decision-making. This course exposes students to the variety of approaches to judicial life-writing that exist in the common law world, to the techniques of life-writing, and to the questions that lie at the intersection of legal theory and biography. One such question relates to the impact on the law of non-traditional appointees to the bench in the last few decades: women, members of racial and religious minorities, and lawyers with activist backgrounds of various kinds. But questions arise about more “traditional” appointees too, such as white males of Christian background. They are not uniform in their life experiences or their approaches to judicial decision-making, and sometimes turn out to behave very differently on the bench than might have been predicted. Exploring these patterns and their impact on the law will be a big part of what we do in this seminar. However, judges are not the only influential actors in the adversarial system. Lawyers, and the cases they bring (including how they are argued), are a key, often overlooked aspect of the judicial decision-making process. This seminar also considers the influence of the lived experiences of lawyers more generally.

Legal Theory Seminar

This seminar is an introduction to theoretical reflection about law in the Anglo-American tradition. Rather than asking “what is the law” on a particular issue, as you will do in most of your first-year doctrinal courses, this seminar will pose the more general question, what is Law? Put differently, what is the essential nature of law itself, wherever it is exists as a phenomenon? What makes the law of Apartheid South Africa (if there was law there) and the law of 21st century Canada both “law”? We will survey the framing texts of the common law tradition that address this question, including the work of H.L.A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin, and Lon Fuller, but also more modern contributions. More specific, guiding topics include the nature of legal obligation, what distinguishes other systems of rules from “law”, the relationship between law and morality, whether an unjust law is properly called a “law” at all, the nature of judicial reasoning, and whether philosophical controversy matters (and should matter) to the practice of law. While this course does not discuss the rich intersections of these classic texts with critical race theory, feminist theory, law and economics, and Indigenous legal traditions, it provides an important foundation for further study in those areas.

Legal Values: Wealth, Death, Capacity & the Lawyer

This perspective option uses the law of succession, wealth transfer and capacity law as its framework. Together, we will explore historical, social, religious and legal aspects of succession and capacity law. Society’s demographic shift and our law’s dynamic nature will be explored through consideration of testamentary freedom and its limits. Throughout the course, ethical, professional and public policy issues will be investigated and discussed. A goal of the course will be creating an understanding of the cultural, emotional and psychological influences on family dynamics and its corresponding impact on succession and capacity law. Emphasis will also be placed on practical lawyering skills, including oral presentations.

Topics will include: cultural and religious impact on succession planning, will-making freedom, family dynamics, ethical and professional responsibility issues, and fiduciary obligations of trustees.

Rights & Reconciliation: Indigenous Peoples & the Law

The relationship between Indigenous communities and Canadian legal structures is complex and one of the most rapidly-evolving and interesting areas of Canadian law.

Today, much of the discourse about Indigenous communities and Canadian law is framed through a narrative of “reconciliation.” Why are we talking about “reconciliation”? How did this become the framework for looking at issues affecting Indigenous communities? What does “reconciliation” really mean for lawyers dealing with Indigenous communities’ issues in the Canadian legal system?

The seminar will introduce students to the history of how Indigenous communities have been affected by interaction with and key relationships with Canadian law. Students will have the opportunity to critically analyze the framework of “reconciliation” by looking at Canadian legal system impacts on Indigenous communities’ relationship with Indigenous lands and resources, families, governance systems, and legal orders.

Seminar participants will have the opportunity to learn with one another through in-person class time, interaction with guest speakers, in-class presentations based on course materials and class discussion on weekly topics.

Seminar participants will together explore some of the following key themes:

  • How has the relationship between Indigenous communities and Canadian legal structures evolved, from pre-colonial through colonial and contemporary periods?
  • What are the “benchmark” legal cases and developments that represent key changes in the relationship between Indigenous communities and Canadian law?
  • How can the Canadian legal system interact with emerging / resurgent models of Indigenous legal orders?

Tax As Instrument of Social & Economic Policy

This seminar considers the use of tax instruments to achieve social and economic goals. Now is a perfect time for studying this because governments around the globe – including the Canadian government – are relying on tax measures to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic, globalization and digitalization, increasing wealth/income inequality, and the need to balance redistribution of income and economic growth. This seminar provides an opportunity for students to learn about tax policy in action, and more importantly, develop skills in legal and public policy analysis that can be applied in all areas of law.

To take this seminar, students should have an intellectual curiosity, and be prepared to read and think like a legal professional. A detailed course outline and written guidance for each module of the class will be provided in advance.

Guest speakers will be invited to lead some discussions.