Public Law in Action


Commissioner Legault speaks to students at Allard Hall. 

Last fall, first year students in Allard School of Law’s Public Law course heard three exceptional speakers who shared their insights garnered from lifetime careers spent grappling with central and rising issues of importance in public law: Chief Robert Joseph, OBC; The Honourable Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein, QC; and Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault. 

Assistant Professor Mary Liston, who, together with Associate Professor Cristie Ford and Lecturers Bethany Hastie and Jeffrey Meyers, helped organize the speaker series, says that the speakers were chosen with three particular public law themes in mind: the legacy of colonialism in Canada and its significance for public law (Chief Joseph); the differing views of judges on the balance between judicial independence and parliamentary supremacy, and the role of interpretation in achieving that balance (Justice Rothstein); and transparency and access to information as key issues for democratic governance (Commissioner Legault). Each speaker both brought to life and complemented the core content in the course, the Public Law casebook, and class lectures.

“We were thrilled that all three accepted our invitations and that they each were able to talk about particular issues central to the course at the time they came. It was a perfect fit.”

First year student Alexandra Catchpole was impressed. “The guest speakers offered a chance to see the processes we learn about in class play out in the actions of real people fulfilling their roles every day. Hearing Chief Joseph’s talk in the first term meant beginning first year thinking about colonization and the potential of reconciliation as foundational to understanding law. Justice Rothstein spoke about the importance of resting our legal opinions on valid principles rather than our own feelings, and Commissioner Legault demonstrated the importance of making the right decisions, even where this might not be easy.”

First year student Bobby Sangha, who also attended, called the lectures “a gift,” pointing to the way that the speakers “were able to illustrate the importance of fundamental legal principles such as the rule of law and stare decisis, which can otherwise be lost in a classroom.”  

“At the same time,” he added, “Chief Joseph helped us reflect on the way in which law has been used to harm indigenous peoples, while also challenging us as aspiring students of law to use it instead as a vehicle for change.”

For Professor Liston, the lectures accomplished a number of aims. “Public law is a broad and complex area. Each of the speakers brought some aspect of public law to life and illuminated public law in action. On a practical level, students heard leading actors speak about their public law experience firsthand and get an idea of the range of work that is available to those who might wish to specialize in public law.” Inspired by the success of this year’s lecture series, Professor Liston has already begun putting together a wish list of speakers to come to Allard Hall, and anticipates another round of illuminating talks for next year’s incoming class.

Professor Liston would like to thank the following people for their support in making these lectures happen: Dean Catherine Dauvergne and the Dean’s Office, Professor Darlene Johnston and Associate Director Dana-Lyn Mackenzie (Indigenous Legal Studies Program), Professor Jocelyn Stacey, and Professor David Duff (Co-director, LLM in Taxation).