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History of the Centre

The Public Law Tradition at the University of Ottawa

The Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa has a long tradition of public law excellence, as one might expect given both its national, multijural vocation and its location: the only faculty of law in the National Capital Region, just a short walk away from Parliament Hill, the Supreme Court of Canada and the federal public service, tribunals and agencies. When thinking of public law at the University of Ottawa, an earlier generation will think immediately of Senator Gérald-A. Beaudoin, Elmer Driedger, Edward Ratushny and Walter Tarnapolsky. Canadians continue to read and celebrate the ground-breaking scholarship of Constance Backhouse, Nathalie Des Rosiers, Martha Jackman, Lucie Lamarche, Sheila MacIntyre, Sanda Rodgers and Elizabeth Sheehy. Students and practitioners of law continue to rely on public law texts prepared by André Braen, Pierre Foucher, Sébastien Grammond, Joseph Magnet, Errol Mendes and Benoit Pelletier. Black and Indigenous people in Canada have for some time looked for guidance and leadership from Joanne St. Lewis and Larry Chartrand.

The Faculty is the home of the world-renowned Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Four Supreme Court of Canada justices (Michel Bastarache, Louise Charron, Gerald Fauteux and Chief Justice Richard Wagner) have close links with the faculty. Two presidents of the University of Ottawa, Alan Rock and Jacques Frémont, have deep public law backgrounds. An institutional legacy in public law could be built around far less.

And yet the University of Ottawa’s public law strength for some time spanned far wider when one considered the full range of public law related scholarship: Jamie Benidickson in Environmental Law; Denis Nadeau in Labour Law; Nicole Laviolette and Marie Pratte in Family Law; Louise Belanger-Hardy in Health Law; Craig Forcese in National Security Law; Yves LeBouthillier in Immigration Law, just to take a few examples. In the early years of the new century, both Civil Law and Common Law sections of the Faculty continued to expand, adding a new generation of impressive public law school.

The Public Law Group

In 2010, the University of Ottawa Public Law Group (PLG) was created with the primary goal of bringing our many experts into closer contact within the Faculty and within the National Capital Region, all the while signalling our public law strength to the rest of Canada and the outside world. Many workshops, panels and conferences were organised under the auspices of the Public Law Group, including six Emerging Issues in Public Law Conferences, conferences celebrating Supreme Court Justice Louise Charron and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, and a Conference marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Adam Dodek (2015-16), Carissima Mathen (2014-15), Peter Oliver (2011-14, 2015-16) and Michael Pal (2016-19) served as directors of the Public Law Group. Public law experts such as Carissima Mathen, Errol Mendes, Sébastien Grammond and David Robitaille became regular commentators on national media.

During this same period, key appointments were made, again solidifying the Faculty’s broad-based public law strength: Katherine Lippel, SSHRC Gold Medal winner, became Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Law; Ghislain Otis became Canada Research Chair in Legal Diversity and Indigenous Peoples; Pascale Fournier took up a University Research Chair in Legal Pluralism and Comparative Law; Colleen Flood, a University Research Chair in Health Law and Policy; Tracy Lindberg, a University Research Chair in Indigenous Laws and Legal Orders; Paul Daly, a University Research Chair in Administrative Law and Governance; and Dean Marie-Ève Sylvestre, a University Research Chair in Law and Criminal Justice Policy, and the Regulation of Marginalized People. Many of the present and past holders of the Shirley Greenberg Chair of Women and the Legal Profession have contributed to public law at the Faculty in significant ways (Natasha Bakht, Rosemary Cairns-Way, Angela Cameron, Martha Jackman, Sanda Rodgers, Elizabeth Sheehy).

Public Law Group members published articles, chapters and monographs across the full range of public law subject matter. They also edited an impressive range of collected volumes, often with significant numbers of PLG contributors: Public Law at the McLachlin Court: The First Decade (Irwin Law, 2011, Adam Dodek, ed.); Fédéralisme et gouvernance autochtone (PUL, 2013, Ghislain Otis and Martin Papillon, eds); Cinquante ans de bilinguisme official : défis, analyses et témoignages (Invenire, 2014, Richard Clément and Pierre Foucher, eds); Principles and Pragmatism: Essays in Honour of Louise Charron (Lexis, Nexis, 2014, Graham Mayeda and Peter Oliver, eds); Public Law: Cases, Commentary, and Analysis (Emond, 2015, Craig Forcese, Adam Dodek, et al, eds); The Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution (OUP, 2017, Peter Oliver, Patrick Macklem and Nathalie Des Rosiers, eds); Administrative Law in Context (Emond, 3rd ed. 2017, Colleen Flood and Lorne Sossin, eds); Canada’s Constitutional Democracy: The 150th Anniversary Celebration (LexisNexis, 2017, Errol Mendes, ed); La constitution bilingue du Canada (PUL, 2017, Linda Cardinal and François Larocque, eds); Les systèmes constitutionnels dans le monde (Wilson & Lafleur, 2018, Jabeur Fathalie, Charles-Maxime Panaccio et al. eds); The Canadian Constitution in Transition (UofT Press, 2019, Richard Albert, Paul Daly and Vanessa MacDonnell, eds); and without forgetting the highly-regarded National Journal of Constitutional Law (edited by Errol Mendes).

The success of the Public Law Group led to discussions regarding the possibility of creating a new Public Law Centre. The eventual proposal came together around a compelling list of aims and objectives:

  • To bring together public law researchers from Canada and around the world. For example, in 2018 the University of Ottawa was selected to host the prestigious international Public Law Conference in June 2020. Previous host universities for the conference were the University of Cambridge (twice) and the University of Melbourne;
  • To coordinate working paper series on issues of fundamental public law importance, such as constitutional protection for language rights, Indigenous self-government, the constitutionality of climate-change-related legislation, etc.;
  • To disseminate academic research through dynamic and creative means, including fast-breaking, open-access e-publications;
  • To represent Canada in influential international organizations and by hosting more international events;
  • To solicit and attract funding from the private and public sector and the tri-councils;
  • To work together with public-law-related Research Chairs and Research Centres at the Faculty and in the University;
  • To take advantage of the enhanced profile and administrative agility of the Centre to build on existing connections within government (in particular the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec), courts, tribunals and administrative agencies, and law firms with a public-law focus;
  • To build links with other public law centres around the world;
  • To enhance opportunities for students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, to the greater benefit of students and staff alike;
  • And finally, to attract the very top public law talent to the Faculty.

Professor Michael Pal (Director of the Public Law Group from 2016-19) and Professor Peter Oliver (Vice Dean Research from 2017-19) worked together with the Research Office and two highly supportive Deans (Dean Adam Dodek and Dean Céline Lévesque) to put together a proposal that was eventually presented successfully to the Research Commission of the University of Ottawa. A new uOttawa Public Law Centre was approved by the University Board of Governors in the summer of 2019.