Faculty of Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Debra Haak

“I think law chose me,” Debra Haak says, reflecting on both her legal career (as a partner at Gowlings LLP until 2016) and her pursuit of a doctorate in the field.

A world traveller, formerly residing in small-town Ontario, big-city London, England, and a variety of towns and cities across Europe and the U.S., Debra now splits her time between Kingston and Toronto, where she lives with her husband (Hugh Christie, Law ’81) and two of her three children. Debra enjoys her time in Kingston, appreciating its small size and amenities including a “fantastic” farmers market and great restaurants.

She was drawn to advanced studies by an interest in the intractability of the debate surrounding her research topic. “Both within Canada and internationally, there is a polarized debate over the law’s role in relation to the commercialization of sex and intimacy,” she explains. “Because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bedford in 2013, Canada’s legal approach to this issue was set to change. I found the then existing debate over the issue incomplete and I wanted to make a meaningful and informed contribution to it.”

Debra approaches her research from the perspective of a practicing lawyer, grounded in an understanding of lawyers as problem solvers. “I think the current framing of issues related to buying and selling sex inadequately accounts for the lived experiences of all stakeholders,” she says. “The truth is that selling sex is understood as work by some sellers and it is exploitative of others. There are a wide range of interests, including equality interests, that should properly be taken into account when policy makers consider how to legislate in response to the harms associated with and caused by exchanging sex for compensation. I am working on a theory that attempts to recognize the full range of experiences, interests, and harms relevant to the law’s role in commercial sex. This will allow for more nuanced construction and evaluation of empirical research, and may allow for the creation of legal and policy responses beyond those currently in place.”

Debra hopes her research causes legal decision makers and policy makers to recognize the distinction between prostitution and sex work, and the concerns raised by the use of consent as the measure of whether the criminal law has a role to play in responding to the problems of commercial sex. “As a practicing lawyer, I see myself as a problem solver. Intractable debates about important social issues provide a new and useful space in which to employ legal problem solving skills. After I have earned my degree, I hope to continue researching and writing about complex social issues and the interests of the differently situated vulnerable individuals and groups impacted by them,” she says.

In addition to undertaking her research, Debra is gaining teaching experience during her PhD studies. She was appointed as a Teaching Fellow in the foundational Introduction to Legal Skills course at Queen’s Law in her second year of PhD studies and as a Teaching Fellow instructing the Insolvency Restructuring course in her third year of PhD studies.

Previous Degrees:

MPhil (University of St Andrews, Scotland)

LLB (University of New Brunswick)

BA (Hons) and Certificat de francais pratique (University of Western Ontario)