Check out our Q&A with Dean Mark Walters and learn about his thoughts and plans for the school and its community members.
I am writing to you, members of the Queen’s Law community, on Canada Day 2019. It is technically my first day of work as the new Dean of Law. Of course it is actually a holiday – a day to be outside with family and friends by a lake or a river celebrating the country we call home.
Within my memory, this day was called Dominion Day. It marked the beginning of the project known as the Dominion of Canada. Remembering the origins of this project is important to our collective sense of community today. From the Confederation debates in the mid-1860s to Gordon Lightfoot’s brilliant “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” written a century later, you will find a sense of grand optimism and destiny about the idea of Canada. “[T]ime has no beginnings and history has no bounds,” Lightfoot wrote in 1967, “[And] to this verdant country they came from all around/They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall/Built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all.” We are the beneficiaries of that sense of optimism and destiny today.
Yet if we inherit the benefits we also inherit the legacy of the moral compromises of the past. The Railroad Trilogy is a great piece of Canadian literature because it complicates the optimistic story generally told of Canada. Lightfoot began his song with what are now hard words to take in: “There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run/When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun/Long before the white man and long before the wheel/When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.” In the drive to build the nation – to build the mines, the mills, and the factories for the good of us all – was something lost? I think about another great Lightfoot song, one that has a much darker and realistic tone, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which begins with the haunting lines: “The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down/Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’/The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead/When the skies of November turn gloomy.” How can the grand mission of the nation encompass the hopes and dreams of its newcomers and its Indigenous peoples, of the realities of life today and the need for a just and sustainable development for tomorrow?
I want to feel optimistic about the promise of this great country, and yet I sense that optimism today is contingent upon our collective effort to embrace the complexities of this promise with a true sense of knowing about what has been lost and what can be gained by the rights and wrongs of our past and by the bearing of this knowledge upon who we are and who we will become.
Law speaks to this challenge. It can be an instrument of power. Yet it can also be a narrative for justice. My basic objective as the Dean of Law at one of Canada’s leading law schools is to encourage a spirit of honest and respectful debate about law’s place in the complex world in which we live. At Queen’s, we educate legal practitioners – practitioners of law, of course, but also practitioners of legality in its biggest and broadest sense. We want to nurture the next generation of leaders.
I am honoured to be given the privilege of leading an institution that cares deeply about the place of law and legality in the changing world that we confront today. I will do everything I can to help make our institution relevant and meaningful for the challenging days to come. I was drawn back to Queen’s because I believe it has an important role to play in public life in Canada and in the world beyond. However, I will always remember that I am a small part of a larger community, one that I am honoured to work with and to represent. I am looking forward to working with you in the months and years to come.
The motto of Queen’s Law is the classic statement of kings given upon the royal assent to bills passed by the houses of parliament – soit droit fait. There is an ambiguity inherent in this assertion that I like. Yes, this is law, if it is right. Let right be done.
Mark D. Walters
Dean of Law