Is hate speech protected by freedom of expression? Do pipeline projects require the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before construction may begin on their traditional lands? Does the Parliament of Canada have the power to impose a price on carbon?

Why are Constitutional and Public Law vital?

Prime Minister Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II sign the Constitution of Canada, 1982.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II sign the Canadian Constitution, 1982.

Public and constitutional law serves some of the most important functions of law in society. It constitutes, restrains, and directs government authority, and also guarantees, secures, and vindicates human rights. Public and constitutional law regulates and mediates the relationship between the citizen and the state and its governing institutions and that demarcates the roles and responsibilities of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

The division of power between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures, the scope and limitation of rights and freedoms under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the promise of reconciliation in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the judicial review of decisions of administrative tribunals all fall within the broad ambit of public and constitutional law.

Faculty

Close to one quarter of Queen’s Law faculty research and write in the area of public and constitutional law. Between them, they bring insights from rights theory, political theory, economic analysis, feminist studies, and deep experience in the practice of law within government and private practice.

Constitutional Law Faculty, Queen's Law, March 2019
Queen's Law Faculty experts in constitutional and public law. Top row: Ashwini Vasanthakumar, Jacob Weinrib, Beverley Baines. Bottom row: Sharry Aiken, Cherie Metcalf, Grégoire Webber, Jean Thomas.

History

Queen’s Law has long had great depth and breadth in its public and constitutional law research and course offerings. The first Dean of Law, William R. Lederman, was a noted constitutional scholar and served as a constitutional adviser to the Premier of Ontario. The Faculty’s Law Library is named in his honour, as is a named Visitorship. The current Dean of Law, Mark Walters, is an internationally renowned constitutional scholar. Prior to assuming his decanal responsibilities, Dean Walters held the prestigious FR Scott Chair in Public and Constitutional Law at McGill University.

The commitment to public and constitutional law has grown with each successive generation of Queen’s Law faculty. They excel in research and in teaching and maintain an active presence in the practice of public and constitutional law.

What do Constitutional & Public Law experts do?

Constitutional & Public Law is the foundation of any number of legal and related careers. Experts in the area are found in key roles in both public and private law, working on everything from providing government counsel to defending peoples' rights in the private sector.

Professors Weinrib, Thomas, Webber
Professors Jacob Weinrib, Jean Thomas, and Grégoire Webber.
  • Legal counsel for government (federal, provincial/territorial, municipal)
  • Policy advisor on legislation, policies, and programs to government (federal, provincial/territorial, municipal)
  • Legal counsel with human rights NGOs (e.g. CCLA, BCCLA, LEAF)
  • Legal counsel with Indigenous communities and NGOs (e.g. AFN, ITK, MNC)
  • Private practice in Aboriginal law
  • Private practice in public interest litigation
  • Private practice in administrative and regulatory law
  • Private practice in immigration law
  • Private practice in environmental law
  • Administrative tribunals (panel member, legal services)
  • Academia

Courses

Professors Bev Baines and Ashwini Vasanthakumar.
Professors Bev Baines and Ashwini Vasanthakumar.

Queen’s Law divides the first year curriculum between Public Law and Constitutional Law to allow for a deeper understanding of the structure of government and federalism and of Charter and Aboriginal rights. The upper year curriculum offers courses in aboriginal law, administrative law, and advanced and comparative constitutional law, as well as in environmental law and immigration law, among other courses.

A session of the Colloquium in Legal & Political Thought.

  • First year: Public Law
  • First year: Constitutional Law
  • Upper year: Administrative Law
  • Upper year: Comparative Constitutional Law
  • Upper year: Advanced Constitutional Law
  • Upper year: Oppression and the Ethics of Resistance
  • Upper year: Advanced Topics in Constitutional Law: Positive Rights
  • Upper year: Aboriginal Law
  • Upper year: Immigration Law
  • Upper year: Environmental Law

Graduate and post-doctoral researchers

Queen’s Law has a rich community of graduate and post-doctoral students working in public and constitutional law.