Humane Impact and Human Impact: Two Doctoral Students in Law Win Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarships for Ground-breaking Projects

Posted on Thursday, July 6, 2017

At first glance, an attempt to promote the social inclusion of offenders into Canada’s criminal sentencing process would seem to have little to do with efforts to build a more sustainable relationship between humanity and the inhabitants of our planet’s vast oceans.  But both projects – marked by inherent compassion and efforts to reverse alarming trends – represent bold attempts to take on significant challenges facing Canada and the world today.  Both are also led by students in the Faculty of Law, and now both have been recognized by one of Canada’s leading communities of experts and change makers, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

The experts behind these projects are two Faculty of Law doctoral students, Sophie de Saussure and Pierre Cloutier de Repentigny.  They are among the 2017 recipients of the most highly-coveted intellectual community and funding opportunity for doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Doctoral Scholarships.  Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholarships have an unmatched stature and scope across Canada, and with only 15 such scholarships awarded every year, Ms. de Saussure and Mr. Cloutier de Repentigny have truly distinguished themselves as two of the nation’s most outstanding doctoral students.

Ms. de Saussure’s research project delves into the legal framework for criminal sentencing in Canada, exploring the shortcomings of the sentencing process, which frequently neglects to take into account offenders’ social ties.  “The dominant logic in the criminal justice system perceives human beings in the abstract,” says Ms. de Saussure, “in a way that strips individuals of their social bonds, and ultimately disconnects them from the realities of their lives”. Her research asks how taking these relationships into consideration could lead to new methods of thinking about and carrying out criminal justice intervention.  She seeks to develop a more reflexive conception of the process that considers the potential social consequences that might arise from prison sentences, while restoring a renewed sense of human rights and human dignity to the individuals involved.  Particular consideration will be given to cases where offenders have ties to children. “Children enjoy legal protection in several areas of the law, where their interests must be considered when judicial decisions are likely to have an impact on them,” she says. “But the legal framework for sentencing does not give them any special protection.”  The sentencing theories that dominate modern criminal law tend to encourage the exclusion and suffering of the guilty party.  But by insisting on social inclusion rather than the marginalization of offenders, Ms. de Saussure seeks to reconcile the sentencing process with modern human rights, providing better protection to society over the long term through an approach that is ultimately more concerned with social interactions between individuals.

Ms. de Saussure is supervised by Professor Margarida Garcia of the Civil Law Section, whose work on human rights and criminal law has garnered national and international attention. “I am convinced that Sophie will be a leader in the development of a new criminal law that is more sensitive to the issue of social inclusion and that she will contribute through her work to advancing and even transforming her field of study,” says Professor Garcia. “I am delighted to be part of a shared adventure centering on this relevant, innovative and socially important project led by a remarkable, passionate student and a community of exceptional human and intellectual wealth in the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.”

Mr. Cloutier de Repentigny, meanwhile, is undertaking a critical analysis of the marine life protection provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  Environmental law as we know it, he suggests, seems incapable of stopping or sufficiently limiting environmental degradation. “It is time to rethink environmental law instead of simply trying to implement further reforms within the current system,” he says. “This re-formation project is necessary to ensure the integrity of the Earth’s ecological systems, and consequently our survival.”  Specifically, Mr. Cloutier de Repentigny’s research seeks to ensure that we can establish a sustainable relationship with marine life, an important prospect given marine biodiversity’s importance in terms of ecological integrity, food security, livelihood, culture, and spirituality. Given the rapid decline of marine biodiversity, the ecological and human impacts of failing to reframe our relationship with marine life could be dire. “I intend to demonstrate that the liberal paradigm underlying the law of the sea, which favours economic development over other considerations, prevents the regime from stopping the alarming decline of marine biodiversity,” he says. His research ultimately aims to re-imagine the law of the sea so that it can function as a tool for ensuring an ecologically sustainable relationship between humanity and marine life.

Mr. Cloutier de Repentigny is supervised by the Common Law Section’s Professor Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, a renowned leader in Canadian environmental law who has written extensively on environmental justice, ethics, and sustainable energy.  “Pierre is tackling an ambitious project that uses a specific case study to evaluate and challenge many of the foundational principles of international, environmental and maritime law,” says Professor McLeod-Kilmurray. “This work is important, not only given the pressing realities of fish stock collapse and ocean pollution, but also because it can serve as a model for tackling similar global sustainability challenges such as climate change and threats to biodiversity. Pierre is an ideal candidate for the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholarship as he is a fighter, a community builder and a true leader and his career is just beginning. We are privileged that he is doing his work here at uOttawa Law.”

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation awards its doctoral scholarships to Canadians and to international students in all disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. The awards aim to cultivate students with research interests that bring a multidisciplinary approach to developing and improving Canada’s position in the world.  The scholarship awards $40,000 per year for 3 years, plus $20,000 per year as a research and travel allowance (with a possibility of a fourth year of funding if needed).  

A third recipient from the University of Ottawa, Emma Swan of the School of International Development at the Faculty of Social Sciences, is also among the 2017 winners.  Since the establishment of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation in 2002, the University of Ottawa has hosted three previous Scholarship winners. The 2017 cohort from uOttawa – representing a full fifth of this year’s recipients – has doubled the University’s total! 

The Faculty of Law also hosts many former winners of this prestigious honour amongst its faculty members.  Former Pierre Elliott Trudeau scholars include Professors Steven Hoffman, Michael Pal and Kyle Kirkup from the Common Law Section, and Professors Pascale Fournier, Margarida Garcia and Sophie Thériault from the Civil Law Section.  Furthermore, Professor Constance Backhouse is a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Research Fellow, part of a group of scholars recognized for their innovative contributions to some of the major issues facing society.

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation was founded in 2002 as a living memorial to the former prime minister.  Its goal is to encourage critical reflection and action that can benefit Canadians across four main themes: human rights and dignity, responsible citizenship, Canada’s role in the world, and people and their natural environment.

Congratulations to Ms. de Saussure and Mr. Cloutier de Repentigny on this exceptional achievement!

Sophie de Saussure et Pierre Cloutier de Repentigny


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