Feminist Legal Studies Queen's - Winter Term 2023 Lectures
Monday, February 6, 2023
Vanessa MacDonnell | Associate Professor | uOttawa Faculty of Law
Topic: Justice Abella and Feminist Judicial Method
Professor MacDonnell will address how the most well-recognized elements of Justice Rosalie Abella’s judicial approach – beginning with people and their experiences, and being attuned to power differentials and vulnerability – reflect a feminist epistemology that is slowly gaining traction on Canada’s highest court. This way of perceiving the world and the judicial method that flows from it represent a challenge to the prevailing legal orthodoxy. Indeed, Justice Abella faced strong headwinds in insisting that people’s experiences – women’s experiences, workers’ experiences, and the experiences of front-line decision-makers, among others – should be placed front and centre in the legal analysis. Those who argue against this approach have criticized it as ideological and outcome-driven. However, such arguments fall well short of impugning her approach, which is theoretically and methodologically defensible, and largely consistent with the common law method.
Vanessa MacDonnell is an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and Co-Director of the uOttawa Public Law Centre. She researches in the areas of Canadian constitutional law, constitutional theory, comparative constitutional law and criminal law and procedure. In 2019, she was selected for membership in the Global Young Academy.
Her research examines the constitutional functions of the executive branch, inter-institutional relationships, the role of unwritten constitutional norms and principles in our constitutional order, and the relationship between Canada’s legal and political constitutions. She has also written about police powers and the jury. She is currently completing a SSHRC-funded research project on quasi-constitutional legislation. She also leads the Canadian team on a $1.7 million interdisciplinary, international research project on unwritten constitutional norms and principles, funded in Round 7 of the Open Research Area Competition.
Vanessa is a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (J.D.) and Harvard Law School (LL.M.). She is currently pursuing doctoral studies at McGill University. Between 2007 and 2008 she served as a law clerk to Justice Louise Charron at the Supreme Court of Canada. She has held visiting research fellowships at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public and International Law, King’s College London, and the Laureate Program in Comparative Constitutional Law at Melbourne Law School. In 2019 she spent six months as Scholar-in-Residence in the Constitutional, Administrative and International Law Section of Department of Justice Canada.
She teaches or has taught constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law and procedure, the law of evidence, a seminar on the Supreme Court of Canada, and graduate courses on comparative law and the impact of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on criminal law and procedure.