“Human Rights in Pandemic Times: A Canadian Law School Conference” (February 2021)

  • April 08, 2021

The Queen’s Human Rights Law Club, with the support of the CBA International Law Section, hosted “Human Rights in Pandemic Times: A Canadian Law School Conference” from February 24-26, 2021. 

The 3-day online conference consisted of 21 panels hosted by clubs at 17 common-law schools across Canada. Each club chose their own topics, titles, and speakers, focusing on areas that intersect domestic and international human rights issues.

After being pushed online in early 2020, law students across the country have attended what is colloquially known as ‘Zoom School of Law’ for over a year now. Online teaching methods have created an opportunity to bridge geographic divides. Hosting a Canada-wide conference provided the unique chance for Canadian law students to come together to learn and grow, and to highlight the human rights issues in their communities, both local and global, that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The conference saw over 450 students, lawyers, and activists participate.

The conference began with an opening address by Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal-based human rights lawyer, who gave an overview of the human rights based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on a case study of the recent Mobile Legal Clinic v. Attorney General of Quebec decision from Quebec’s Superior Court. Other panels throughout the day focused on the impacts of COVID-19 on workers’ rights, health, homelessness, and the overdose epidemic. In the evening, students had the opportunity to network with lawyers working in international law through a lively group discussion, which was organized by the CBA International Law Section’s Law Student and New Lawyer Committee. 

The second day of the conference spanned from panels on discrimination to environment to women working in the legal field. The day was grounded by the keynote address, provided by the Honourable Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. His address focused on the important role students, lawyers and activists play in the pursuit of justice. Stating that we “must feel the injustice and combat the injustice”, Minister Cotler discussed the cases of several political prisoners incarcerated across the world for their role working in the face of evil. The day concluded with the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers uOttawa Student Chapter’s 10th Annual Refugee Night, which highlighted the works of professors, practitioners, activists and entertainers. 

The panels on the final day of the conference focused on criminal justice issues both domestically and abroad, Indigenous rights, disability rights, and the intersection between human rights and business law. The day began with a panel hosted by McGill’s Wallenberg Advocacy Group on the plight of political prisoners in China. While the panel was interrupted by Zoom ‘bombers’ partway through, the panel resumed shortly without further interruption. The panel speakers used the opportunity to highlight to students how important it is to speak up and fight back against those who seek to silence human rights defenders.

The conference’s final event included a presentation on the BISC International Law Programs, the CBA International Initiatives Young Lawyers International Program, and a discussion with Queen’s Law Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Joshua Karton on LLM programs. 

The conference’s full schedule can be viewed here. We look forward to hosting a similar event next year!