Criminalizing coercive control may do more harm than good, says prof

court judge

Creating a Criminal Code of Canada offence that specifically sanctions coercive control in cases of intimate partner violence would do little to protect women and children and may do more harm than good, said Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Janet Mosher in a recent submission to the federal Department of Justice.

Janet Mosher
Janet Mosher

Bill C-332, a private member’s bill calling for an offence of coercive control to be added to the Criminal Code, is currently awaiting second reading in the House of Commons. It builds on a similar bill put forward by the New Democratic Party two years ago, which died on the order paper.

Mosher and her co-authors, Osgoode PhD student Shushanna Harris, University of Calgary law Professor Jennifer Koshan and University of Saskatchewan law Professor Wanda Wiegers, submitted their paper last month in response to a Justice Canada invitation for comment on the proposed bill.

In intimate relationships, coercive control can take the form of enforced isolation, surveillance, threats, degradation, humiliation, and sometimes physical and sexual violence. It can leave women and children feeling like they’re walking on eggshells, the experience inflicting lasting psychological scars and, in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder. Elements of coercive control are among the risk factors correlated with lethal violence.

“There’s agreement that coercive control is a serious problem and needs to be understood by all actors in the legal system,” said Mosher.

“But there’s not good evidence that creating more criminal offences or increasing penalties actually works generally to deter this kind of violence,” she added. “And we also know that there are really significant problems in how the criminal justice system currently responds to intimate partner violence.”

A parliamentary committee that investigated the issue in April 2021 recommended the government consider drafting legislation directed at coercive control. In recent years, changes to the federal Divorce Act and Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act have redefined family violence to include coercive and controlling behaviour. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has also advocated for new offences specifically targeting coercive control.

But Mosher said evidence from countries such as England, which has had an offence of coercive control since 2015, is that judges, lawyers and police officers have difficulty conceiving of an offence based on a pattern of conduct and often misunderstand what coercive control is.

“It has lots of different components,” she added. “There are many different tactics. And it’s very much not focused on a single incident or a small handful of incidents, but it’s looking at a pattern of conduct over time.

“So in terms of proving it and getting the evidence before a decision maker, it’s pretty complicated,” she explained. “It takes time and it takes resources, in addition to knowledge and understanding.”

The experience in England is telling, she noted: A recent study found that six of seven cases of coercive control were discontinued due to evidentiary challenges.

In their submission to the Department of Justice, Mosher and her co-authors also argue that a specific Criminal Code provision would be ineffective in deterring coercive control because most women who experience intimate partner violence do not contact the police. That’s especially true for Black, Indigenous and queer women.

“Contacting the police has many potential ramifications,” she said. “If you have children, the child welfare authorities will be notified. If you’re a Black woman or an Indigenous woman, you’re much more likely to have your children taken from you. That’s a reason why you might not contact the police.”

Just as concerning, she added, is how many women – more likely marginalized women – are wrongfully charged with domestic violence-related offences because of police misunderstanding or the abusive partners’ manipulation of the legal system. Adding an offence of coercive control opens up even more opportunities for manipulation, said Mosher.

Even if a woman calls the police and it results in a charge, there is little protection that comes from that, she said. “It may make some women and children safer, but it will actually, in our view, make many women and children less safe.”

She said that the March 2023 report of the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission, which conducted a public inquiry into the 2020 shooting of 22 people in and around Portapique, N.S., concluded that strong community-based responses to intimate partner violence that give women safe spaces would be more effective than carceral responses in protecting women and children.

A national action plan released in 2021 by Women’s Shelters Canada provides many solid recommendations on ending violence against women, said Mosher, including providing adequate income, adequate safe housing, and better and early interventions for abusers.

Dahdaleh grad students showcase global health research

Global health

Four accomplished graduate scholars from York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research (DIGHR) will share details of their research projects, as well as insights on the progress of their research journeys, at the fourth annual Global Health Graduate Scholars Symposium on Dec. 13.

Taking place at the Keele Campus, Dahdaleh Global Health Graduate Scholarship students Eyram Agbe, Caroline Duncan, Alexandra Scott and Nawang Yanga will offer an overview of the groundbreaking research they are undertaking in line with DIGHR’s three themes: planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, and global health foresighting.

The Dahdaleh Global Health Graduate Scholarship was created to attract exceptional incoming and continuing domestic and international graduate research students to DIGHR. The scholarship is granted annually to graduate students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement in global health research.

This year’s presentations are:

Digital Deprivation: COVID-19, Education, and Teacher Health in Ghana – Eyram Agbe
Agbe is a master’s student in the Development Studies program. Her research seeks to understand the diverse psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 on basic school teachers in Accra, Ghana, and how these factors affect their ability to support new curriculum implementation as schools have returned to in-person classes. This study seeks to centre the critical role that social vulnerability plays in education; specifically, how teachers’ health outcomes are situated within contentions over technopolitical visions by stakeholders.

Drinking Water Provision in the Canadian Arctic: Current and Future Challenges and Emerging Opportunities – Caroline Duncan
Duncan is a PhD candidate at the Lassonde School of Engineering. Her research seeks to understand the complex factors that affect the quality and accessibility of drinking water in the Arctic using an interdisciplinary and participatory approach. Duncan works closely with the Municipality of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, collaborating with community members, government and non-governmental organization stakeholders involved with drinking water from source to tap to develop a model to test treatment, as well as work towards policy interventions to optimize drinking water safety.

The Myth of “Good Enough”: Law, Engineering, and Autonomous Weapons Systems – Alexandra Scott
Scott is a PhD student, Dahdaleh Global Health Graduate Scholar and Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellow at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Her work explores the development and deployment of autonomous weapon systems (also known as “killer robots”) under international law and the role that engineers play in both.

TB in Tibetan Refugee Settlements in India: What We Know and What Is Missing – Nawang Yanga
Yanga is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health. Her dissertation focuses on the lived experiences of Tibetan refugees with tuberculosis (TB) in Indian settlements. This is greatly motivated by her own experiences with TB and by the sheer lack of literature in this community, despite having some of the highest TB incidence rates globally. The aim of her project is to introduce a social perspective to TB discourse by highlighting the connections between social conditions and TB that are unique to Tibetan refugees in India.

Visit the event page to register and attend:

The graduate students’ research is funded by the Dahdaleh Global Health Graduate Scholarship. The 2024 competition is currently accepting applications. To learn more about the eligibility criteria and application process, visit the scholarships page:

From practising law to innovating health care: York prof harnesses potential of genomic medicine 

Collage showing DNA, medicine and more

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile editor 

York University Assistant Professor Ian Stedman says the diagnosis of his first-born daughter’s rare disease likely saved his life – and now, he’s focusing his work on helping to do the same for others across Canada.

Ian Stedman
Ian Stedman

The Osgoode Hall Law School alum and lawyer – appointed as assistant professor in the School of Public Policy & Administration in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, with graduate appointments at Osgoode, in Science and Technology Studies and in Socio-Legal Studies – is a co-applicant on a $15-million project that aims to disrupt the current health-care model through the development of a first-of-its-kind national genomics database. 

The Pan-Canadian Human Genome Library (PCHGL), funded through a five-year grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, will bring together human genome sequencing initiatives across the nation to enhance the collective well-being of people in Canada. 

It will have huge implications for health care, says Stedman, especially for those living with rare diseases and struggling to find a diagnosis – an experience he’s lived through. 

Beginning at a young age, Stedman suffered from a host of symptoms that grew in severity as he got older – frequent rashes, periodic fevers, headaches, bloodshot eyes, arthritis and eventually hearing loss – that had doctors and specialists stumped for more than 30 years. 

Looking back over his health records from the first 18 years of his life, Stedman noted 190 separate visits to his family doctor, walk-in clinics and specialists – not to mention the many visits to emergency departments when his pain became unbearable – that had him seeking answers to his ongoing progressive illness. 

“So, my story is 30 years undiagnosed, having no idea what was going on, and then just giving up,” says Stedman. 

That was, until his daughter Lia began exhibiting similar symptoms during her first year of life. When her health declined a few months before her first birthday, she was brought to the SickKids emergency room, which marked the beginning of their diagnostic journey together.

Ian Stedman's daughters Ivy, Ainsley and Lia.
Lia (right) with sisters Ivy (left) and Ainsley (middle).
Lia Stedman
Ian Stedman’s daughter Lia.

In 2014, both father and daughter were diagnosed with a one-in-a-million genetic disorder called Muckle-Wells syndrome (MWS), a member of the family of genetic disorders known as cryopyrin associated periodic syndromes. Thought to be the 12th and 13th in Canada to receive the diagnosis – with the confirmation of Lia’s MWS leading to his same diagnosis – Stedman learned that if left untreated, the syndrome results in premature death before the age of 36 for one in three people.  

He was 32. 

After diagnosis, and with the realization that his daughter had potentially saved his life, Stedman began his advocacy work through the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, where he forged connections with those in the health-care space. He met computer scientist Michael Brudno from the University of Toronto, who, at the time, was the scientific director for SickKids’ Centre for Computational Medicine and co-founder of PhenoTips, a Toronto-based team that provides software and services to genetic health-care providers. 

PhenoTips takes your genetic information and your list of symptoms and uses machine learning to search for other individuals with the same symptoms (phenotype) to then compare whether there are similarities in the related genomes (genotypes). The goal is to offer a potential differential diagnosis or to reveal a possible genetic marker for future research. 

After hearing Stedman’s story at a conference, Brudno approached him and asked if he could digitize his medical records. 

“He wanted to run my information through PhenoTips to see whether the software would be able to suggest a diagnosis,” says Stedman. “It took the software eight visits to figure out what was wrong with me … because he had a dataset of genomes that he could run it against, and so that was the moment where I thought, ‘OK, I’m not just doing law, I’m doing law and health policy now.’ ” 

This experience inspired Stedman to pivot his professional focus and learn how to actualize this type of groundbreaking health-care tool for all Canadians.

Ian Stedman with daughter Lia. Both father and daughter are in good health with the right treatment for their diagnosis of a one-in-a-million genetic disorder called Muckle-Wells syndrome.
Ian Stedman with daughter Lia. Both father and daughter are in good health with the right treatment for their diagnosis of a one-in-a-million genetic disorder called Muckle-Wells syndrome.

“It took me 32 years to get a diagnosis, and it doesn’t seem like it has to be like that anymore. If I could enter the health-care system now, and if that system was allowed to learn from everyone’s health data, I could be diagnosed in one visit,” he says. “It’s actually my mission in life to figure out how that could be possible so that people like me – those coming up behind me – don’t have to tell a story like the one I tell.” 

Drawn to the possibility of creating positive change in the health-care landscape, Stedman became more involved in advocacy work, learned more about health research, joined several boards related to rare diseases and genetics in medicine, and advanced his learnings as a social scientist in a new discipline. 

Now, Stedman will lead a team responsible for patient partnership, participant engagement, training and outreach for the national genome database PCHGL.  

Stedman emphasizes the significance of involving patients in scientific research and highlights the need for patient involvement, and education, in the PCGL initiative. This approach challenges the traditional health-care model and aims to enhance the role of patient partners. 

The project provides an opportunity to empower patient partners in various aspects of the initiative and seeks to ensure their voices are heard in matters including technical decisions, ethics and policymaking.  

Stedman will also contribute to a working group overseeing ethical and regulatory compliance for the library to meet its goal to collect, store and improve access to Canadian genomic data in a way that is equitable, secure and sustainable. 

One of the key questions of the project is “How do we build a more inclusive genomic infrastructure in Canada?” says Stedman. 

“Part of our project is to look at who is represented and who is not represented in the genomes we’ve sequenced in this country. With this library, we can start to take control over improving our representation within the data.” 

Dr. Guillaume Bourque, director of the bioinformatics department at the McGill Genome Centre, will lead this initiative, collaborating with researchers from various partnering institutions. The database project is an extension of the Government of Canada’s Drugs for Rare Diseases Strategy. Its aim is to create a centralized genome library that reflects Canada’s diverse population and empowers researchers and health-care professionals with invaluable insights. 

“The real vision of this library is that it’s going to break down all the silos, so when someone gets diagnosed in Ontario, their doctor can say, ‘Let me go to the library and see what’s out there. Let me see who I can find, and whether they’ve consented to be contacted. Let me see if I can find other physicians who are affiliated with those genomes,’ ” says Stedman. “And it’s a lot easier, because it’s one massive registry.” 

The library will be behind a secure infrastructure that allows researchers and medical professionals to access information, but not remove it. There are interdisciplinary experts in data infrastructure, ethics and governance, patient partnership and operating principles teaming up to realize this shared vision for this life-changing resource. 

The team already has commitments from a few groups willing to share, with patient consent, genomic data. The hope is that within two years, PGCL will be close to launching. 

“When you realize the power genomic data holds to help improve people’s health – and when you’ve lived that realization – it’s a lot easier to buy into the big idea,” says Stedman. “It’s visceral, it’s real. That’s what makes this project so powerful and that’s what I think will ultimately make this library successful.” 

Stedman also serves on the executive of both the Centre for AI & Society and Connected Minds (CFREF) at York University. 

Osgoode prof advocates for access to legal information

Office clerk searching for files in a filing cabinet drawer

Osgoode Hall Law School Assistant Professor Patricia McMahon is calling for key changes to Canada’s Access to Information Act after it took her more than five years to acquire information about a significant court case that dates back more than 100 years.

Patricia McMahon
Patricia McMahon

McMahon said certain provisions in the law are stifling research and she is organizing an interdisciplinary group of fellow academics to advocate for changes to the law.

“When I started this project, I had no idea that it would be harder to get information about what happened during the First World War than it was to get access to the documents I relied on to do my PhD dissertation on nuclear policy,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with some easy fixes that could make a big difference in the way access-to-information claims are processed.”

McMahon filed the first of several access requests in 2011, when she started researching an article about the use of habeas corpus during the First World War. She decided to focus on two cases heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1918 and filed an access-to-information request for the respective Department of Justice files. The cases were brought by two farmers – George Gray from Ontario and Norman Lewis from Alberta – who challenged the federal government’s move to revoke exemptions from compulsory military service when conscription failed to raise a sufficient number of troops to fight overseas.

She received almost the entire file on the Gray case but nothing for the Lewis case because, the government stated, it contained personal information. When she challenged that finding, she received about half the file. The rest was withheld on the grounds of solicitor-client privilege. It took five years to get the full file.

McMahon said different government officials review different access-to-information requests, even ones that are related like hers, and often come up with different conclusions as to what and how much can be released. That’s why she received most of the Gray file but had problems getting documents from the Lewis file, notwithstanding that each contained the same types of records.

“When in doubt, people typically take the cautious and most conservative approach and don’t release documents,” she said. “Everybody is afraid of releasing something that shouldn’t have been released.”

She said the interdisciplinary group of scholars she has helped to organize is hoping to shed light on the problems that the Access to Information Act is posing for researchers.

“It’s not just about access for journalists, which is really important,” she said, “but it’s also affecting the work that social scientists and others can do.”

McMahon said the group hopes to hold a symposium in the spring that will give researchers an opportunity to discuss the access-to-information problems they’re facing and some possible solutions.  

For McMahon’s research, the challenge was the way government relied on solicitor-client privilege to withhold select documents.

“Solicitor-client privilege survives for all time and belongs to the client,” she explained. “In the case of government lawyers, the government is the client. Solicitor-client privilege is a discretionary ground under the Access to Information Act, which simply means that government may withhold documents but has the discretion to release them, too.”

In McMahon’s view, solicitor-client privilege should not be used to protect government documents from permanent scrutiny. Even a temporal limit – like 20 or 30 years – would go a long way toward improving the situation.

“Whether the right amount of time is 20 or 30 years is a matter of debate,” she said, “but few could think it justified to withhold documents from researchers that are almost 100 years old.”

OsgoodePD introduces three new courses for internationally trained lawyers

Two women students in a law class

Osgoode Professional Development’s Professional LLM in Canadian Common Law program is introducing a new stream of practice skills courses next fall. Developed by Audrey Fried, OsgoodePD’s director of faculty and curriculum development, in partnership with instructors Shelley Kierstead and Germán Morales Farah, the new courses offer students the opportunity to integrate their substantive knowledge and skills from several courses in a way that simulates the realities of Canadian legal practice.

“We are really excited about the opportunity to offer this suite of courses, which are unique in integrating substantive law and practice skills in a way that meets the needs of our Professional LLM students,” said Fried. “And these courses are a natural fit for OsgoodePD, building on our experience with simulated clients and problem-based learning, and drawing on the expertise of Professor Paul Maharg and experienced instructors like Professor Shelley Kierstead and Germán Morales.”

In Canadian Legal Strategy, Research and Writing (CCLW 6609), students will go beyond the basic legal research and writing skills by drawing on material from Professional Responsibility and Constitutional Law courses to develop interview, communication and strategy skills. They will learn how these skills work together with legal research and writing to serve the needs of clients. Students will deploy their newly gained knowledge in authentic tasks as they are called on to draft practice documents and write memoranda of law, opinion letters and demand letters.

In Canadian Business Transactions (CCLW 6638), students will move from a solid foundation in Canadian law related to corporate and commercial transactions into exercises involving communication, strategy, drafting and negotiation. Students will prepare practice documents, plan due diligence, conduct or review selected regulatory searches and negotiate key terms of a transaction.

The third new course, Capstone: Canadian Law in Practice (CCLW 6610), further builds on those newly acquired skills as students work in a virtual firm environment, completing both a litigation and a transactional file and engaging in structured reflection of these new skills and experiences. The course will also focus on building client relationships.

These new course offerings will help internationally trained lawyers meld practical experience from other jurisdictions with Canadian substantive law and practice techniques.

Applicants with an international law degree are encouraged to apply to the OsgoodePD Professional LLM in Canadian Common Law program by Jan. 15, 2024. For more information about the program, the new course offerings and how to apply, visit the program website.

Symposium explores planetary health, planetary crises

Climate change ecololgy global warming

The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University will host a symposium to explore how human activity is pushing ecological limits to a breaking point, and climate change is a fundamental threat to human life.

Taking place on Nov. 24 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., both in person at the Keele Campus and online, the Planetary Health for a Planetary Emergency symposium aims to bring together scholars from the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research and across York University who work at the intersection of climate change and health, to discuss the potentials of planetary health as a driver of just climate action.

This event will also launch the Dahdaleh Institute Planetary Health Research Council which supports a collaborative research community of faculty, postdoctoral Fellows and graduate students committed to planetary health research at York University and beyond. 

The event draws attention to the need for clear associations between climate change and health, and to develop critical problem-solving interventions and advocate for climate action that advances well-being for all. The symposium will explore questions, such as: How do we do this while holding a critical view of the systems and structures which have led us into this climate catastrophe, including the ideologies of colonialism and capitalism that underpin the modern era? How do we advance effective and equitable solutions for planetary health that work against these systems and structures instead of upholding them?

The day’s agenda will include panel discussions with three themes featuring guest speakers.

Water: This panel explores the role water plays at the confluence of environmental and human health. Speakers will discuss efforts to support vital biological and social functions of water in the face of our rapidly changing climate and how such efforts might be positioned to work towards more just, sustainable and integrated water management.

Speaking on the topic of water will be: Deborah McGregor, a Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice and a professor cross-appointed with Osgoode Hall Law School and the Faculty of Environment & Urban Change at York University; Sapna Sharma, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at York University and York Research Chair in Global Change Biology; and Byomkesh Talukder, an assistant professor at the Department of Global Health at Florida International University. Moderating this panel will be Caroline Diana Duncan, a PhD candidate in civil engineering at York with a strong focus on optimizing drinking water in the Arctic using participatory approaches to system dynamics modelling.

Land: This panel examines the role of land in achieving planetary health, taking a wide view across issues of food security, extractivism, urbanization and conservation. This includes examples of how land is inherently interconnected with people and the environment and how access to land and tenure rights are themselves a determinant of human and environmental health.

Discussion on topics related to land will be led by: Dayna N. Scott, an associate professor and York Research Chair in Environmental Law & Justice with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University where she is also cross appointed with the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change; James Stinson, a postdoctoral Fellow in Planetary Health Education at York University, cross appointed to the Faculty of Education and the Dahdaleh Institute of Global Health Research; Raphael Aguiar, a PhD candidate in the Health Policy and Equity program at York University and a Dahdaleh Global Health Graduate Scholar; and Sarah Rotz, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. This panel will be moderated by Nilanjana (Nell) Ganguli, a PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change.

Air: This last panel addresses how air is brought into our approaches to planetary health, drawing together a range of fields related to emissions reduction, human well-being, air pollution and climate adaptation. Speakers will consider how air pollution disproportionately impacts low income and marginalized populations as well as the climate policy synergies of tackling air pollution that both damages health and impairs ecosystems.

Participating in this discussion are: Cora Young, an associate professor and the Rogers Chair in Chemistry at York University; Eric B. Kennedy, an associate professor and area coordinator of the Disaster and Emergency Management program at York University; and Jean-Thomas Tremblay, an assistant professor of environmental humanities at York University. Moderating this panel will be Hillary Birch, a PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change at York University, where she is a SSHRC doctoral Fellow.

For more information, or to register, visit the event webpage.

New, free services enhance IP protection, commercialization for researchers

research patent innovation

York University’s Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) is partnering with the IP Innovation Clinic, a legal clinic at Osgoode Hall Law School focused on intellectual property (IP), to offer new streamlined services to enhance IP protection and the commercialization efforts of the University’s research community.

Backed by a recent investment from the provincial agency Intellectual Property Ontario, the two York units have increased resources, including new staff, to drive innovation at York and support researchers strategically to transform, protect and leverage their research outcomes via patents, trademarks, other IP strategies and business ventures.

“VPRI is committed to optimizing the impact, outcomes and the commercial potential of university research,” said Jennifer MacLean, assistant vice-president innovation and research partnerships. “Our partnership with the IP Innovation Clinic will help York researchers excel in a competitive environment and turn their great ideas into reality, advancing the University’s mission to drive positive change.”

The range of free services available to York researchers include: IP discussions and strategic information, prior art and patent searches, trademark searches, business development knowledge, IP management and entrepreneurial supports, among others.

“The launch of our new integrated approach will provide York researchers a stronger and clearer pathway to bring their invention, product or service to market,” said Joseph Turcotte, assistant director of the IP Innovation Clinic. “We aim to be a key part of York’s innovation ecosystem and help researchers transition their work from the lab to society.”

Working with VPRI’s Technology Transfer Office and its commercialization managers, the clinic will develop a customized plan tailored to reach researchers’ unique needs, goals and stages of development. By leveraging this internal expertise, York researchers can save on the time and costs associated with finding and hiring external IP practitioners, commercializing their research faster and more efficiently.

“Our aim is to not only provide researchers the peace of mind that their IP is protected, but help simplify a complicated process and avoid errors that can delay the journey to market,” said Courtney Cole, business development manager with VPRI. “We can help York researchers build partnerships and connect them with opportunities that will maximize their innovation impact.”

Founded by the clinic’s director, Professor Giuseppina (Pina) D’Agostino, in 2010, the IP Innovation Clinic has completed over 300 consultations, 169 prior art searches, 115 trademark searches and created 20 IP agreements. It estimates that it has saved clients over $2 million in legal fees.

“Thanks to this partnership with VPRI, we are able to serve many more clients and better scale our reach across York,” said D’Agostino. “We can also provide more hands-on training to our law students, making them more IP and business savvy and better skilled to protect key assets in our disruptive tech economy.”

Researchers looking to advance their inventions or research projects into the market can schedule one-on-one consultations with the clinic by emailing

Opportunities are also available for IP and commercialization information and education sessions to be hosted on campus, including training sessions and workshops on how to harness IP effectively. Those interested in having their department, program, lab or research unit host a session should reach out to

Grant supports project to improve court efficiency

Supreme Court of Canada tulips

As Ontario’s under-resourced courts struggle with the impact of delays, Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Palma Paciocco hopes a recent $51,000, three-year Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant will help her uncover insights that could improve the justice system’s efficiency and fairness – especially when it comes to the use of often time-consuming expert evidence.

Palma Paciocco
Palma Paciocco

Her current research project, titled “The Gatekeeper and The Timekeeper: Regulating Expert Evidence and Trial Delay in Criminal Courts,” will focus on the competing demands for efficiency and the need to carefully assess expert evidence in the court system. In several high-profile cases in the past, reliance on faulty expert evidence resulted in wrongful convictions, but the process for screening out such evidence can be time-consuming.

“It continues to be a huge issue that looms in the background of all cases,” said Paciocco. “And we do, from time to time, hear of cases where very serious charges are stayed because of delay.”

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines the right to a timely trial – and the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark R. v. Jordan ruling in 2016 imposed a presumptive limit of either 18 or 30 months between the time charges are laid and when a trial is concluded, depending on the court.

But issues like legal-aid cuts, limited court resources and the rising number of self-represented litigants have contributed to court delays. And the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the problem.

While most criminal cases do not involve expert evidence, Paciocco said, it is more likely to arise in trials involving particularly serious charges, where it can play an important role in the fact-finding process.

“The process for assessing expert evidence is very time consuming but very important to ensuring accurate outcomes,” she explained. “At the same time, judges are aware of the need to ensure that the trial is moving along efficiently. Sometimes those goals can be in tension, and judges need more support figuring out how to navigate that tension on a case-by-case basis.”

Paciocco said she chose to focus on expert evidence and trial delay because of the very high stakes for serious criminal cases and because the interaction of these two legal issues can result in especially pronounced tensions between the needs for efficiency and accuracy in the court system.

As part of her research, she plans to delve deeply into theoretical literature on these competing justice goals, which also relates directly to plea bargaining – another research interest of hers. She will also look at case law from across the country to see how judges have balanced the need for expert evidence with the desire to avoid undue delays. Finally, she will review best practices recommended by commissions of inquiry and other bodies to see how well best practices designed to promote sound expert evidence align with best practices for avoiding or minimizing trial delay.

Paciocco said she plans to translate her research findings into scholarly articles, including a practice-oriented article for judges and lawyers and a slide deck that could be used for continuing professional education.

“I’m hoping the project will contribute to ongoing conversations about improving the efficiency of our courts and ensuring that expert evidence is being carefully assessed,” she said.

In pictures: York’s Convocation celebrates Class of 2023


Fall Convocation for York University’s Class of 2023 ran from Oct. 11 to 20 and featured six ceremonies on the Keele Campus.

At this year’s Fall Convocation, graduands from 10 York Faculties received their degrees during ceremonies overseen by the chancellor of York University, Kathleen Taylor.

View photos from the Fall Class of 2023 ceremonies below:

Fall Convocation 2023

Seek opportunities to make a difference, Andromache Karakatsanis tells grads

Andromache Karakatsanis

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

After receiving her honorary degree at an Oct. 13 Fall Convocation ceremony for graduands from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, Andromache Karakatsanis (LLB ’80), herself an Osgoode alumna as well as Canada’s longest-serving Supreme Court justice, shared her inspirational story and words of wisdom with the crowd.

Chancellor Kathleen Taylor (left), Justice Andromache Karakatsanis (middle) and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton (right) during an Oct. 13 Fall Convocation ceremony.

Born and raised in Toronto, Justice Karakatsanis is the child of Greek immigrants, whom she credits for her dedication and work ethic.

After receiving a bachelor of arts in English literature from the University of Toronto, Karakatsanis went on to earn her bachelor of laws from Osgoode. There, she met her husband and had the opportunity to work at Parkdale Community Legal Services, which she reflects on fondly as one of the most satisfying experiences of her legal education.

“As a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, this is a special homecoming,” Karakatsanis said in her opening remarks. “I feel that life has come full circle, returning to York University for Convocation after a journey of decades that have been enriched by the education, the skill and the values I learned here on this campus.”

Called to the Ontario bar in 1982, Karakatsanis began her legal career practising criminal, civil and family law before shifting her focus to the public service in 1987. As the first woman to lead the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario, she served as Chair and chief executive officer until 1995, followed by a stint as assistant deputy attorney general of Ontario and secretary for Native Affairs. Karakatsanis then served as the province’s secretary of the cabinet and clerk of the executive council beginning in 2000, before becoming a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2010 and being appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada only one year later.

“Put simply, Justice Karakatsanis is everywhere when it comes to Canada’s justice landscape,” said Osgoode Dean Trevor Farrow after his glowing introduction. “In 2002, the Law Society of Ontario presented Justice Karakatsanis with an honorary LLD in recognition of her long-standing and tireless service to justice in Canada. So, while we may not be the first to present her with an honorary degree, I think we are certainly the most proud.”

Karakatsanis began her speech by reflecting on her 97-year-old mother’s story of hardship and sacrifice, spending her youth in a war-ravaged country. After losing her father, she bravely left for Canada alone with nothing but hope for a better future. Following her arrival, she met her future husband – another young, Greek immigrant – and together they opened a restaurant and raised three children with lives full of all the opportunity they didn’t have.

“In another time and place, this woman would have risen to the top of any profession she wanted,” said Karakatsanis of her mother, who sat proudly in the Convocation audience. “But it was because of her sacrifice and her example that decades later she would watch her daughter sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Karakatsanis acknowledged that there are very few countries in the world where the first-generation child of immigrants can become a judge of the country’s highest court, and praised Canada as a “generous and pluralist model for the world.”

“We may not look, speak or pray alike,” she said, “but for the most part we have learned to live together in harmony.”

She then turned her attention to the injustices that are ever-present, and the responsibility that comes with embarking on a legal career.

“We live in a world where vulnerable people must fight to have their humanity recognized, where fear and prejudice often triumph over compassion and kindness, and where justice sometimes is an elusive goal rather than a secured outcome,” said Karakatsanis.

The law, she continued, has undoubtedly played a role in the many historical failures of humanity. “The Holocaust was legal under German law, as was the Jim Crow system in the United States, apartheid in South Africa and the Chinese Head Tax here in Canada,” she said. “They are not relics of the distant past, nor are they inconceivable in the present.”

She emphasized that the lessons of the past should serve as reminders not to take the future for granted: “The values and freedoms and opportunities we hold so dear were fought for with sacrifice and bravery. And just as they were won, they can be lost.”

In her final words to Osgoode’s graduating class, Karakatsanis encouraged graduands beginning their own journeys in the legal profession to seek out opportunities to make a difference.

“As we celebrate our personal triumphs, and honour the people and places that have made them possible, today is also a moment to reflect on what you can do to shape the future, to protect democracy, to build equality, to achieve reconciliation,” said Karakatsanis. “Don’t forget that the values by which you choose to live your life are just as important as any job you will undertake. Those values are how we will ensure that generations to come can stand where we stand today.”