Research paper on trauma-informed approach to evidence law wins award

Statue of justice

A paper co-authored by York University psychology professor Robert T. Muller from the Faculty of Health has been recognized with the Pierre Janet Award by The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) for its exploration of systematic biases against victims of trauma in the Canadian court system.

Robert T. Muller
Robert T. Muller

Trauma is complicated. It can fundamentally rewire key structures of the brain in ways that can produce emotional reactions and behaviours that aren’t always conducive to “common-sense” understanding.

As science has come to better understand this, society and institutions have been adopting more complicated understandings of trauma victims. However, the paper “Toward a Trauma-Informed Approach to Evidence Law:  Witness Credibility and Reliability” – a joint effort between Muller and professors at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the University of Toronto (U of T) which was published in the Canadian Bar Review – argues that the country’s court system hasn’t.

“When we examine the ways in which the Canadian legal system looks at the question of witness credibility, there are numerous systematic biases against victims of trauma,” says Muller.

The research team, including legal scholars Thor Paulson and Benjamin Perrin from UBC and psychiatrist Robert G. Maunder from U of T, reviewed case law and model jury instructions, documenting trauma victims’ appearances as witnesses, and focusing on the method by which their testimony is evaluated. “We examined the effects of trauma on fragmentation of memory, and how the unique characteristics of traumatized individuals’ memory processes impact the ways in which they may come across as a witness,” says Muller.

In the process, the team found that because Canadian courts are not trauma-informed in how they assess the credibility and reliability of witness testimony, the system suffers from biases that contradict the scientifically proven effects of trauma.

This can have a significant impact on trauma victims wanting to step forward, the paper notes. “Few survivors of interpersonal trauma, particularly individuals in marginalized communities, bring cases forward, in part, due to the understanding that doing so is unlikely to bring about justice.  And their skepticism is warranted,” says Muller.

In addition to laying out the legal system’s lacking understanding of trauma, the paper argues for fundamental changes to the ways in which evidence is evaluated in the justice system and not just in the Canadian justice system, as the fundamental arguments are transferable to U.S. and other jurisdictions.    

“Understanding the impact of trauma on memory and the narration of past events is something we hope can be emphasized in the education of judges and other relevant decision makers,” says Muller.

The paper’s potential impact was already boosted by being published in the Canadian Bar Review, which is the official legal journal of the Canadian Bar Association and is often cited by the Supreme Court of Canada.  

Now the study’s reach promises to go further with its most recent award. The ISSTD, the leading international scientific organization studying the impact of trauma and its treatment, honoured the team with the Pierre Janet Award, which recognizes what the organization considers to be the best clinical, theoretical or research paper in the field within the past year. 

Muller hopes the paper’s mission, and reception, will help advance a better – and system-changing – understanding of trauma in a still underrepresented field. “There is very little overlap between the scientific study of trauma, legal studies, and legal practice.  Our hope is that this research can bring greater communication between these fields, and apply what we’ve learned over the years,” he says.

Teaching Commons helps navigate difficult classroom conversations

Teacher speaking too students in class

To help instructors navigate sensitive issues and challenging classroom dynamics, the Teaching Commons has launched a new toolkit and series of professional development sessions focused on difficult moments and conversations in the classroom.

Nona Robinson
Nona Robinson

On March 14, the Teaching Commons will host the second of a series of workshops in partnership with Nona Robinson, vice-provost students. Titled “Effective Classroom Facilitation: Managing disruptions, addressing controversial topics and supporting equity-deserving students,” this virtual session will offer concrete tools, strategies and resources for facilitating productive conversations in the classroom.

“I’m always happy to work with faculty members on student support, inclusion, and preventing and managing conflict” says Robinson. “I know this can be a source of stress for many of us, and this is a great opportunity for colleagues to share experiences and helpful ideas.” 

The session accompanies a new Facilitating Dialogue and Challenging Conversations in the Classroom resource site, also referred to as a toolkit, housed on the Teaching Commons website. and led by educational developer Shani Kipang.

“One of the goals has been to help members of the University community revisit commonly used terms like ‘safety’ and ‘comfort,’ and to think critically and collaboratively about what it means and looks like to build accountable spaces,” says Kipang, who has worked with the Teaching Commons over the past year to support initiatives in decolonizing, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI).

The toolkit provides a range of resources to support productive dialogue and collaborative learning in the classroom. Included in it are topic-specific resources such as strategies for facilitating discussion, addressing harm and creating community guidelines.

Shani Kipang
Shani Kipang

“Our hope is to help instructors walk into the classroom with clear goals and responsive strategies, so students can be motivated to engage and have the sense that it will be worthwhile,” she explains. “We want to help instructors address unanticipated situations with intention, and to support meaningful and carefully guided opportunities for learners to engage with critical issues in ways that shape how they learn and work and interact in the world.”

Ameera Ali
Ameera Ali

In addition to the March 14 workshop, the Teaching Commons offers a variety of other opportunities to explore strategies for teaching in times of crisis and integrating DEDI-informed pedagogies. Among these are a workshop series on trauma-informed pedagogies and a DEDI community of practice – a space where teachers can come together to learn, share, and question a wide array of topics related to DEDI in teaching and learning.

In partnership with York’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion and faculty co-facilitators, these initiatives are led by Ameera Ali, an educational developer in the Teaching Commons with a portfolio focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

“These offerings invite folks to come together to collectively reflect on and discuss various aspects of trauma, race, disability, gender, wellness, belonging and more,” she says. “And through this work, building understanding in these areas, we can better support meaningful dialogue and connection within the classroom.”

For more information on resources and upcoming sessions, visit the Teaching Commons website or contact them via email at

Advancing a community-centric approach to safety through collaboration

Three students walking on York's Keele Campus

This year, York University’s Community Safety Department will be hosting its annual Community Safety Week from March 18 to 21, providing an opportunity to share information about the department’s mission, safety services and offerings while meaningfully engaging with the community about the joint responsibility to ensure safety across York University campuses.

Over the past year, the community safety team has been working to implement the recommendations from the final Security Services Review report. The overarching recommendation, supported by a number of detailed recommended actions, is to transition York away from the current law enforcement model that guides its security services and implement an alternative, community-centric model. To foster greater learning as the University continues this transition, the Community Safety Department is bringing together community leaders and experts for a thoughtful discussion about how to adopt and advance a community-centric approach to safety at a post-secondary institution.  

Join the department for a panel discussion, Building Bridges: Advancing a community-centric approach to safety, on Thursday, March 21 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

The panel will feature:  

  • David Mitchell, former assistant deputy minister, Youth Justice Division of the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community & Social Services;
  • Devon Jones, founding director of the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education; 
  • Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement; and
  • Yukimi Henry, executive director of Community Support & Services at York.

Register to join the informative and engaging discussion. Additional information about activities planned for Community Safety Week will be available in YFile on Monday, March 18.

York hosts conference examining impact of AI on law

Update: New information after publication of this article indicates the March 13 conference will now be held online only.

Leading legal thinkers from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and beyond will gather to assess the seismic impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the law during a special conference on March 13 sponsored by the Osgoode-based Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security.

All York community members are welcome to attend the hybrid event, titled Artificial Intelligence and the Law: New Challenges and Possibilities for Fundamental Human Rights and Security, which will take place both online and in person in 014 Helliwell Centre on York’s Keele Campus from noon to 6:15 p.m.

Trevor Farrow
Trevor Farrow

“I am delighted that this incredibly important discussion is being hosted at Osgoode Hall Law School,” said Osgoode Dean Trevor Farrow.

“Academics, lawyers, policymakers and the public are already heavily influenced by and reliant upon AI,” he added. “Osgoode very much sees itself at the centre of these discussions and innovations.”

By bringing together researchers with AI expertise across various fields of practice, conference speakers and attendees can engage with larger questions about law’s role in the regulation of emerging technologies, legal neutrality, ethics and professional responsibility, said Carys Craig, associate dean of research and institutional relations, who will speak on AI and copyright.

Carys Craig
Carys Craig

“I’m very excited about this conference,” she said. “Osgoode is known for its thought leadership and critical, interdisciplinary thinking, which is exactly what is needed as Canada grapples with the rapid acceleration of AI across almost every facet of society.”

The featured speakers will also include Professor Barnali Choudhury, director of the Nathanson Centre.

“Although AI offers numerous opportunities to society, it also poses risks, particularly in relation to human rights and security,” Choudhury noted. “Lawyers should be well versed in these risks to ensure that AI use aligns with legal standards.”

 Barnali Choudhury
Barnali Choudhury

The conference’s comprehensive examination of artificial intelligence will include the growing use of generative AI, which powers tools like ChatGPT, said Professor Valerio De Stefano, a co-organizer of the event and a panellist who will address today’s challenging issues around AI and work. 

“The law will have to react to a lot of the challenges that arise from artificial intelligence in order for society to thrive on the opportunities that AI offers,” he noted.

De Stefano said that almost no area of the law will be left untouched, including criminal, copyright, labour and tax law. Conference speakers will also dig into the implications of AI for legal ethics, practice and education.

Valerio De Stefano
Valerio De Stefano

“It’s extremely important that lawyers, both academics and practitioners, start discussing how to react to all these new things that are coming out of the AI landscape – and this is the opportunity to do that,” he added. “There’s a lot of people at Osgoode that do top-notch, groundbreaking research on law and technology.”

Other speakers will include Professor Jonathon Penney, who will examine whether AI safety standards are really safe, and Professor Allan Hutchinson, who will discuss AI and law’s multiplicity. Rounding out the list of Osgoode experts are Professor Sean Rehaag, PhD student Alexandra Scott and Osgoode PhD alumnus Jake Okechukwu Effoduh, now a law professor at Toronto Metropolitan University.

In the afternoon, De Stefano will chair a roundtable discussion on AI, due process and legal ethics. Panellists will include: Dean Farrow; Professor Patricia McMahon; Professor Richard Haigh; Glenn Stuart, the executive director of professional regulation for the Law Society of Ontario; and Professor Amy Salyzyn of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

Registration is required. For more information about the event, email and copy

Teaching Commons seeks presenters for upcoming TiF conference in May

Speaker giving a talk in conference hall at business event. Audience at the conference hall.

By Elaine Smith

With a new vice-provost teaching and learning and an interim director of the Teaching Commons in place, York University’s annual Teaching in Focus (TiF) conference this May will have a slightly different look and feel, and a theme reflective of the times.

Mandy Frake-Mistak, the Teaching Commons’ interim director, and her team are seeking presenters for the two-day conference, which will be held in person this year on May 8 and 9. The theme for this year’s conference is Engaged Teaching in Times of Crisis and proposals are due on Feb. 29.

In addition to crisis-related presentations, there are opportunities for presentations about Academic Innovation Fund projects and experiential education/work-integrated learning. Presenters may speak individually, in teams or as panel members, and all faculty and graduate students are encouraged to consider taking part.

“Based on feedback from the Task Force on the Future of Pedagogy, we know that faculty members want more opportunities to communicate about what they’re doing in the classroom, and TiF will continue to be a great place for that to happen,” says Chloë Brushwood Rose, vice-provost teaching learning. “However, we also want to offer opportunities for conversations around philosophical and critical issues in teaching and learning, not only about practices. We want to highlight people who are thinking in interesting ways and from a range of perspectives about teaching and learning, especially in complex times.”

People are grappling with conflicts in the classroom and conflicts in the world simultaneously, explains Brushwood Rose. The role of the University, she believes, should be to provide a space to talk about pedagogy more broadly.

Frake-Mistak shares that view.

“When we see crisis on a global scale, we can’t help but bring it home, and it shapes how we process information and our dealings with our peers,” she says. “We are trying to support people through this. It’s one thing to share resources, but what about what happens in the classroom?”

And that is where TiF comes in.

The conference will also feature TiF Reads, a panel reminiscent of the popular Canada Reads competition on CBC Radio. Presenters can champion a teaching- or learning-related book, journal article or other resource that inspired them during the past year and attendees will vote for a winner.

“TiF has been a mainstay on our calendar since 2013 and we want to champion it so it is continually growing and getting better,” says Frake-Mistak. “We want to recognize the community who have dedicated their livelihoods to teaching and learning; there are so many unsung heroes. It’s an opportunity to bring people together to champion teaching and learning and propel it forward.”

Brushwood Rose agrees.

“We look forward to TiF being as well attended and energizing as ever.”

Take this opportunity to fill out a presenter’s application form.

Osgoode student lawyers save family from deportation

Statue of justice

With only 11 hours to spare, two student lawyers from Osgoode Hall Law School’s Community & Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP) saved the parents of a York University student from family breakup and deportation to Colombia, where they faced potential danger or even death.

When second-year student Brandon Jeffrey Jang and third-year student Emma Sandri learned on Dec. 18 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had ordered the parents of a fellow student to be deported on a Colombia-bound plane on Jan. 18, they worked tirelessly over the winter break to prepare about 1,000 pages of legal submissions to stop it – on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).
Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).

The student’s father became a target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the early 1990s when he was a candidate for the country’s Liberal Party, actively working to prevent youth from joining the paramilitary organization. After several threats and acts of physical violence, the family fled to the United States. They returned to Colombia seven years later, but remained in danger and fled again, eventually making their way to Canada in 2009. With the Colombian peace process currently faltering and FARC still a viable force, the family believes their safety could still be threatened if they return to their home country.

The couple’s adult son is a student in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and their daughter is set to graduate from Queen’s University and plans to study medicine. The son and daughter, who already have permanent residency status in Canada, faced being separated from their parents as well as possible academic repercussions if the deportation had gone ahead as scheduled.

The CLASP team’s request to save this family from deportation was initially denied by the CBSA, so they filed two supporting applications with the Federal Court, under the supervision of CLASP review counsel Subodh Bharati. On Jan. 17, just one day before the scheduled deportation, they appeared in person before a Federal Court judge in Toronto to make their case for the family – and they succeeded.

The parents – who have become actively involved in their Toronto community, volunteering during the pandemic, for example, to deliver food to house-bound, immune-compromised residents – expressed their gratitude to the CLASP team in an emotional email.

“Thank you very much for all the effort that you put in our case,” the mother wrote. “I don’t have enough words to express what I feel right now and to say thank you. You are the best lawyers that Toronto has.”

Their joy was shared by Jang and Sandri.

“We were just so happy,” said Jang about hearing news of the successful stay application. “We’ve built a close connection with the family and we’ve all worked extremely hard on this case.”

Jang said the experience has confirmed his desire to pursue a career in immigration law – and this summer he will work for Toronto immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP.

Sandri said preparing hundreds of pages of court applications in a month was a tremendous challenge, but learning that the family can stay in Canada as a result of their efforts was a huge relief and incredibly rewarding.

“It was difficult, in terms of wanting to put out our best work in such a limited time span,” she explained, “and we really felt the pressure of the fact that these people’s lives were possibly at stake.”

As they waited for the court decision, she added, “we both couldn’t sleep because we were thinking about what’s going to happen to this family and we were really stressing about that.”

In the wake of the court decision, Bharati said, the parents can now obtain work permits while they wait for the Federal Court to hear judicial reviews of previous decisions that rejected their applications for permanent residency status.

With the students’ time at CLASP nearing an end, Jang and Sandri expressed special appreciation for Bharati’s guidance and trust.

“All of our experiences at the clinic leading up to this case prepared us for the uphill battle we confronted when fighting for this family,” said Jang. “The result was a total team effort on everybody’s part and it was all worth it.”

Osgoode leads in applications for third year running

Osgoode Hall Law School

For the third consecutive year, York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School has attracted more applications for its juris doctor (JD) program than any other law school in Ontario – and, according to school administrators, this is no coincidence.

Recently released statistics from the Ontario Law School Application Service, a division of the Ontario University Application Centre in Guelph, Ont., reveal that Osgoode received 2,867 applications in 2023 for its 2024-25 first-year class of 315 students.

Marcos Ramos Jr.
Marcos Ramos Jr.

“I think one powerful thing that our admissions numbers show is that we are highly desired, highly sought after,” said Marcos Ramos Jr., manager of admissions and student financial services at Osgoode.

“But also,” he added, “when you look at our numbers closely, we have one of the most diverse classes of students within Canada, if not the most.”

That impressive diversity, he said, is a reflection of the law school’s long-standing holistic admissions policy – which takes into account more than just grades or Law School Admission Test scores. When considering potential students, Osgoode’s recruiters look beyond strong academic skills to each applicant’s life story and passions.

“Show me the passion,” said Ramos Jr. “Show me how you want to contribute.”

Osgoode also prioritizes a determined effort by recruiters to create Canada’s most diverse law school because, Ramos. Jr said, law students educated in that environment simply become better lawyers.

“Academics are essential,” he noted, “but what makes an excellent lawyer is your social skills. And we’re bringing to students an understanding of different walks of life – be it class, race, or creed.”

In the process, Osgoode hasn’t just created a highly sought after and diverse law school. It’s helping make the legal field – and the world – a better place.

New lecture series to spotlight York’s research leadership

innovation image

York University’s Organized Research Units (ORU) are launching the Big Thinking Lecture Series, which will feature researchers, artists and activists taking up some of the world’s most pressing issues and ideas in their fields, from water research and aging to digital literacy and more.

As a leader in research and innovative thinking, York has a lot to show in the ways its faculty and students are helping right the future with big ideas. The new lecture series, which will consist of various talks and artistic events held throughout the calendar year, will see expert York speakers present research and creative works that span their respective fields, which include muscle health, Indigenous knowledges and languages, youth and aging, Canadian studies, technoscience and society, feminist activism, and Jewish social and political thought.

John Tsotsos
John Tsotsos

“This bold new series will showcase the depth and breadth of research excellence generated by York’s Organized Research Units and their commitment to fostering critical thought and dialogue on today’s global challenges,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “The Big Thinking Lecture Series builds on York’s proud tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship and participatory research. I applaud the ORU directors for bringing this series forward.”

The inaugural lecture of the series, titled “Vision Beyond a Glance,” is presented by the Centre for Vision Research and will feature John Tsotsos, a Distinguished Research Professor in the Lassonde School of Engineering. He will explore the meaning of vision and explain how we effortlessly perform visual tasks many times a day. The in-person event will take place on Jan. 26 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in 519 Kaneff Tower.

For more details about the inaugural event and the series itself, visit

Osgoode’s Sikh law students create first-of-its-kind national network

Group of Indian friends at the park

Members of the fledgling Osgoode Sikh Students Association (OSSA) – the first group of its kind in Canada – are playing a key role in bringing Sikh law students together. Not just at Osgoode Hall Law School, but across the country.

The rigours and demands of law school can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, but even more so without support. “The feeling of community in law school can make or break a student’s experience,” says Dalraj Singh Gill, co-president of the OSSA, which was launched in the summer of 2022 and aims to improve its members’ law school experience.

Tripat Kaur Sandhu (left) and Dalraj Singh Gill (right), co-presidents of the Osgoode Sikh Students Association, receiving the Osgoode Student Club Award for Community Building.

Third-year Osgoode student and OSSA co-president Tripat Kaur Sandhu and Osgoode graduate Karen Kaur Randhawa, a co-founder of the group, established the group with the hope that the initiative would benefit not only Sikh students at the law school, but the wider Osgoode community, the legal profession at large and Sikh law students across Canada.

Gill – a 2025 candidate in the Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration program at Osgoode and Shulich – said one way the organization is looking to accomplish that is by helping Sikh students to remain rooted in the central principles of the Sikh faith, including the pursuit of justice and standing against oppression – ideals that are also relevant to the practice of law. 

Members also hope OSSA, through events and activities, can help improve understanding of the Sikh community at Osgoode and provide a platform to advocate for Sikh issues and other racialized and minority communities at the school.

“Our goal, among others,” said Gill, “is to tackle systemic barriers which prevent Sikh students and persons of colour from accessing the legal profession.”

Since establishing OSSA, the co-founders have actively reached out to Sikh law students across Canada, encouraging and supporting their efforts to launch chapters at their own universities. And their outreach has proven successful, with many Sikh Students Association (SSA) chapters popping up across the country throughout 2023 – at the University of Ottawa in January, at Toronto Metropolitan University in February, at the University of Windsor in May, at Thompson Rivers University in the summer and at Queens University in the fall. This year, an SSA chapter is being eyed at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

Last year, the Osgoode Legal & Literary Society recognized OSSA’s impactful work with its annual Student Club Award for Community Building.

“We are also hoping to get in touch with B.C. law schools,” said Gill, “and then later expand across to law schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and at Dalhousie in Nova Scotia.”

Gill added that although the SSA chapters are not affiliated with the Canadian Association of Sikh Lawyers, his group’s goal is to create a Canada-wide network and community that will extend to alumni groups and established legal professionals. A longer-term goal is to eventually host a national conference involving all SSA chapters.

York prof to moderate panel on Black students’ mental health

Two Black students walking inside on York's Keele Campus

Research continues to indicate that anti-Black racism takes a toll on mental health – and academia is not immune to this unfortunate reality. As part of the upcoming Black Student Mental Health Symposium, York University Professor Agnès Berthelot-Raffard will moderate a panel discussion featuring experts from York and beyond speaking about mental health challenges faced by Black students, the racial climate on campus, and equity, diversity and inclusion in the university setting.

Agnès Berthelot-Raffard
Agnès Berthelot-Raffard

Open to all community members, the Feb. 5 event – taking place from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Founders Assembly Hall on York’s Keele Campus – aims to provide a space to explore strategies and resources to support the mental well-being of Black students, faculty and staff on university campuses.

Berthelot-Raffard, a professor in the School of Health Policy & Management, is the principal investigator of the Promoting Black Students’ Mental Health: A Pan-Canadian Research and Intervention Project on Social Determinants of Health and Equity in Canadian Universities, a project funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada for 2021-24. For this event, she gathered a group of notable York leaders and experts to contribute their diverse knowledge to the panel discussion:

  • Delores Mullings, vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion at Memorial University and a professor of social work;
  • Sophie Yohani, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta;
  • Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, a professor at York University, and York’s senior advisor on equity and representation in the Office of the Vice-President of Equity, People and Culture;
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, instructor and special advisor at the Schulich School of Business; and
  • Yasmine Gray, York University alumna from the Critical Disability Studies program.

For more information and to register for the event, visit the Eventbrite page.