Trudeau scholar interest is in climate change law
September 13, 2017
A hairstylist, astronaut, chef and psychologist.
Those were Sarah Mason-Case’s childhood career aspirations until her father – assistant deputy minister Patrick Case – convinced her to pursue law.
“Social justice was the core value that brought my family together,” she said. “My father saw law as an instrument to social justice and he convinced me at an early stage in my life that, from a strategic point of view, going to law school would be a good way to advance social justice. At first, I was hesitant because law is also responsible in many ways for a lot of the constraints that hold people down in society. My dad told me that I need to understand the way things work to be able to change them for the better.”
Mason-Case took her dad’s advice and it has paid off.
The doctoral candidate is a 2017 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar.
The three-year doctoral scholarship provides recipients with an opportunity to work in an engaged and inspiring community of fellows, mentors and other scholars who support their professional growth.
Her research examines what the process of lawmaking to control climate change entails at international, domestic and transnational levels of governance. Focussing on the plurality of legal practices in global relations, her work analyzes the social interactions of diverse state and non-state actors that generate, diffuse and institutionalize climate law in communities of practice.
“The work that I do in my doctoral research is to consider climate change law which really is a new area of law that’s emerging,” said Mason-Case who is in the University of Toronto’s doctor of juridical science program. “It is not a cohesive discipline like contact law. It is really sprawling across different sectors and it calls into question all sorts of issues around equality and disparities across countries and within communities in countries that may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“That research falls very well within the Trudeau Foundation mandate which is to advance research for effective policy-making around issues such as human rights, pluralism, citizenship, environmental sustainability and so on. I think that the subject matter of my research really fits well within what the Trudeau Foundation community does. It is a supportive community for me in terms of advancing my own research. But beyond the specific topic of my doctoral program, the Trudeau community really is a very supportive collective of people who have similar values around human rights and equality in Canada and really multiculturalism from a pluralist perspective.”
‘Practices of Legality in International Law: Diversity, Contestation and the Evolving Climate Regime’ is Mason-Case’s thesis title.
She noted that climate change is a global and inevitable challenge that affects people differently.
“It is a common problem and common responsibility that has to be addressed,” Mason-Case said. “But this kind of diversity in the cause and effects of climate change causes friction and contestation and we can see that in Canada among different communities like the Indigenous communities and the federal government position on provinces that may be debating climate change policy with the national government and local communities that might be poor, marginalized and vulnerable to the effects of climate change as was seen recently with Hurricane Harvey and the major storms in the Caribbean.
“My doctoral research really looks at diversity and perspectives around climate change, focussing on different communities to see how they formulate different ideas about how the law should address climate change, where those tensions are and where the possibilities are for co-operation. But my focus really is on international law. It’s about how all these communities feed into the elaboration of law at the international level from the bottom up and back down again through these kinds of social interactive processes.”
Mason-Case, who has taught climate law and governance at Osgoode Hall Law School for the past three years, said higher levels of education are needed to increase people’s understanding of climate change.
“There isn’t enough education around climate science,” she said. “Without that foundation of education among regular people, it is understandable in a way that people might not feel completely confident because that kind of foundation of knowledge really isn’t provided a lot of the times through educational systems. There also needs to be an acknowledgment of where the areas of uncertainty actually are in climate science because it is not perfect. It is very difficult to predict different weather patterns or to focus on a specific area of the world and know what is going to happen in 50 or 100 years in that particular geographic region.”
The holder of an undergraduate degree in comparative religions & philosophy and a Master of Laws from McGill University and a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, Mason-Case was a visiting art history & philosophy student in 2002-3 at Paris-Sorbonne University.
“I studied art history because of my interest in the world of aesthetics and around how that could provide education and also a sense of contentment in people’s lives,” the former Law Society of Upper Canada equity advisory group member, said. “At that point, I wasn’t anticipating going into law.”
After graduating with her law degree a decade ago, she was a judicial law clerk, an associate lawyer, a project officer & legal specialist at the International Development Law Organization, a program co-ordinator at the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law and a research lawyer at the Law Commission of Ontario (LAO) where she managed projects to improve access to justice in the areas of health and social care.
Mason-Case is the niece of the late Fred Case who played a leading role in the launch of the African and Caribbean Studies programs at the University of Toronto’s New College where he was the principal for five years.
Among the first batch of Black university professors in Ontario in the 1960s, Case also chaired the U of T French department, lectured widely in several countries, published numerous articles in journals on issues of race and on the social and historical contexts of racism in Canada and authored ‘Racism and National Consciousness’ and ‘The Crisis of Identity: Studies in the Guadeloupean and Martiniquan Novel.’
“I grew up around my uncle and what stood out for me was his storytelling and the ways in which he weaved together reality, magic and illusion in all of his life experiences,” she said. “So he would tell us about his travels around the world when he worked in different universities and met different people in interesting communities. He was a storyteller and we loved him for that. It was both playful and serious.”
The World Commission on Environmental Law member plans to complete her doctorate in 2020 and work as a full-time professor.
“I love teaching,” she added. “Also, working in a university provides you with a platform to be able to work in other policy capacities. Professors are often called on to give advice to governments and sit on commissions that review legislation. That is something I would really love to be able to do as a professor.”
Established in 2003, the Pierre Trudeau Fellowships encourage original initiatives and innovative projects that wouldn’t necessarily receive support through traditional funding mechanisms.
Nominated by their peers and selected by an independent panel, the fellows come from all disciplines of the humanities and human sciences and their research deals with one or more of the Trudeau Foundation’s four key themes -- human rights and dignity, responsible citizenship, Canada in the World and people and their natural environment -- that reflect central questions in Trudeau’s life and work.
In addition to receiving $180,000 over the next three years, the fellows will enjoy unique access to the rich intellectual network of researchers and practitioners who have joined the Trudeau Foundation in the last 14 years.
They include 2005 fellow Dr. George Elliott Clarke who is Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate.
The foundation has awarded 217 scholarships for an investment of almost $24 million in Canada’s intellectual leadership.