PhD Isabella’s ATLAS Agora experience in Toronto: learning from new perspectives

Researchers gathered and smiling

Every year Erasmus School of Law selects one PhD researcher to attend the ATLAS Agora summer school. From Friday 2 June until Friday 9 June, Isabella Regan, PhD researcher at Erasmus School of Law, attended the 2023 summer school hosted by Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto, Canada. The summer school has been run by the Association of Transnational Law Schools (ATLAS) since 2008, of which Erasmus School of Law is a partner university. In this article, we talk to Isabella about her experiences and the biggest lessons from her time in Toronto.

“Over the course of six days, together with 21 doctoral participants from all over the globe, I engaged in lectures and seminars on various topics relating to current pressing international legal issues and -methodology.” The theme of this year was ‘Interdisciplinary and Public Facing Approaches to Legal Research’. Participants were doctoral candidates from six institutions: Osgoode Hall Law School, University of Montreal, University College Dublin, University of Antwerp, Bar-Ilan University and Erasmus School of Law. The PhDs brought experiences and insights from more than just the institutions’ countries.

International issues and peer-perspectives

“The lectures during the week focused on current international issues and the interplay between law and other academic disciplines. Leading professors from both Osgoode Hall and the University of Toronto gave lectures on topics including legal history, private law and climate change, tech and human rights. We also discussed the use of empirical methods in legal research and communicating your research to a broader audience, with guest speakers sharing their knowledge on grant applications, book publishing and writing essays and op-eds”, Isabella explains.

A highlight of the Agora summer school is the so-called PhD-workshop, in which participants peer review each other's written pieces. “This helped in practising reviewing academic texts, and it was very helpful to see whether others understood the intention of your paper. It was also an opportunity to learn about everyone’s work on many fascinating topics, ranging from killer robots to cryptocurrency and from settler-colonialism to using artificial intelligence in legal decision-making.”

“It was truly inspiring to get to know such a great group of PhDs: to find out more about their PhD experiences, and to learn that we all deal with similar issues throughout the process. I would recommend attending the Agora to all PhDs at Erasmus Graduate School of Law, as the international experience is very useful to gain new perspectives on academia, doing a PhD and your own research”, states Isabella.

A legal perspective on the status of indigenous people in Canada

“The lecture I found most impressive throughout the summer school was given by Professor Hewitt of Osgoode Hall Law School. Most doctoral participants - including myself - were not Canadian and did not know much about the legal or social status of indigenous peoples in Canada, so the lecture provided new insights into this issue.”

Isabella gives us an insight into what she learned during the lecture. “Canada is home to many historic nations and tribes, which are subjected to specific federal legal governance systems. The Canadian Constitution recognises indigenous treaties as constitutional law, and communities can participate in self-governance according to Native traditions and customs. However, the federal systems are highly controversial. To illustrate, the Canadian Constitution sets out who can be considered a so-called ‘Status Indian’, and by doing so, federally determines who is entitled to live on Native reserves and receive other benefits. Also, under the so-called ‘Indian Act’, living on these reserves exempts Native peoples from several federal and provincial laws, such as paying taxes, and entitles them to special social welfare grants. However, despite these systems, the quality of life of Canadian Natives remains significantly worse than that of any other racial group in Canada. Also, the federal treaties that determine who is a ‘Status Indian’ mean that they remain dependent on the Canadian government’s legal power to determine one’s Native identity. Professor Hewitt also shared his experiences in conducting empirical research within native communities and explained how the ways these communities perceive the world deeply impacts how his research is carried out.”

“Despite Canada’s problematic colonial history and treatment of indigenous peoples, over the past years the federal government and public institutions are increasingly aware of this violent and suppressive past. The increasing embeddedness and the recognition of Native culture and lands was also highlighted in the opening ceremony of the Agora summer school.”

“Learning more about this topic also meant I was much more aware of Canada’s social and cultural heritage, which was very insightful and highly valuable to me while travelling throughout the country after attending the summer school.” 

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