Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

‘An exciting chance to fight back’: Political scientist Geoffrey Sigalet on the new Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies at UBC

00:00:00
Podcast & Video

This episode of Hub Dialogues features Sean Speer in conversation with University of British Columbia (Okanagan campus) political scientist Geoffrey Sigalet on the “dialogue” between the government and the courts, and what he hopes to achieve with the new Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, or YouTube. A transcript of the episode is available below.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host, Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by University of British Columbia (Okanagan campus) political science professor, Geoffrey Sigalet, who’s a big thinker on Canadian constitutionalism, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the role of the judiciary. He’s recently launched a new Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies at UBC, which counts amongst its associated fellows past Hub Dialogue guests Dwight Newman and Asher Honickman. I’m grateful to speak with Geoff about the new centre, its mandate and purpose, and the early reaction to its launch. Geoff, thanks for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Thanks for having me, Sean.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s start with a bit of a biographical sketch for our listeners. What drew you to constitutional questions, including their underlying philosophical ideas, and what do you think that political science can contribute to our understanding of these issues that lawyers or legal scholars can’t?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: The answer to the first question is that I probably didn’t think about constitutionalism too much for the first part of my education. I was really interested in Aristotle and Plato, and ancient Greek political philosophy and theory. Then, in grad school, I started to become fascinated by questions of public laws and how they related to fundamental questions about political theory. I was particularly drawn, or maybe upset by, several Canadian Supreme Court decisions I read in graduate school.

I remember reading the Sauvé prisoners enfranchisement case where Justice McLachlin says that the obligation to obey the law flows directly from the right to vote. Prisoners that were disenfranchised prior to that decision didn’t have to obey the law, apparently, on that logic. Seeing this kind of amateur political theory at work in our highest court just drove me bananas and made me want to write about it. I got really into it that way.

I’m still interested in Aristotle and Plato, I think they have a lot of relevance to questions about public law. That’s the short story about how I got obsessively interested in Canadian constitutionalism and constitutional theory.

I think that political science, as a discipline, has a lot to offer to questions about Canadian public law, compared to constitutionalism, because there are two different strands.

There’s one strand that is the tradition of political theory within it, where it has a deep tradition of thinking about what it means to constrain power and what rights are, what their basis is in social contract theory. The kinds of things at stake in that kind of prisoner disenfranchisement case that I’m talking about, which is called Sauvé. That stuff’s really important for lawyers, judges, and legal scholars interested in this stuff.

Political scientists have a special set of insights into those kinds of questions and inhabit a tradition with lots of resources that way. On the other hand, empirical political science can also help us answer some questions, like what’s actually going on. I’m less in that tradition but increasingly see its value. The more I continue to work on some of my own stuff on dialogue, the more I draw and try to do coding and draw on some of the empirical resources we have, in political scientists—I’m talking to my colleagues who have more expertise in that area because political scientists can tell you what’s actually going on sometimes when it comes to how many times does the court do this kind of thing? How many times does the parliament respond, and why? What political dynamics help explain what’s actually happening here? Lawyers lose sight of that sometimes. They can lose sight of the fact that what the Court has said is actually what’s at stake, in this case, isn’t necessarily explaining all the dynamics and what actually explains what’s happening.

SEAN SPEER: That’s a really rich answer, Geoff, in which you mentioned the issue of dialogue. Let me put that to you directly. Your doctoral research at Princeton was on what you describe as a ”conversational dialogue” between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches about the constitutional limitations and powers of government.” You write in footnote 124 of your dissertation that “Every constitutional theory should ideally be explicable in terms one’s grandma can understand.”

Pretend your grandma is listening. What do you mean by the metaphor of dialogue, and what’s its significance?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Oh, gosh. Well, that footnote, as you, I think, probably noticed, undermines everything else I’ve ever written. [laughs] I’m not sure I can explain things well enough for my grandma to understand, but I do believe that that’s true. You need to be able to say things clearly.

My interest in dialogue comes from the fact that the Canadian Supreme Court, at one point, said that it was engaged in a dialogue with the legislature in several really prominent decisions about Charter of Rights and Freedoms cases.

The dialogue metaphor is also used in the United States. It’s actually used in older literature in the U.S. about the relationship between Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of that literature about dialogue in the American context is being picked up again, as people started to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court. It was also picked up in New Zealand and in the U.K., where there are statutory bills of rights that have somewhat altered the tradition of parliamentary supremacy in those contexts.

Parliament is still formally supreme in both contexts, but the courts play a bigger role. Dialogue was used to think about the relationship between courts and legislatures there. My job is to say this very clearly to someone who’s maybe not a political scientist or a legal scholar. It is to say that dialogue is sometimes used by these courts to say that they’re in a conversation with the legislature, about certain fundamental constitutional questions, in particular, rights questions.

Often, that conversation is used as an excuse for courts to be more aggressive. Courts can be more aggressive about a certain rights question because it’s always up to the legislature to respond. The courts make this feint that they’ll say, “Well, we’ll be really aggressive here, but we will be open to legislatures responding.” That’s not always the case. Sometimes, they have used dialogue to then say that a response is okay, that a legislature responds to their decision in a way they find all right.

It’s usually within the narrow confines of what they’ve said was okay before. They don’t usually grant legislatures a lot of autonomy and having a say about what rights mean. They’re much more likely to just defer, first order, to whatever they think is a reasonable legislative view about rights, rather than let the legislatures reply to their statement and defy, in any way, their statement about what rights mean.

My insight into this thing, maybe my argument, is that a lot of the time, we characterize legislatures as not caring about rights very much. We characterize legislatures as dominated by policy interests and whatnot. What I noticed in the dialogue literature was that there’s a lot of that going on. There’s a lot of denigrating legislative ability to actually take rights questions seriously, even as the dialogue metaphor raises the bar for the legislature.

It says, “Well, legislatures are here, they get a role in saying what rights mean and we’re going to respect that when they fulfill that.” But much of the theory isn’t sufficiently critical and doesn’t raise the bar enough on what dialogue demands of courts too. I agree with some of those claims that legislatures sometimes can ignore rights questions. They can disregard rights claims. 

I noticed that in a lot of the judicial decisions about some fundamental rights questions, courts just are reasoning about whether or not rights are justifiably violated, or proportionately violated, and in particular, in our rights jurisprudence that’s a central concept. To me, if you are convinced that rights are justifiably or unjustifiably violated, and that’s the main question, that doesn’t seem like a very legal question.

That’s a very policy-oriented question. That seems like something the legislature might have a better answer about. I don’t think that’s right, though. I don’t think that rights questions should always be focused on justifiably violating rights. I think we should be really keyed in on different concepts of what’s at stake, of what this right is. The conversation should focus on that. In this, I really draw a lot on and I’m influenced a lot by my senior scholars and mentors Grégoire Webber, Justice Bradley Miller, and Justice Huscroft, who’ve written a lot about this and who were really keyed in on this before it was cool, maybe. I don’t know if it’s cool. They really focused in on that problem that we have with proportionality analysis. What I did was I hooked that up to the dialogue literature and said, “Okay, well, how is this approach to rights, how is focusing on the justified violation of rights, maybe distorting the kind of dialogue we want?”

Ultimately, my basic answer is that dialogue could be a great thing, if legislatures and courts are keyed in on saying something and disagreeing, reasonably, about the scope of rights. What we have is not even the courts engaging in that kind of conversation. When we get mad at legislatures for not taking their responsibility seriously, we’re asymmetrically distributing our scorn. We should be a little more skeptical about all the branches, in my view.

SEAN SPEER: That’s a big answer, with lots of big ideas embedded in it. For listeners interested in the question of proportionality, I might recommend a previous Hub Dialogues episode with Dwight Newman when we talked about Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, and the evolution of the so-called Oakes test, used by the Canadian judiciary, to make those judgements about issues of proportionality.

Geoff, I want to put a related question to you. How much is your conception of a dialogue contingent on particular constitutional and political conditions? That is to say, is the dialogue between the legislative and judicial branches the same in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, or do these countries, institutions, and constitutional orders cause the dialogue to take different shapes and purposes?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: That’s a great question. I think that the actual institutional context and the different arrangements we have must force us to distinguish what we should expect in terms of dialogue in each of these contexts. In Canada, we have a unique system where the Section 33 of the Charter allows laws to be enacted, notwithstanding certain provisions of the Charter, which ultimately allows legislatures to enact laws notwithstanding certain judicial decisions about certain fundamental rights.

It formally recognizes the kind of coordinate role for legislatures in specifying rights about fundamental constitutional rights. In the United States, there’s no notwithstanding clause. The judiciary has the power of judicial review, and I think there’s a strong argument that it was always going to be part of the American story. I don’t think it was necessarily going to be part of the American story the way it has evolved. The supremacy of the American judiciary has been judicially and politically constructed over time.

The dialogue that will exist there will be distinct, not only because there’s no notwithstanding clause, but also because the American Constitution amendments process is different, the American history is just different, and the American separation of powers is different. It’s not dialogue between an executive-directed parliament, even though Parliament is separate from the government. There is a separation of powers in Canada.

The American context is different because it is even more separated and the president in the executive has a direct, distinct electoral mandate from the Congress. It’s a “trialogue”, if you will. It’s a very clearly distinguished set of dialogues between these different branches. It’s going to look different for that reason. Although overall, broadly speaking, you do see the case being made for dialogue between the two branches about fundamental constitutional issues where constitutional questions and provisions are vague enough.

James Madison, actually, in some of his early writings, anticipated this idea that it would be necessary for the political branches to help construct indeterminate parts of the Constitution. I think that his thinking about that—he’s the president that invaded Canada—but he has something to offer us in thinking about that idea and grounding that idea. That in a constitution with an entrenched constitutional order, you are going to need the elected branches to have some say and input in constructing the nature of the constitution. He opposed the national bank, then eventually conceded that it was a legitimate constitutional construction afterward after he became president and became a political actor with his own mandate. In the New Zealand and U.K. contexts, dialogue is going to look a lot different because their dialogue is about statutory rights that Parliament, in both contexts, is ultimately responsible for. Parliament could repeal the Bill of Rights on its own, in both those contexts.

The dialogue is taking place between the legislature and the courts, with the legislature holding an ultimate veto. That doesn’t mean that there are not some really interesting power dynamics going on there between the two institutions. There are some writers who claim that in the U.K. and New Zealand context, dialogue is even more dangerous and can get more dangerous because it tempts the judiciary to use its power to reinterpret laws in a way that’s serious lawmaking but under the guise of just interpreting whatever Parliament’s intended here.

There’s a different set of considerations there, I’m probably getting too far afield now, but that gives you a basic sketch of how it can play out in all these different contexts.

SEAN SPEER: You mentioned the notwithstanding clause, let me follow up with a specific question about it. You wrote in a 2015 National Post op-ed that “The use of the override might then engender actual dialogue between government and court, each interpreting the Constitution with the prospective response of the other branch in mind.” Do you want to explain what you mean? How can the use of a notwithstanding clause restore a two-way conversation between the legislature and the judiciary? Why does it need restoring?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: What I think I was getting at there is that the notwithstanding clause is one way in which legislatures actually can directly contradict a judicial decision about a Charter right. It’s one tool where, when the legislature goes to it, it can apply a law notwithstanding what the courts have said about the Charter provision in question. In all these other dialogue contexts, we just see legislatures responding in ways where courts, maybe in the dissent in a judicial decision, said, “Well, you could do this, and that would be more constitutional.” The legislature will respond along the lines of what the dissent has hinted could be constitutional, and the courts might uphold that. That’s still the legislators singing the judiciary song at the end of the day. A notwithstanding clause lets the legislature make the judiciary sing its song, essentially. In any healthy relationship, you need two sides. I promised my wife I wouldn’t do analogies like this, or make jokes like this, but you know what I’m getting at here. You need to be able to have some say, that’s different.

It can’t just be the Court’s way or the highway all the time. I’m not saying that the Court just gets its way and is a heroic sort of institution that has a monopoly on power in our system, I think that the Court’s ability to have its way on certain issues is itself enabled by other systemic problems in our system, too. That’s important to keep in mind.

What the notwithstanding clause does, in a more high profile and more responsible uses of it, the promise of that is that it not only lets the judiciary sing the legislative song sometimes, but it also highlights for us as citizens that it makes us think, maybe, that we need to raise the bar on the legislature and actually think that it shouldn’t just be doing whatever the Court should be doing, whatever the courts say is the rights question.

It should maybe take responsibility, independently, for some of these rights questions. That, in turn, might make the judiciary a bit more reflective and thoughtful, and more constructive in how it approaches rights.

SEAN SPEER: I want to move in a different direction now. I mentioned that you got your Ph.D. at Princeton, where conservative scholar Robert George has established himself as the gold standard of conservative engagement in the university. His scholarly temperament, deep intellect, and inherent decency have enabled him to navigate the choppy waters of modern academia and become something of a progenitor of a new generation of conservative scholars.

Do you want to talk a bit about Professor George and his legacy, including what, if any lessons, that young conservatives who would like to pursue an academic career may draw from his example?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Well, I’m a huge admirer of Robby George and think that he is probably one of the most, if not the most, influential conservative academic. He might be one of the most influential academics in the United States right now, I’d say. I admire him because he’s able to be true to his own beliefs and ideas about things, while still engaging very constructively with people who disagree with them all the way down on really, really fundamental things.

Also, he’s built the James Madison program at Princeton, which is an amazing scholarly institution within Princeton. It’s an institute that fosters and brings in scholars from all different kinds of conservative perspectives: libertarians, more social conservatives, political theorists, economists from all kinds of different disciplines. My friend told me that this year, there’s a fellow there who studies cab drivers, Pakistani cab drivers in London, and their views on different kinds of social issues.

I mean, this guy was canceled or something like that in the anthropology world, and now he’s there. Robby brought him there, right? That’s an amazing thing. If you’re lucky enough to be a grad student there, you’re surrounded by all these people coming in. You can’t help but be influenced and really interested in their views, even if they’re not your views. Robby’s built that, and that is an amazing institution.

Anyone interested in fostering more heterodox conversations, where we actually have right-of-center-ish perspectives represented and engaged with in academic conversations, needs to pay attention to him and needs to pay attention to what he’s doing. I would say that his ability to engage with someone like Cornel West, who is very left-of-centre on many different issues, but they’re good friends, and as far as I know, they still are going on speaking tours and stuff together and modeling, for me, what academic engagement really is about. Which is researching interesting, tough questions in society in ways that actually involve engaging and listening to the other side. It involves dialogue, right? It involves actually hearing different perspectives on things, not just what you want to hear. I’m afraid that the Canadian academy, overall, has drifted in a way that really has seen a diminishing.

I think our friend Ben Woodfinden wrote the other day that the conservative is now an endangered species in the Canadian academy, and I’m afraid that’s true. Hopefully, young Canadian academics, whatever their political stripes are, will recognize that and want to rectify it by having people with really different perspectives on these issues involved in the academy and bringing them in. Robby stands as the inspiration for that. That’s what I think.

SEAN SPEER: Before we get to the new Centre, let’s talk a bit about the state of legal scholarship in Canada. I mentioned that we recently had Asher Honickman on the podcast to talk about the ongoing debates between originalist and living tree understandings of the role of the courts and the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Let me ask you a three-part question.

First: to what extent, in your view, is the living tree approach the dominant model for constitutional legal scholarship in Canada? Second: is it more contested in political science, or essentially the same, as one finds in law schools or across the country? Third: are there any signs that younger scholars are starting to challenge its dominance?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Well, the answer to the first question is you can distinguish between the influence of living tree—the idea that the Constitution can be updated at any time, as a living tree—you can distinguish between the views about that in the scholarly world—like in legal scholars, as you said, in political science departments—and the views in the judiciary, let’s say. I would say that, overall, the idea of a living tree, that the Constitution can be updated, according to changing social mores and norms, and moral principles, that idea, which actually can be cashed out in different ways—it can be your moral norms as a judge, what you think is justifiable, ala Ronald Dworkin, or it can be a societal change as a social fact that everyone notices. Those are different things. I don’t think it was always clear to people that those are different strands of argument, and it’s not clear to many people and many judges that it is, still, unfortunately.

I think what you started to see is a little more interest, even amongst the most diehard proponents of living tree, of, “What kind of living tree proponent am I? What is the living tree?” A lot of this was provoked by heterodox scholarship, by people like Bradley Miller who’s now a Justice on the Ontario Court of Appeal, who showed that the original living tree metaphor was used in a specific, modern originalist way.

It was not about discerning the original intent behind the meaning of persons, in this famous person’s case about whether or not women can be appointed to the Senate of Canada, it was about the original meaning of persons in the law at the time. He showed that the living tree idea was actually deployed in what we call an original public meaning way. I think that that essay was ignored. It has an embarrassingly low SSRN download rate for how important and fundamental it was as a scholarly work for a long time.

That is an absolute embarrassment to the legal profession in Canada, in my opinion. There have been a lot more downloads recently, a lot more interest in it, and a lot more debates. I think that’s probably a function of the younger scholars taking it up and challenging it. Overall, what we still have is purposivism, the idea that purposes, and the original purposes of the Constitution, matter for understanding its meaning.

What’s happened is people have become interested in deploying different ways of understanding purposes that lean towards different strands of living tree versus originalist. Or even, now we have young conservative scholars who are conservative living tree theorists, who are aggressively arguing for the incorporation of conservative moral principles into the Constitution.

I find it very amusing to see them debate some people who are living tree constitutionalists and watch them agree about methodology and disagree about outcomes, and then see how the reaction on account of some progressive living tree theorists is to say, “Oh, maybe there are some limits to living tree constitutionalism.” Political scientists see this differently. Political scientists are interested in not just theories about how we should interpret the Constitution, they’re interested in to what extent ideology plays a role in actually determining outcomes, regardless of what courts say about their theory of constitutional interpretation.

As the methods of constitutional interpretation debate heats up between legal scholars, political scientists will say that they’ve been tracking for a long time and trying to think for a long time about how ideology does influence judges of all stripes and that the living tree is itself a somewhat empirically useful way of thinking about how courts do update legal meaning, according to political preferences and how they’re influenced by that, but also, how there are limits on that.

The limits come, partly, from the strategic environment courts find themselves in. Judges aren’t Hercules; they can’t do whatever they want. They’re limited to some extent, even by text, even those who think that texts can be changed. They’re also limited, more importantly, for political scientists, by the political environment the Court finds itself in, who they’re appointed by, what the Parliament looks like that is sitting at the time they are, what the Parliament’s ideology was that enacted the law they’re looking at, things like that.

I’ve already answered question three. There are lots of young scholars challenging the dominant progressive living tree ideology, as I said, both from an originalist perspective and somewhat, as a very new phenomenon that’s very interesting, from a conservative living tree perspective.

SEAN SPEER: Some listeners, to that final point, will be familiar with the emergence of so-called common-good constitutionalism that, as Geoff says, represents an effort on the part of conservatives, oftentimes social conservatives, to advance a living tree model for jurisprudential thinking with a goal of ultimately advancing conservative ends.

Geoff, we’ve talked about your own research, we’ve talked about the state of legal scholarship and analysis, and we’ve talked about Robby George. It’s now time to get to the main topic I want to cover, which is the new Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies at UBC, which just launched in recent weeks and for which you are the director. Why did you establish it? What gap is it filling in the world of scholarship and ideas?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Why I established it is very simple and it relates to what we were talking about before, which is I just think that we need more heterodoxy, more conversations and debates, and speakers, who are interested in challenging, thinking about, and enriching our understanding of fundamental constitutional principles, and ideas, and debates in this country, especially. We have had people who were living tree constitutionalists for a long time, but they didn’t know other different strands of that.

They weren’t pushed to think—this is not fair, right?—but they weren’t pushed to think clearly about what living constitutionalism really is. What living tree constitutionalism is. What I want the Centre to do is to push those kinds of conversations. I don’t want it to be pushing one line, saying that living tree constitutionalism is wrong, or something like that. What I want it to do is to increase the kinds of conversations we have where people feel excited and interested in figuring out even what their own view is, and sharpen that a little more.

What I’ve tried to do is reach across a whole broad swathe of scholars, from all different kinds of perspectives at UBC, Vancouver, at Allard Law School, to try to foster that. I’m still a very novice assistant professor here and notice that there’s not a UBC centre for constitutional law at Allard Law School. I thought, “Man, that needs to change, we need to have a centre for constitutional law. They have a centre for feminist studies and a centre for indigenous law. Those are important things and interesting things, but it seems really important to have a centre for constitutional law.”

I pitched it to my colleagues here and I experienced a lot of support, from all the people, from different points of view. I’m really excited about it. It’s one thing for me to propose this, it’s another thing for people to be really supportive, be on board with the idea, and people from very different perspectives.

I think that we’ve done a good job of reaching out to people from different perspectives but I think that the people from different perspectives genuinely recognize that this is something we need in Canada, that we need more conversations about fundamental issues and constitutionalism from different perspectives.

SEAN SPEER: The Centre’s mandate emphasizes, among other things, “the philosophy of law.” What do you mean, and why is it important?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Philosophy of law is itself a very technical subfield of philosophy. It’s interested in questions like, “What is law? Is law positive? Is it separate from morality? In what way, if so? Or if not, in what way?” It’s an extremely important discipline and subfield for thinking about questions about constitutionalism. This is important in its own right. It’s an important fundamental philosophical area of thinking.

Just to illustrate how important it is: one of the best, more articulate scholars who wrote about what the living tree constitution will actually look like, wrote an argument for it in Canada, and actually articulated what it means beyond just a metaphor and what its philosophical grounding might be, is Wil Waluchow, at McMaster, who is a philosopher of law. He was a student of H.L.A. Hart at Oxford, he’s among the most famous philosophers of law.

He wrote his argument for common law, living tree constitutionalism from a philosophy of law perspective. His views on the philosophy of law don’t completely determine his views on constitutionalism and living tree, but they do influence it and help sharpen it, I think. I think it’s a valuable discipline in its own right and something we should support, independently of its value to wider debates about constitutionalism and doctrine.

It’s also just fundamentally important to other conversations. When you look at the common good versus originalist debate, it’s got all kinds of things going on with philosophy of law questions. There’s a school of originalism that argues that originalism is a variety of positivism. That when you’re enforcing the original meaning of the Constitution, you’re ultimately enforcing the technical legal meaning as divorced from just the simple moral principles, views, and intentions of the framers, or the people at the time, right?

Then there are the common good scholars, like Adrian Vermeule, who are attacking that and using the natural law theory to say that no, law itself is tied to more principles so fundamentally that that vision of originalist constitutionalism, that vision of positivism, is wrong. Wherever you come out in that debate, it engages fundamental philosophy of law ideas in a way that’s really exciting, interesting, and it’s an area where philosophers of law, who are very sharp, generally, help us think more clearly about these things.

SEAN SPEER: You’ve established a broad and diverse group of research associates at the Centre, including popular Hub contributors Howard Anglin, Ben Woodfinden, and Brian Bird. What do you hope to achieve with such a stellar network of adjacent scholars?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Well, I hope that they will participate in future events and we can bring them into conversation with people who maybe haven’t engaged with them enough. Here’s my real hunch, Sean, is that a lot of folks in the academy maybe haven’t heard of Howard Anglin, or really read his work, or heard of Ben Woodfinden and read his stuff. I’m guessing that’s increasingly changing, as Ben becomes more prolific.

I actually know that the political science subsection in Canada knows a lot about Ben. Some of these voices, or Brian Birds’ voice too, in the legal academy, I want them to be put into the ears of certain people who maybe haven’t heard them before or really taken them seriously. As I said, what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think that’s from ill will, necessarily, but maybe just from the lack of opportunity.

Maybe having a network that brings people from a variety of points of view together helps us hear each other better and listen across these different perspectives and gaps.

SEAN SPEER: As you talk, Geoff, implicitly in your comments is a reflection of the inspiration of Professor George and the work that he’s done to bring diverse and heterodox voices together in a constructive conversation. Which leads me to my final question. What has been the reaction, so far, to the launch of the new Centre?

GEOFFREY SIGALET: I would say overwhelmingly positive. I’ve received notes from all different kinds of people, notes from lawyers who are just excited at the idea. We had a note from one recent graduate of Allard who said he’s just so excited about us having these conversations and that he’s been worried about the state of the discipline and what people are willing to say or not willing to say, even in some of his classes.

That he sees the Centre as an exciting chance to fight back against that, have some more open conversations, and invite professors to do what they’re supposed to do, what they’ve always been supposed to do. Which is to speak freely, openly, and more intelligently, for being able to speak more freely about different kinds of issues, and challenge norms, help us think about what we even mean by some of the things that we all say we’re committed to.

I would say that is my big hope. It’s definitely inspired by Robby. It’s also inspired by another mentor of mine, Michael McConnell, who ran the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. I was a fellow there, briefly. I have a huge respect for Professor McConnell and I’m also really inspired by him. He’s got a similar approach to this, bringing different voices together.

I remember being at seminars he ran that had an unbelievable gambit of different speakers. That kind of thing is productive. It makes everybody up their game.

SEAN SPEER: Well, the centre is called the Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies at UBC. Geoffrey Sigalet, we wish you and the group there the best of luck, as your work gets off the ground. In the meantime, I want to thank you for joining us for what’s been an enlightening conversation at Hub Dialogues.

GEOFFREY SIGALET: Thanks very much, Sean. I’m very honoured to have this conversation.

00:00:00
00:00:00