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Comparing and contrasting at Cambridge

Fellowship winner Kristen Stallard to study how Canada’s constitutional design can advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

Kristen Stallard
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Halifax lawyer Kristen Stallard may be headed overseas to study international law, but her research will focus on a topic of national importance: how Canada’s constitutional design can advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

She’s this year’s winner of the Canadian Bar Association’s Viscount Bennett Fellowship, which is awarded annually to a Canadian law student to encourage high standards of legal education, training, and ethics.

A graduate of Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law, and an associate lawyer with Patterson Law in Halifax, Stallard will use the fellowship to support her graduate studies this fall at the University of Cambridge. Her work will explore the potential opportunities and limitations of constitutional design for progressing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Constitutional design examines the role of constitutions in pluralistic societies in building a right of self government, and is, in some ways, a subset of comparative constitutional law.

Stallard plans to analyze Canada's strengths and shortcomings in this area through this international lens, comparing how other countries are advancing constitutional design.

“Part of that research will be looking at different countries like Australia and New Zealand and how they have approached reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” she says.

Australia, for example, held a referendum in October in which voters rejected a proposal to amend the country’s constitution to recognize Indigenous Australians and create a body for them to advise the government, Stallard explains.

Supporters say the results marked a setback for reconciliation.

By comparison, in Canada, Section 35 of the Constitution Act enshrines the recognition of existing Aboriginal treaty rights, which the Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed provides the constitutional framework for reconciliation.

“Having this protected under the constitution provides a powerful tool for recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Stallard says.

However, the courts have been left to interpret the section’s scope.

“For some, that creates debate over whether Section 35 is effective reconciliation or if it's just further entrenching colonial structures,” she says.  

“In my research, I'm looking to potential opportunities and limitations of different types of constitutional arrangements for advancing reconciliation of Indigenous peoples.”

Stallard adds that the opportunity to learn with people abroad from different legal traditions will be a very important part of that study.

Her interest in constitutional design was sparked when she studied the impact of Canada’s Constitution on advancing Indigenous rights and political mobilization during her undergraduate studies in political science.

It continued when she studied constitutional and Aboriginal law with Naiomi Metallic, a recent Ramon John Hnatyshyn award winner, at Dalhousie.

Stallard says that moving from political science to law was a natural progression.

“When you're talking about political science and how laws get made, I think it's a logical next step to wonder how do they actually get applied?”

Along with her experience in law and political science, Stallard will bring her knowledge of public administration with her abroad. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Dalhousie University, in addition to a bachelor of arts from St. Francis Xavier University, a master of arts in political science from the University of Toronto, and a JD from Dalhousie.

She has won numerous awards for high standing in her studies, including the Ellorient, Donald and Hugh Fraser Scholarship and the Boyneclarke Prize. She’s also clerked for the Hon. Justice Wyman W. Webb at the Federal Court of Appeal and for the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

Stallard is currently the vice chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s administrative law section in Nova Scotia. She works with the Access to Justice and Law Reform Institute at the Schulich School of Law, the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia and formerly at the Halifax Free Legal Clinic.

“I really am so grateful to the CBA for its ongoing support with the fellowship,” Stallard says, as well as the experiences it’s given her as a volunteer.

In her view, the organization’s professional development programming has created opportunities to consider where the law is and where it's going.

“I think it has helped inspire me to do an LLM and try to study an area that is really of interest to me, as it has been for a long time.”