Research Themes

Research by the Centre’s members addresses a broad array of health-related issues. The Centre itself also facilitates collaborations and organizes events around four "themes". If you would like to receive notifications about events please email Or to learn more about a specific theme you can contact one of the theme leads listed below.


Technology and Innovation

Emerging technologies give great promise to patients, but pose legal and ethical challenges for policy-makers and health professionals. While electronic health records and large databases of health information can improve patient care, enhance surveillance of infectious diseases, and reveal the genetic causes of disease, the widespread collection of health information has necessitated the implementation of complex regulatory schemes to protect the privacy of this sensitive information. Questions still exist respecting the use of genetic information by the courts, employers, or insurers. Similarly, while robotic surgery and telemedicine have the potential to improve patient care and access to health services, regulations governing health professionals will have to adapt to the use of these technologies. There are similar challenges in applying existing laws to the use of cognitive enhancing drugs and deep brain stimulation on patients with diminished capacity, for example those with dementia or mental illnesses. Another area of rapid technological innovation has been reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization and surrogacy. While these technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent, Canada lacks the necessary legal framework to regulate their use.
Theme Leads:
Brenda Wilson (Medicine)
Vanessa Gruben (Common Law)

Power and Vulnerability

Certain subsets of the Canadian population, such as Aboriginal Canadians and individuals living with disabilities, mental illnesses or in poverty, often have the most acute health needs. For example, Aboriginal Canadians have a significantly shorter life expectancy and experience health conditions such as diabetes, tuberculosis, and suicide at dramatically higher rates than the national average. These concerns are exacerbated by inadequate housing, a lack of access to clean water in many isolated communities, and difficulty recruiting health care workers to remote areas. The law can act as a barrier to reducing these health disparities, for example, due to provincial/federal quibbling over their shared jurisdiction respecting Aboriginal health, or by tying eligibility for services to an individual’s designation as a status or a non-status Aboriginal. Historical laws also marginalized people with mental illnesses, for example, by imposing indefinite institutionalization and permitting treatment without consent. Modern laws governing mental health have a greater focus on individual rights, but policy-makers still struggle with limiting restrictions on liberty, while still preventing self-harm and adequately protecting the public.
Theme Leads:
Jennifer Chandler (Common Law)
Michael Orsini (Social Sciences)


Canada’s aging population, coupled with medicine’s ever-increasing ability to prolong life, place pressure on already strained health care budgets. While the Canadian health care system has been structured primarily around hospital and physician services, the aging population now demands that policy-makers turn their attention to improving access to and adequately funding health care services such as long-term care, palliative care, pharmaceuticals, and home care. The seamless integration of these services with hospital and physician services also presents a significant challenge for policy-makers. Numerous scandals relating to disease outbreaks and patient safety in nursing homes and long-term care facilities suggest that provinces must improve their oversight over the host of public and private entities providing these services. The aging population also presents challenging legal and ethical issues for health providers and the families of patients, for example, the impact of dementia on the ability to consent to medical treatment and the regulation of physician assisted suicide.
Theme Leads:
Colleen Flood (Common Law)
Michael Wolfson (Medicine)

Domestic and Global Health Governance

Concerns such as the ever-increasing share of tax dollars devoted to the health care system, numerous patient safety scandals, and long wait lists for certain health care services have led citizens to seek redress before the courts. For example, there have been claims alleging that the failure to fund particular health services (i.e. therapy for autism and sex reassignment surgery) constitutes discrimination and claims that legal limits on private health care services violate the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. Just as patients use the law as a tool to motivate health policy change, governments employ the law to improve health and to reform the health care system, for example, by restricting tobacco use, mandating labelling requirements for food, and by regulating the safety of pharmaceuticals. At the global level, international laws and institutions (i.e. the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization) have a complex relationship with national governments and domestic laws that impacts the response to global health threats such as Ebola and AIDS/HIV.
Theme Leads:
Patrick Fafard (Social Sciences)
Steven Hoffman (Common Law)


Indigenous Health

Indigenous health in Canada and worldwide is in crisis. This is evidenced by the life expectancy of First Nations and Metis people being approximately four to seven years less than the Canadian average and 12 years less in Inuit-inhabited areas. Inuit infant mortality rates are four times the Canadian average. Suicide rates for First Nations youth are five to six times higher than for non-Indigenous youth, while the rate among Inuit youth is among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national rate. The prevalence of diabetes among First Nations is three times the national average, and the tuberculosis rates for Inuit are three times higher than for First Nations and 70 times the rate for non-Indigenous Canadians.
The purpose of the Indigenous health sector of the Centre is to generate new ideas and evidence and to advance the holistic health of First Nation, Metis and Inuit Peoples through conducting, facilitating, promoting and disseminating research that will advance and change Canadian law and policy to create a more equitable health status. While it is important to recognize an individual and collective right to make decisions that affect one’s health status, self governance is based on the view that First Nations, Metis and Inuit have the inherent right to govern themselves. The objective is to move beyond what has been accomplished to date and advance law and policy to accomplish a more equitable health status.  This may be realized by using a multidisciplinary approach to create a research agenda to advance and change law and policy in the area of governance, criminal law, mental health law, environmental law, human rights etc.
The Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada identified reconciliation in law and health regarding a) recommendations regarding Indigenous law and the ongoing application of ancestral laws b) seven Calls to Action regarding health status. The objective is to also utilize the TRC and UNDRIP to advance Canadian law and policy to help create a more equitable health status.
Theme Leads:
Yvonne Boyer (Common Law)
Brenda Macdougall (Geography)
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