In Memoriam: Professor Ian Kerr (1965-2019)

Posted on Friday, August 30, 2019

Blog Post

On August 27, 2019, our very dear colleague and friend Ian Kerr passed away due to complications arising from cancer.  He was only 54 years old.

Ian joined the Common Law Section in 2000.  He was an immensely gifted teacher, a world-class researcher and a devoted faculty member.   He gave much more than he received from our faculty.   He was deeply committed to his students and to his colleagues and that loyalty was returned in kind.  As a result of his research stature in the law and tech field, many opportunities came Ian’s way, including leading a multi-million SSHRC Partnership Grant “On the Identity Trail”.  In 2009, Ian’s colleague and friend Michael Geist wrote, “my colleague Ian Kerr has led a remarkable project focusing on anonymity, privacy and identity in a networked society.  The project – one of the largest funded SSHRC grants in history – brought together dozens of experts from across Canada and around the world.  It was incredibly productive with books, articles, conferences, blog postings, and unparalleled intellectual energy.” 

Ian’s devotion to his students was legendary.  On his blog, he wrote that “[t]he most enjoyable and easily the most rewarding aspect of my job is working with highly talented students.”  For many students, the most rewarding part of their law school experience was the opportunity to be part of his team.  Working with Ian was not simply a project or a job or even a law school experience, it became a lifelong connection to Ian and other members of his team.  Ian took great pride in continuing to mentor his former students who became his friends and colleagues.  This is apparent from his blog.

Ian was deeply committed to our faculty. He always volunteered for important faculty and university service because he was committed to the Common Law Section, to the University of Ottawa and to building the best law school that he could. He did everything to support his students, colleagues and the University.   One recent example, is in June 2019, when Ian was in the midst of cancer treatment.  He was no longer coming into school.   The University was making a big pitch to a potential donor for a project on AI and Ethics and called upon members of our Tech Law Group to be part of a day-long presentation.   As Dean, I was asked to participate. To my surprise, Ian found the strength to participate for the entire day, delivering a powerful hour-long keynote closing presentation that demonstrated his support for his colleagues and his vision for the future of his field and the law school. 

Ian loved teaching – whether it was first year Contracts, Robot Law or the Techno-Rico course in Puerto Rico that he developed.  When his cancer returned in the spring of 2019, Ian told me he would be starting treatment and he wouldn’t be able to teach in the fall but not to worry, he would teach the second half of contracts in the Winter 2020.  In our last conversation at his bedside at the hospital, Ian told me that he didn’t think he would be able to teach in Winter 2020 and that we would have to make other plans.   This said so much about Ian: facing his own mortality, he was thinking about others – his beloved family, his former students, his colleagues, his law faculty and his future students.

Ian was a giant in his field.  A visionary in AI and Ethics who thought about the implications of autonomous vehicles before they even had a name.  He was a teacher who deeply cared about his students.  He was a researcher who supported, mentored and championed his colleagues.  But most of all he was our friend and we miss him dearly.

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