Carissima Mathen leads innovative new project on equality rights and the Supreme Court

Posted on Friday, September 11, 2020

The Supreme Court is a central institution in Canadian law and politics, and yet, to date, there has been relatively little empirical research on its work.  Professor Carissima Mathen is leading a new project, funded by an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), that will use state-of-the-art legal data analytics to investigate Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decisions, specifically probing how the Court has addressed equality claims.

Entitled “Judging Equality Judgments: Applying Legal Data Analytics to the Supreme Court’s Section 15 and Equality Caselaw”, the project will apply quantitative methods to map the Court’s equality jurisprudence. Professor Mathen and her team will examine the Supreme Court’s response to equality claims arising both under and outside section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They will use natural language processing and network analysis to investigate the text of each decision and extract information relating to key facts, causes of action, precedents cited, remedies, and outcomes.

Joining Professor Mathen are co-applicants Wolfgang Alschner, a pioneer in the application of data analytics to the empirical study of law and head of the ground-breaking Legal Technology Lab, and Vanessa MacDonnell, a leading constitutional scholar and co-director of the uOttawa Public Law CentreTerry Skolnik of the Civil Law Section will also join the project as a collaborator, bringing his experience in studying empirical research on judicial behaviour.  Guided by both the data and informed doctrinal analysis, the researchers will develop new insights into the complex body of jurisprudence surrounding equality claims, allowing them to assess the relative impact of section 15. The findings generated by this research will contribute to the literature on judicial decision-making, bridge the gap between qualitative and quantitative research about the Supreme Court, and develop a more nuanced, empirically informed understanding of Canadian equality rights.

SSHRC Insight Development Grants support research in its initial stages, enabling the development of new research questions and experimentation with new methods, theoretical approaches, and ideas.

Congratulations to Professor Mathen and her team!

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