Faculty of Law Mourns the Death of Professor Ian Kerr

Posted on Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Professor Ian Kerr passed away on August 27, 2019 due to complications arising from cancer.  He was only 54 years old.

Ian joined the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section in 2000 and was appointed the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology in 2001.  In selecting this title for his Canada Research Chair, Ian demonstrated vision and leadership, identifying the importance of researching the ethical implications of technology before it emerged as a leading societal issue.   He was a Full Professor in the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section who held a unique four-way appointment in Law, Medicine, Philosophy, and Information Studies.

Ian was an immensely gifted teacher, a world-class researcher and a devoted faculty member. He was a remarkable talent, whose impact on the field, his colleagues, students, and the faculty will be felt for decades to come.  Ian’s work was always at the very cutting edge of law and technology, working to initiate the field of robotics and the law, assessing the implications of artificial intelligence and algorithms, highlighting the digital threats to privacy and security, and examining the effects of digital rights management, electronic contracting, and human enhancing technologies.  

As a result of his research stature in the law and tech field, Ian led many pathbreaking initiatives, including leading a multi-million SSHRC Partnership Grant “On the Identity Trail”.  In 2009, Ian’s colleague and friend Professor 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.” 

He was an effective advocate, whose work was quoted by the Supreme Court of Canada, by politicians in the House of Commons, and in numerous government reports. For example, he addressed Member States at the United Nations in support of a global ban on Lethal Autonomous Weapons, rallying some of the world’s greatest computer scientists to join the cause.

Ian was renowned at the Faculty of Law for his dedication as a teacher and mentor. His devotion to teaching earned him many awards and citations, including the University of Ottawa Excellence in Education Prize, the Bank of Nova Scotia Award of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the University of Ottawa AEECLSS Teaching Excellence Award and the University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Award of Teaching Excellence. His courses—Building Better Humans? and The Laws of Robotics—have garnered international attention, with regular invitations to lecture and teach at prestigious institutions across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Ian brought remarkable vision and passion to the law school, creating new models for teaching, research, and student exchange. He helped create the Faculty’s LL.M. in Law and Technology that counts hundreds of students as past alumni. Ian developed the much-beloved Techno-Rico course with the University of Puerto Rico that serves as model for pedagogical excellence and fostering unique cultural connections. 

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 Ian Kerr’s 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 enormous pride in continuing to mentor his former students who became his friends and colleagues.  The tremendous impact he has had on the lives of so many will continue to live on.

Ian is survived by his partner Erin Smith and their daughter Ruby.  We extend our deepest condolences to them.

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