Pandemic Perseverance: Under unique circumstances, doctoral candidate Lilou Jiang defends thesis on the Death Penalty in China

Posted on Wednesday, May 6, 2020

After half a decade of hard work, just weeks before her PhD thesis defence, Lilou Jiang’s world was turned upside down.  With the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating social isolation, in a matter of days she faced the possibility that her defence would be indefinitely postponed.  Through exceptional thoughtfulness, determination and creativity, the Faculty of Law’s Graduate Studies in Law Office managed, in short order, to arrange an entirely virtual defence – the first ever entirely virtual thesis defence for a PhD in Law at the University of Ottawa – perhaps among the first such defences anywhere.

With abundant good will, on the morning of April 1, 2020, the defence proceeded successfully and without a glitch. The six examining academics readily collaborated as uOttawa technical support found the appropriate platform (Starleaf).  Under entirely unique and novel circumstances, Lilou Jiang successfully defended her thesis, entitled: “Capital Punishment in Contemporary China: Towards Effective Public Policy and Law”.

Dr. Lilou Jiang completed her PhD in Law after practicing patent law for many years in China and having earned a Doctorate in Laws in Japan before emigrating to Canada with her family.  Here, she took the opportunity to focus on an issue that had held her attention both in China and in Canada: the continued use of the Death Penalty in China and the justification for it, along with evolution in its scope and application.  Her thesis required treatment of the law and practice in China, comparative law (theories, systems and practices), the sociology of law, and international law.  Accordingly, her Thesis Committee and Jury included scholars of Law, Sociology and Chinese History.

Under the supervision of Professor John Packer, Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC), Dr. Jiang served as an active member of the HRREC, participating in many events and activities, including  contributing to an academic panel at Cornell Law School, and publishing one of her thesis chapters examining the defence of insanity and the treatment of mentally non-competent perpetrators under evolving Chinese law and practice. 

Dr. Jiang’s thesis will be deposited at the University of Ottawa within the month, after which she will graduate at the next Convocation.  She intends then to return to the practice of law in the public sphere.  

The defence itself was an uplifting experience and a precedent-setting example of pandemic resilience.  Normally conducted in-person and in public, this unusual defence followed the need for physical distancing, which required technical arrangements, including protection against interference.  Its success has influenced others beyond uOttawa to do the same and to avoid subjecting candidates to prolonged delays or cancellations of important examinations or programme completions.  Of course, in due time, when the public health emergency has passed, there will be the opportunity for the usual celebration with family, friends and supporters.  In the meantime, we carry on with the scientific endeavor, maintaining standards and completing courses and programmes, while ensuring everyone’s good health. 

Congratulations to Dr. Jiang on successfully defending her thesis, and congratulations to the entire thesis defence committee and jury as well as the Graduate Studies in Law Office for persevering in the face of exceptional challenges.  The resilience and determination demonstrated by everyone involved is an inspiration to us all.

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