Vanessa MacDonnell


Vanessa MacDonnell
Associate Professor (on leave)

B.Sc. (St. Francis Xavier University)
J.D. (Toronto)
LL.M. (Harvard)

Room: Office: Brooks 423
Office Phone: 613-562-5800 ext. 7917
Office Fax: 613-562-5124
Work E-mail:


Vanessa MacDonnell joined the Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) in 2012. She is an expert in constitutional law, constitutional theory, criminal law and the law of evidence. Vanessa’s current research examines how political actors interpret and implement constitutional demands. Her work is comparative and draws on constitutional law and theory from a range of jurisdictions.

Vanessa is currently completing a three-year, SSHRC-funded research project on quasi-constitutional legislation. Other recent projects focus on rethinking the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, examining Justice Suzanne Coté's emerging reputation as a dissenter on the Supreme Court of Canada, and theorizing the constitutional rights dimensions of federal taxation and budget decisions. Vanessa has also written extensively on the role of the jury in contemporary criminal law. In 2017 she received the Faculty of Law's Emerging Researcher Award.

Vanessa is a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (J.D.) and Harvard Law School (LL.M.). After clerking for Justice Louise Charron at the Supreme Court of Canada, she joined the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law, where she was an Assistant Professor between 2010 and 2012. Vanessa has held visiting research fellowships at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public and International Law, and King's College London. She is currently a member of the Board of Editors of the National Journal of Constitutional Law.

Vanessa teaches or has taught criminal law, evidence, constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, administrative law, a seminar on the Supreme Court of Canada, and a graduate course on the impact of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on criminal law and procedure. In 2011 she received the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Vanessa is a regular media commentator on criminal and constitutional issues. She has appeared on local, provincial and national radio and television programs, including TVO's The Agenda and CBC's The Current. She has also been quoted extensively in print and digital media, including in Maclean's, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. In 2018 she received the Faculty of Law's Media Relations Award. She tweets about current affairs at @vanessa_macd.

Vanessa is also counsel at Russomanno Criminal Law, where she provides strategic advice and litigates complex constitutional and criminal law matters. She recently appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada as co-counsel for the intervener Criminal Lawyer's Association in R v Saeed. 

Read Vanessa's papers on SSRN:


Edited Collections

The Canadian Constitution in Transition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018) (forthcoming) (with Richard Albert & Paul Daly, eds)

Articles and Book Chapters

"Justice Suzanne Côté’s Reputation as a Dissenter on the Supreme Court of Canada” (2018) Supreme Court Law Review (forthcoming)

"Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) as Constitutional Implementation" (2018) 96:2 Canadian Bar Review 372

"Introduction" in Richard Albert, Paul Daly & Vanessa MacDonnell, eds, The Canadian Constitution in Transition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018)  (forthcoming) (with Richard Albert & Paul Daly)

"The Reductionism of Global Models of Constitutional Rights" (2018) 12:1 Journal of Law & Ethics of Human Rights 73

"The Right to a Representative Jury: Beyond Kokopenace" (2017) 64 Criminal Law Quarterly 334

"The New Parliamentary Sovereignty" (2016) 21:1 Review of Constitutional Studies 13

"A Theory of Quasi-Constitutional Legislation" (2016) 53:2 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 508

"The Civil Servant's Role in the Implementation of Constitutional Rights" (2015) 13:2 International Journal of Constitutional Law 383

"The New Self-Defence Law: Progressive Development or Status Quo?" (2014) 92:2 Canadian Bar Review 301

"Equality & Incrementalism? The Role of Common Law Reasoning in Constitutional Rights Cases" (2014) 44:3 Ottawa Law Review 467 (with Jula Hughes & Karen Pearlston)

"Internet Surveillance and Popular Constitutionalism" in George Williams, Fergal Davis & Nicola McGarrity, eds, Surveillance, Counter-Terrorism and Comparative Constitutionalism (Oxford: Routledge, 2014) 313

"The Jury Vetting Cases: New Insights on Jury Trials in Criminal Cases?" (2013) 63 Supreme Court Law Review (2d) 419 

"The Constitution as Framework for Governance" (2013) 63:4 University of Toronto Law Journal 624

"Social Science Evidence in German and Canadian Constitutional Law: Some Comparative Observations" (2013) 32:1 National Journal of Constitutional Law 23 (with Jula Hughes)

"The German Abortion Decisions and the Protective Function in German and Canadian Constitutional Law" (2013) 50:4 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 999 (with Jula Hughes)

"R v Sinclair: A New Trend in Balancing Individual Rights Against Societal Interests Outside of Section One of the Charter" (2012) 38 Queen's Law Journal 137

"Developments in Constitutional Law, 2011-2012 Term" (2012) 59 Supreme Court Law Review (2d) 51

"Assessing the Impact of the Ancillary Powers Doctrine on Three Decades of Charter Jurisprudence" (2012) 58 Supreme Court Law Review (2d) 225

"The Protective Function and Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms" (2012) 17 Review of Constitutional Studies 53

Notes and Case Comments

"Book Review: Juries in the 21st Century, by Jacqueline Horan" (2014) 12:1 Canadian Journal of Law and Technology 133

"Problems with the Newly Expanded Powers of Citizen's Arrest" (2012) 33:5 For the Defence 22 (with Leo Russomanno)

"Harnessing Debates in Comparative Constitutional Law as Teaching Tools: My Experiences in the Classroom" (2012) 6 Canadian Legal Education Annual Review 117

"Novel Applications of the Statutory Defence of Duress" (2011) 84 Criminal Reports (6th) 316

"R v. Lanteigne: The "Temporal" Scope of Section 11(b) of the Charter and "Process Control" (2011) 81 Criminal Reports (6th) 248

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