Asper Centre Student Working Groups

Photo: Asper Centre Indigenous Rights Student Working Group Leader Zachary Biech (R) recruiting members at U of T Law Clubs Fairs, 2018 

About the working groups

U of T law students can become involved in the Asper Centre’s work through volunteering with one of our student working groups.  The student working groups are student-led initiatives that bring together 10-15 students to work in conjunction with academics, civil society groups and members of the bar on current Charter rights advocacy or constitutional law issues. The working group leaders, who are upper year law students, develop the projects, and manage and mentor their working group members while receiving support from the Asper Centre Program Coordinator and Director.

How to become a working group leader as an upper year law student

For information on how to apply to lead a Student Working Group, please read the proposal requirements in the Call for Proposals for 2021-22 Asper Centre Working Groups.  If you would like to apply but need some ideas or have some questions, please contact tal.schreier@utoronto.ca.  This year, in addition to working group ideas developed by students, the Asper Centre invites and welcomes proposals from students who would be interested in leading a COVID-19 working group or a children’s rights working group.

How to become involved as a member of a working group

On September 14, 2021, the Asper Centre is convening a lunchtime event to introduce students to our working groups for the upcoming year (see list of current groups and descriptions below). All students wishing to learn more about our working groups and how to get involved are strongly encouraged to attend this session.

This year the Asper Centre will also be taking part in U of T Law’s Public Interest Programs’ Joint-Volunteer Recruitment Process. PLEASE READ the Volunteer Recruitment Guide 2021-2022 carefully to learn more about how to join one of the Asper Centre’ working groups. If you have any questions, please contact tal.schreier@utoronto.ca (Asper Centre Program Coordinator).

Lastly, please find more information about expectations as a working group member here >> Asper Working Group MEMBERS Note

2021-2022 Asper Centre Student Working Groups

Privacy Law Reform

This working group will be drafting a policy brief to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics and the Privacy Commissioner with recommendations for Charter-compliant reforms to the current Privacy Act, particularly regarding RCMP and CBSA interactions. The Privacy Act governs the collection, disclosure, and usage of Canadians’ personal information by the federal government and federal public-sector institutions including federal agencies, departments, offices, and more. In late 2020, the federal government announced their intention to reform the Privacy Act, which would be the first major reform to the Act in nearly 20 years. The group will make recommendations about how the Act should be amended to sufficiently protect Canadians’ privacy rights as they relate to s. 8 (and possibly s. 7) of the Charter. 

Police Oversight

This working group will be assisting the Asper Centre to complete a project, funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, in which we are developing accessible public legal information guides about the complex police oversight processes in Ontario. Canada’s constitutional democracy is based on the rule of law and responsible government. In this context, police independence must be balanced with accountability. This project promotes police accountability and access to justice and is very timely given the current context of allegations of police misconduct, the ongoing police oversight legislative reforms in Ontario, recent media exposure of issues behind unfounded sexual assault allegations, and the serious concerns raised in respect of the treatment of women and girls from First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities as well as the police mishandling of complaints by Indigenous peoples.

Prisoners’ Rights Handbook

This working group is continuing the work from last year to develop an updated and accessible handbook on the Charter and procedural rights of inmates in Canada. Existing inmates’ rights handbooks are often out of date, do not center on an inmate’s experiences and needs, or do not explore how Charter rights have been judicially interpreted in the context of incarceration. Specifically, there is a lack of accessible literature which explains in practical terms how the Charter rights of inmates manifest in everyday life within correctional institutions in practical terms, and the associated responsibilities that they place on correctional institutions. The working group is seeking to address this gap through the creation of this handbook, and by providing it free of charge to correctional institutional institutions across the country. The group will consult with stakeholders, faculty advisors and working group members to decide on the scope of such a handbook, to evaluate the scale of its potential circulation and to potentially seek funding for this project.

Sex Workers’ Rights

This working group is focused on the constitutionality of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, SC 2014, c 25 [PCEPA]. Last year, the group finalized a legal research memo that outlined which legal arguments related to sex work have been successful or unsuccessful, and what evidence is available to demonstrate that the new sex work provisions perpetuate the same harms identified in the SCC case Bedford. This year, the group seeks to transition some of its work towards legislative advocacy. Section 45.1(1) of the PCEPA states: “Within five years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act shall be undertaken by such committee of the House of Commons as may be designated or established by the House for that purpose.” Under section 45.1(2), the committee must provide a report to the Speaker of the House within one year. The group, in collaboration with the Asper Centre, will make a formal submission for this review.

Freedom of Expression

The objective of this working group’s project is to provide legal research for an organization that is contemplating a Charter challenge to a Provincial Order in Council that potentially impacts advocacy surrounding Palestine. Research questions will include the effect of an Order in Council; what is the procedure for challenging it; the review and application of the Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence on freedom of expression; among other questions related to possible Charter litigation.


2020-2021 Working Groups

Climate Justice

This year, the Climate Justice working group will be focusing on two topics related to climate change with significant constitutional implications: the carbon tax constitutional challenge and the ongoing pipeline disputes. Both issues have received considerable attention over the past year and the group wishes to use that attention to engage law students on the role of law and the Constitution in these really relevant topics. The carbon tax is being challenged at the Supreme Court, on the grounds that a national carbon tax is ultra vires the Federal government. The challenge is set to be heard this coming fall.  This is a topical issue that invokes key aspects of federalism. The Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, planned to extend through unceded territory, has most recently been in the public eye, with news stories depicting pipeline protests appearing throughout early 2020. This pipeline – as all pipelines throughout Canada are – is a significant source of environmental racism. Pipelines in Canada invoke Section 35, federalism, and charter rights. The working group plans on hosting 2 panel discussions on each topic (one each term) and the group members will also engage in other forms of legal advocacy on these issues.

Indigenous Rights

Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act and to make consequential amendments to other Act, was recently introduced to the House of Commons. The Indigenous Rights Working Group will research the problems associated with the current lack of independent oversight of the CBSA as well as research ways in which Bill C-3 could be used to address these issues. Specifically, they will be examining the CBSA’s oversight body in the context of its relationship with the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, which faces unique mobility needs as it sits astride the U.S.- Canada border. The group intends to present its findings and recommendations to Parliament, either in person or in writing, so that our work may be used to help inform Bill C-3.

Prisoners’ Rights

This working group proposes to develop an updated and accessible handbook on the Charter and procedural rights of inmates in Canada. Existing inmates’ rights handbooks are often out of date, do not center on an inmate’s experiences and needs, or do not explore how Charter rights have been judicially interpreted in the context of incarceration. Specifically, there is a lack of accessible literature which explains in practical terms how the Charter rights of inmates manifest in everyday life within correctional institutions in practical terms, and the associated responsibilities that they place on correctional institutions. The working group is seeking to address this gap through the creation of this handbook, and by providing it free of charge to correctional institutional institutions across the country. The group will consult with stakeholders, faculty advisors and working group members to decide on the scope of such a handbook, to evaluate the scale of its potential circulation and to potentially seek funding for this project.

Artificial Intelligence and Constitutional Rights

The working group seeks to explore the impact of the use of facial recognition software by police agencies on one’s constitutional rights. This type of software brings up many questions regarding an individuals’ privacy rights under s. 8 of the Charter: does one have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the photos they choose to post and make public? Might one reasonably expect law enforcement bodies to have access to and use that information against them? How does our current search and seizure jurisprudence interact with emerging technologies and digital information? The group plans to make a submission to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics for their current study on the Impact of Facial Recognition and Artificial Intelligence.

Sex Workers Rights

This group will be addressing the constitutionality of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, SC 2014, c 25 [PCEPA]. The long-term goal of the group is to continue to develop a single source of information that sex work organizations could rely on for future advocacy. Last year, the group began developing an initial version of a memo that demonstrates: (a) which legal arguments related to sex work have been successful or unsuccessful, and (b) what evidence is available to demonstrate that the new sex work provisions perpetuate the same harms identified in Bedford. This year, the group will examine the memo and see how it can be improved. The group also seeks to transition some of its work towards legislative advocacy. Section 45.1(1) of the PCEPA states: “Within five years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act shall be undertaken by such committee of the House of Commons as may be designated or established by the House for that purpose.” Under section 45.1(2), the committee must provide a report to the Speaker of the House within one year. The group, in collaboration with the Asper Centre, will make a formal submission for this review.

Refugee and Immigration Law

The Asper Centre is considering intervening in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) appeal, specifically about the Section 15 Charter arguments that were raised by the applicants in the matter at trial, but not dealt with by the Federal Court judge in her decision. The judge found that the STCA violates asylum seekers’ Charter Section 7 right to life and the judgement was based only on that ground. This working group will help the Asper Centre to conduct research that could assist in this intervention. This working group will also provide legal research assistance on a constitutional challenge to section 34(1)(f) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), in contravention of section 12 and section 7 of the Charter.  This section captures an individual as a member in an organization that engages in terrorism, espionage, etc. even in the absence of any direct involvement by the individual in said organization.


2019-2020 Working Groups

Climate Justice

November 18th, 2019 was the ‘Student Law Clinic Global Day of Action for Climate Justice.’ The event organizers (GAJE, the Global Alliance for Justice Education) asked participating student legal clinics to choose a project related to air pollution and complete it by or on November 18th to mark the date. The Asper Centre Climate Justice student working group prepared an opinion piece on the Ontario government’s potential constitutional obligations with respect to regulating air pollution in Chemical Valley. The OpEd urged the provincial government to honour its commitment to evaluating the impact of the new regulations in the winter of 2019-2020, and to recognize the role it can and should play in protecting environmental rights.  In the second term, the group began convening a panel discussion for the law school community about the constitutional challenges to the federal carbon tax in Saskatchewan and Ontario, with experts in constitutional law, economics and government. Unfortunately, this panel was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Right to Equality in Accommodation

Access to adequate, appropriate, and affordable housing is a growing problem for many people in Ontario, especially those from marginalized groups. Low vacancy rates make affordable housing more difficult to find, and also increase the potential for housing discrimination, because landlords can be highly selective. Section 21.1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code states that the right to equal treatment with respect to accommodation does not apply where an accommodation is in a dwelling where the occupants share a kitchen or bathroom with the landlord or their family. This provision takes away protection from discrimination that Ontarians would have otherwise had.  This working group will be assisting CERA (the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation) by preparing a research memo on the exemption of shared residential accommodation, which will support CERA’s future goal of challenging the constitutionality of S. 21.1.

Sex Workers Rights

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, SC 2014, c 25 (PCEPA) was introduced in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2013 decision in Bedford v Canada, where the Court found that three Criminal Code provisions which criminalized components of sex work unjustifiably violated section 7 of the Charter. The PCEPA includes new provisions that criminalize the purchase of sexual services in Canada and other related activities such as advertising the sale of sexual services. Sex worker organizations and constitutional experts believe that these new provisions remain unconstitutional because many of the harms identified in Bedford continue to be perpetuated. The continuation of these harms under a new legal context means that a new constitutional analysis is necessary. This working group conducted caselaw and academic literature research into the various arguments and Charter sections that could be employed in a constitutional challenge to the PCEPA. This summer, the group’s research is being synthesized and combined in a comprehensive memo that will provide accessible information to sex-worker organizations in Canada that could assist in developing a constitutional challenge of the post-Bedford sex work laws.

Refugee and Immigration Law

Recently, there have been reported incidents in which CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) officers have randomly conducted street checks in minority-populated Toronto neighbourhoods. In light also of the United States ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids and immigration camps, these events are extremely concerning. Thus, HALCO (the HIV & AIDS Legal Aid Clinic of Ontario) collaborated with our longstanding Refugee and Immigration working group to create a plain-language public legal information brochure detailing the powers of a CBSA agent and an individual’s rights when interacting with them in the context of a street check. The working group researched and developed the brochure under the supervision of staff immigration lawyer at HALCO.


2018-2019 Working Groups

Indigenous Rights Working Group This working group focuses on the constitutional dimension of Indigenous rights. This year, the group will analyze the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) and  Bill C-262 with the intent of drafting general recommendations and observations about actions that ought to be taken in order to implement UNDRIP in Canada. This project will examine how UNDRIP affects different legal and policy areas. The group’s other projects include drafting proposed legislation to exonerate Indigenous peoples who were convicted for practicing their ceremonies under past legal regimes; and examining Beaver v Hill for the §35(1) governance issues in relation to Haudenosaunee law and family law in Ontario.

Immigration and Refugee Law Working Group This working group, in the first half of the year, will continue to provide research support for the legal team representing the public interest litigants (Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches) who are challenging the constitutionality of the U.S./Canada Safe Third County Agreement in the Federal Court.

Police Oversight Working Group This working group continues (from the previous year) to work on the comprehensive public legal information guides to navigating each province’s police oversight system. The guides will include information on the structure, important timelines, helpful strategies, and realistic expectations of success for victims of police misconduct or other persons who have legitimate police complaints.  This year, the group will also be drafting an advocacy brief about the Ontario Safer Act (Bill 175) that received Royal Assent on March 8, 2018 and is expected to come into force in 2019, although the current status of the legislation remains unclear.


2017-2018 Working Groups

Evaluating Police Oversight Working Group This working group intends to produce a comprehensive public guide to navigating each province’s police oversight system. It will include information on the structure, important timelines, helpful strategies, and realistic expectations of success.  The purpose of this project is to critically evaluate the oversight systems that hold police officers accountable in Canada. In particular, this project seeks to examine the effectiveness of those systems in addressing the concerns of Indigenous peoples. In recent years, there have been many high-profile clashes between Indigenous peoples and the police. There have been allegations of systemic racism and improper conduct, such as against the RCMP of northern British Columbia and the Thunder Bay police force and there have also been countless allegations of police apathy and shoddy police work when dealing with Indigenous persons, something that may very well have contributed to Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Indigenous Rights Working Group This working group will prepare comprehensive research and advocacy documents regarding Indigenous peoples’ rights to substantive equality and self-determination/jurisdiction in child welfare service provision for the Chiefs of Ontario. The working group will organize and centralize relevant case law, statistics, statutory provisions, and other resources from the perspective of constitutional law and in congruence with all other relevant fields of law including international law, human rights law, and Aboriginal law. It will provide specifically focused and targeted arguments for policy change in the short-term while maintaining a broad long-term goal and vision of self-determination, substantive equality, resurgence, and healing for Indigenous communities.

Immigration and Refugee Law Working Group This working group will monitor, comment and provide research support for some of the current cases and ongoing broader legal advocacy issues in this field, for example, on indefinite immigration detention, on remedies for breaches of Charter rights of persons held in immigration detention, on Canada’s response to the influx of refugee claimants entering irregularly into the country and will provide research support for the lawyers representing the group of public interest litigants in challenging the constitutionality of the U.S./Canada Safe Third County Agreement.


2016-2017 Working Groups

Privacy Working Group This group prepared a policy submission in response to the government’s “Our Security, Our Rights: National Security Green Paper, 2016” as part of an ongoing consultation process on Canada’s national security framework by Public Safety Canada. The submission focused on warrantless access to basic subscriber information by the government. The group worked closely with Faculty members Kent Roach and Lisa Austin.

Environmental Law Working Group Following up on the work of the Environmental law working group from 2015-2016, this group assisted UTEA (the University of Toronto Environmental Action Group) to prepare and draft the legal arguments pertaining to intergenerational youth justice and climate change that formed part of UTEA’s advocacy document, entitled Give our Children A Future: the Moral and Legal obligation of the Government of Canada to act on Climate Change.

See additional past student working groups HERE