Tsinghua-Toronto Joint Conference: Frontiers of Constitutional Jurisprudence in China and Canada

Lin Cong’ 14

The University of Toronto Faculty of law in collaboration with the Tsinghua University Law School organized a conference on the “Frontiers of Constitutional Jurisprudence in China and Canada” on October 12-13, 2012 in Toronto. The conference features pioneering constitutional law scholars from China and Canada who present their studies on various topics of constitutional law. Professor Ian Lee from the University of Toronto delivered the welcoming remarks.

Professor Kent Roach presents on “A Comparative Examination of Wrongful Conviction”

“If a country thinks it does not have a wrongful conviction problem, it is not looking hard enough.–Kent Roach”

Kent Roach from the University of Toronto and Professor Na Jiang from Beijing Normal University presented on “A Comparative Examination of Wrongful Conviction”. Professor Roach structured his study on wrongful conviction as an unique piece in constitutional law scholarship. He suggests that criminal law is constitutional law that matters in the sense that people go to jail and get executed. Professor Roach further discussed the Innocence Projects in the U.S. and also comparison between inquisitorial and adversarial systems on the issue of wrongful conviction.

Professor Jiang presented on three waves of criminal law reforms in China in 2006, 2010, and 2012. These reforms were largely invoked by wrongful conviction cases, She and Zhao. Professor Jiang argued that these reforms, however inspiring, are more symbolic than effective.

Professor Zhaojie Li poses challenges to the panel.

Professor Yasmin Dawood and Professor Ian Lee from the University of Toronto added two distinct perspectives to the conference. Professor Dawood discussed “Democratic Rights as Structural Rights” through a political science angle. Professor Lee presented on “Reasonable Accommodation in an Economic Perspective” focusing on recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions on freedom of religion. Professor Lee suggested that the commonality of their studies lies in the interdisciplinary focus: bringing social science in constitutional law analysis.

Professor Ian Lee presents on his economic analysis of constitutional law

Professor Jinyan Li from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, chaired the panel of International Law and Constitutional Law. Professor Zhaojie Li from Tsinghua University and Professor Patrick Macklem from the University of Toronto presented on the complex relationship between constitutional law and international law in China and Canada. Professor Li began with an eulogy to Professor Betty Ho, who had strong connection with both Tsinghua and the University of Toronto. Professor Li then discussed how international law affected Chinese Constitution. Professor Macklem addressed the question “how dualist Canada is” by analyzing the Quebec Secession Reference and labour trilogy cases.

Professor Zhaojie Li answers questions from the audience

David Mulroney and Professor Zhaojie Li

David Mulroney, Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, and former Canadian ambassador to China, chaired the closing address. Dean Zhenmin Wang from Tsinghua University School of Law delivered the closing remarks on “Constitutionalism and Democracy: A Comparative Observation”.

For the full program of the conference, please visit the conference main page.


The New Legal System and Its Significances in China

Lin Cong’ 14

On October 10, 2012, the Asia Law Society was honoured to have Professor Zhenmin Wang to speak on the exciting changes in the legal system in China. Professor Wang is the dean of law school at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of the best in China. He teaches an intensive course at the University of Toronto and spearheads the exchange program for law students at the University of Toronto to study law at Tsinghua.

Vince Wong’ 13 introduces Professor Zhenmin Wang at the event, “the New Legal System and Its Significances in China”

Professor Wang commented on the lunch provided at the event and began his speech with a joke about studying bible and eating. A prisoner asked a priest if he could eat when studying the bible. The priest said no because bible study is a serious matter and eating would distract the study. Then, the prisoner changed the question and asked if he could study the bible when eating. The priest answered, certainly because that shows one has the bible in mind even when eating.

A photo of “ya men” (衙门), the traditional criminal law court and prison, in China.

Professor Wang then turned to a more serious topic on the history of legal systems in China. He discussed the unique features of the ancient Chinese legal system, which emphasizes criminal law, a way for the ruler rule its subjects. In the dynastic times, rites, “Li” (礼), is more important than law. The picture above shows the entrance of “ya men”  (衙门), the traditional criminal law court and prison, in China. The characters above read, “natural law, national law, humanity”.

Professor Wang summarized the more recent changes in the Chinese legal system as from nothing to something and perhaps one day to everything. Thanks to the demand of China’s economic rise, the commercial law in China is far more developed than some aspects of the legal system. Moreover, Professor Wang demystified certain aspects of Chinese legal and political system. For instance, China is a socialist not a communist or capitalist country contrary to some popular or academic opinions.

During the Q&A session, Professor Wang answered a wide range of questions posed by the audience. In response to student question on what Canadian law students and lawyers-to-be could do with knowledge of and interests in legal changes in China, Professor Wang referred to Professor Betty Mayfoon Ho (1948-2010), who obtained a L.L.B. from the University of Toronto in 1977 and began teaching in the University of HongKong in 1988 and Tsinghua University Law School in 2002. Professor Ho was heavily involved with the development of the rule of law in China. Professor Wang encouraged the students to take advantage of the exchange opportunities in China and practice or teach in China if it is where their passions lead.

Professor Wang answers questions from the students