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  The CRDP at the beginning               The CRDP today

Canada's oldest legal research centre, the CRDP was founded in 1962, and brings together the largest number of researchers in the legal field. Its world-renowned research activities are organized along three lines: Law and New Social Relations, Law and Information and Communications Technologies, and Law, Biotechnology and Community. While the CRDP's mission during its first few years was to “promote and conduct research on public law, particularly on constitutional and administrative law,” its activities gradually expanded to the study of a wide range of issues and themes concerning contemporary law. Synonymous with interdisciplinarity, this diversity of topics has made the Centre's members very open to other academic disciplines. The CRDP's research remains part of this tradition.

The CRDP’s approach
Those who made the CRDP


At the Faculty's hundredth anniversary in 1978, the Centre de recherche en droit public was 16 years old, and already had a high profile in Québec. Through its publications on constitutional and administrative law in particular, it had made major contributions to the “national” debate. However, a research centre cannot remain robust if it limits itself to the same issue, no matter how crucial. From 1978 to 2003, the CRDP refreshed its research directions and diversified its areas of inquiry, which made the period a time of extraordinary growth. Its reputation spread across Canada and abroad, in both the French-speaking world and elsewhere.


When the Centre was established, the Government of Québec planned to create four pure research positions in the Université de Montréal's Faculty of Law. In 1977-1978, the Centre included six lead professor-researchers and three professors “on loan” from the Faculty of Law. It employed two research assistants and one intern. In 1991, owing to the Centre's success, the University decided to create a fifh pure research position. In the years that followed, many other full-time researchers joined the CRDP thanks to specific programs designed for the purpose by major funding agencies. Indeed, the positions of some researchers are supported by the research funding of our teams.

Since the 2007-2008 academic year, many “new” researchers have joined the CRDP, thus helping to refresh our teams and research projects. This was also the case in 2009-2010, when Professor Karine Bates, from the Department of Anthropology, and Professor Daniel Poulin, from the Université de Montréal's Faculty of Law, joined the CRDP. Karine Bates is a jurist and anthropologist, and had already participated in many of the Centre's research projects, including the major “Indigenous Peoples and Governance” project directed by Professor Pierre Noreau. Daniel Poulin was very familiar with the Centre since he began his career here and had been an associate researcher for many years. Professor Poulin's work on online publication of legal knowledge is well known across Canada and around the world. Again this year, the work of our two “new” researchers integrates into the Centre's research areas, and complements the Centre's ongoing projects in many ways. The Centre's research is characterized by its interdisciplinary nature, which has been one of the Centre's directions for over 30 years. It leads the CRDP's researchers to collaborate very closely on their projects with specialists from other disciplines (medicine, pharmaceutical science, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, computer science, etc.) Our new researchers are excellent examples of this interdisciplinary orientation since one's research is marked by anthropology and the other's by computer science.

Today, the CRDP brings together 13 full-time researchers, 32 associate researchers and 60 contributors. The researchers also belong to the Regroupement Droit, changements et gouvernance, which has been supported by the Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture since 2004, and links the Université de Montréal, McGill University and Université Laval. The funding was renewed in May 2011, which has made it possible to change a number of aspects, including the composition of the teams, and to add the fundamental dimension of governance, which is shared by the Regroupement's three research themes: Law and New Social Relations, Law and Information and Communications Technologies, and Law, Biotechnology and Community. It should also be noted that six of the CRDP's researchers hold research chairs, including the L.R. Wilson Chair in Information Technology and E-Commerce Law, of which Professor Pierre Trudel is the first holder, the Jean Monnet Chair in European Union Law, which is held by Professor Nanette Neuwahl, the Canada Research Chair in North American and Comparative Juridical and Cultural Identities, held by Professor Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens, the Chair in Business Law and International Trade, held by Stéphane Rousseau, the Chair in E-Commerce and Security Law, held by Professor Vincent Gautrais, and the Chair on Legal Information, held by Professor Daniel Poulin. The Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine, which was held by Bartha Maria Knoppers until her departure for McGill University in 2009, is vacant, but Professor Knoppers nonetheless remains one of the CRDP's associate researchers.

The CRDP also includes 27 research officers, 2 programmer-analysts and 45 research assistants, most of whom are enrolled in undergraduate, Master's or PhD programs in law. Since 2003, 5 post-doctoral researchers have completed internships in the Centre's teams. The 10 people who now make up the Centre's administrative staff provide the members of the CRDP with complete academic secretarial services, as well as computer support.



In 1977–1978, the CRDP had six full-time research professors, three professors “on loan” from the Faculty of Law, two research assistants and one intern. Twenty-five years later, the CRDP has 14 full-time researchers, 36 research officers, 6 programmer-analysts and 53 research assistants, most of whom are enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs in law. Moreover, in 2003, six students completed postdoctoral studies in the Centre’s teams. Eleven administrative employees now provide the CRDP’s researchers with complete secretarial and informatics support services.

The gradual increase in the number of full-time researchers working at the CRDP is largely the reason for the Centre’s success. When the Centre was originally set up, the Government of Quebec wanted to create four full-time research positions at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Law. In 1991, the CRDP’s accomplishments encouraged the University to create a fifth research position. A number of other researchers later joined the CRDP thanks to specific programs designed for this purpose by major granting agencies. Today, the positions of some researchers are funded by our teams’ research monies.

Finally, in recent years, three major research chairs were established. In 2001, the Canada Research Chair in Law and Medicine was awarded to Professor Bartha Maria Knoppers; in 2003, the L. R. Wilson Chair in Information Technology and Electronic Communication was created and Professor Pierre Trudel became the first to hold it; and in 2004, Daniel Poulin received the LexUM Chair in Law and Informatics, which will be launched in the near future.


The CRDP’s approach

Today, the CRDP is the largest legal research centre in Canada. Its work is known throughout the country and abroad. The CRDP's publications and other activities demonstrate originality, and many of them have marked their areas, for example, in particular, cyberspace law, the Canadian virtual legal library, the cybertribunal, human genetics law and Aboriginal law. The quality of the CRDP's researchers plays a fundamental role in the Centre's development. However, the success of our projects also results from the “CRDP recipe,” which gives researchers a great deal of independence while the Centre's leadership ensures consistency across all activities, facilitates exchanges, supports collaboration and sees that students are integrated into academic life. An enlightened policy shared by the Faculty of Law and the Université de Montréal makes it possible for the Centre's researchers to reconcile research and teaching duties. Thus, the CRDP is not something created by a single individual with a few collaborators, but a shared undertaking led by around 15 full-time researchers in a flexible, dynamic collaborative framework.

The CRDP's work is now organized into three thematic areas:

- Law and New Social Relations

- Law and Information and Communications Technologies

- Law, Biotechnologies and Community

The CRDP: an interdisciplinary research program on law

CRDP researchers work mainly on contemporary forms of law, the conditions for its emergence and its relationships with other forms of normativity and social regulation. Our research perspectives have gradually changed over the last 40 years, and we now take an original approach.

From constitutional law to contemporary research on law

The first research done at the Centre belonged mainly to the field of Canadian and Québec constitutional law. In the 1960s, the development of the state and the evolution of public law, especially administrative law, favoured the study of regional administrative structures, as well as research on law relating to health care, higher education, radio and television, new states' accession to sovereignty, etc.

Research on health care law led to studies on emerging norms in medical ethics, and then to inquiries into new biomedical and genetic technology norms. Other research came to focus on the ethical, legal and social stakes involved in the use of xenotransplants, which led to studies on environmental law and human relationships with the animal and plant world. Our research on radio and television broadcasting law expanded into the study of norms governing new communications technologies. This in turn led to publication of the first French-language treatise on cyberspace. Other projects have concerned protection of digitalized personal information, dispute management on the Internet, electronic commerce, democratization of access to law, and the emergence of online government and justice. In parallel, our work on legal theory has been oriented towards the conditions for emergence of new social and legal normativities. Inspired by legal pluralism, this empirical and theoretical work has come to deal with ideological stakes involved in court decisions, legal and political forms of Aboriginal governance, contemporary forms of public action, judicial processing of social problems and the effects of contemporary ethnocultural diversity on the evolution of judicial norms.

Gradual change in research aims

As our research topics have become more diverse, we have constantly had to adjust the kinds of questions we ask. This has required unceasing theoretical and conceptual unification. Initially oriented towards the study of new developments in administrative law, it was inevitable that our work would challenge the traditional distinctions between public and private law. In the mid-1970s, the CRDP was already well-known for its work in new areas of contemporary law. The step separating the study of new law from that of social change was soon taken, and we used the emergence of technological society as a general reference point. At the beginning of the 1990s, the opposite perspective was gradually adopted: rather than understanding change through the prism of law, a number of teams took the fruitful approach of studying the development of law through social and technological change. Their work began to focus less on the way law deals with innovation, and more on the way that social change affects emerging law. This approach is still taken in much of our research today.

This reversal required that we eliminate the often artificial distinction between law and society. While law generally appears as a foundation for social relations, if not as a constructed, set form of social interaction, it can also be grasped as the result of such relations: law is thus conceived of as both a product and a producer of social relations. This perspective, which places legal studies on the same level as the human and social sciences, provides an alternative to traditional legal dogma.

Research features

The work done in the Centre de recherche en droit public is now widely recognized for its special features. Aside from a few exceptions, all of the research receives funding. It brings together teams composed of four, five, even up to seventy researchers. Many projects are based on collaboration with foreign researchers. The teams are essentially composed of academics from different disciplines, laboratories, departments, faculties and institutions. Most of our research is thus situated at the crossroads of several disciplines. While the research conducted in the Law and Information and Communications Technologies area involves legal theory, communications theory, computer engineering and political science, that of the Law and New Social Relations area often employs law, sociology, economic analysis, criminology and anthropology. Likewise, a number of projects in the Law, Biotechnologies and Community area bring together legal theorists, doctors, geneticists, philosophers, ethicists, sociologists and biologists.

Another feature of the CRDP's work is continuity. While some projects are carried out in the framework of relatively short research cycles, such as from three to five years, a number of projects span ten or more years, following the course of social and technological change. This sustained work has produced major research networks that are today the foundation for the Regroupement Droit, changements et gouvernance, an international, multidisciplinary network led by the  CRDP.

All of the projects initiated by CRDP researchers suppose active student participation, including from students doing undergraduate internships in the Centre, undertaking studies at the Master's or doctoral levels, or working in the Centre as postdoctoral researchers. All of them can count on academic, logistic and financial support from the Centre and its research teams. We consider that their contribution to research activities at the CRDP is essential to development of research and knowledge in law.


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