Featured Fulbrighter - Pascale Fournier

Pascale was a Fulbright Student at Harvard (2001-2002), from the University of Toronto, who conducted a study of multiculturalism, identity politics, and law in Canada and the United States. She was recently awarded the University of Ottawa President’s Award for Excellence in Media Relations, given to a professor who has demonstrated “outstanding service to the University by sharing their expertise with the larger community through the media." It comes with a $5,000 prize.

“I was very surprised to get this award, and particularly touched by the fact that the decision came from a panel of journalists. Whenever I give an interview, I try to bring a critical perspective to the existing legal framework and to ask critical questions. Is this a good decision or policy proposal? Whom does it benefit? I am happy that this particular perspective, which challenges the status quo, was recognized.”

In addition to her research, her legal practice, her teaching, her community work, and her work as Vice-Dean (Research) at the University of Ottawa, Pascale appears extensively in the media to comment on issues related to intercultural dialogue, integration, women and children’s rights, discrimination, and cultural diversity.

“The media is a powerful tool to impact public policies and to make sense of the findings of my research by sharing them with the larger community. This approach to teaching outside the classroom allows me to contribute to public debates and offer an alternative view on issues dominated by discourses of cultural identity. Instead, I argue for gender and culture-sensitive approaches which take into account the socio-economic background of legal subjects and the impact of policies for both communities and individuals.”

“Law has the power to restrict citizens’ liberty in the name of the public interest. Therefore, given this paramount importance, the power of law must be exercised with the utmost sensitivity ...”

Pascale’s research has taken her all over the world. She is currently working on a SSHRC-funded project which includes empirical research on Islamic and Jewish divorce in minority communities in Canada, the UK, France, and Germany. “I am conducting field-work and interviews in each of those countries to account for the ways in which Muslim and Jewish women interact with the secular state, and how women are affected, both negatively and positively, by religious divorce.”

In conjuction with other scholars, she is currently studying religious law in Israel and its impact on Jewish and Muslim Israeli women. “This project adds another angle of comparison between minority integration mechanisms of Jews and Muslims in the Israeli context of plural religious normative systems. It also furthers my contribution to the under-researched topic of the influence of foreign legal systems on Western legal pluralism and allows for truly transnational, interdisciplinary public policy proposals. “

Pascale credits her Fulbright experience, in part, for the internationalization of her academic career: “The Fulbright program allowed me to further the intercultural dialogue that I so cherish and which has become the focus of my work as a law professor. It also taught me that the pressing issues the world faces today cannot realistically be dealt with in a mere national or domestic framework. Indeed, issues such as women’s rights, religious and social pluralism, democratic freedoms and the struggle against discrimination, are inescapably global in nature.”

Studying at Harvard on a Fulbright also gave Pascale the opportunity to expand her network, and to focus on her interest in comparative public policy issues. “I am dedicated to bringing comparison to the study of the law, which has too often confined itself to the domain of the nation-state. Now, more than ever, borders strongly affect families, communities, individuals and legal and judicial authorities. By comparing North America with Western Europe and Israel, I am applying and furthering what I learned as a Fulbrighter.”

“I believe that seeing the world is the first step in the quest for human rights and global citizenship. I have always loved the learning, the friendships, the insights, the frustrations and the complexities that cross-cultural exchanges have brought me.”

Pascale also notes the particular importance of exchanges between Canada and the United States."Canada and the United States are countries which have much in common in terms of geography, culture, politics, law, and society.  … By allowing Canadian students to study in leading American universities, the Fulbright program not only provides Canadians with the opportunity to contribute to international and American societies, they also secure the benefits of Canadian scholars’ work for Canadian communities at a local level.”

Based on her extensive international experience, Pascale believes that the two countries have much to learn from one another when. “With regard to legal education, I think Canada should learn from the United States, which boasts a considerably advanced legal and academic culture.  … Conversely, I think that Canada’s legal culture has much to offer the United States, with its flexible conception of the legal subject, which is less centered on the individual.”

Her career continues to take her back to the United States and around the world. Pascale will be presenting some of the findings of her research at the University of Texas at Austin in the spring of 2012 at a conference entitled: “Is There a Role for Custom in Modern European Legal Systems?” Following this, she will be making presentations about her work and contributing to comparative legal conferences in Belgium and the United Kingdom.
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Pascale Fournier (LL.B, Laval; LL.M, Toronto; S.J.D., Harvard) is Vice-Dean Research and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa. She teaches and writes on comparative family law, charter issues, Islam and Judaism in Europe and North America, criminal law and cultural diversity, and critical approaches to law.  She is the author of Muslim Marriage in Western Courts: Lost in Transplantation, (2010). Her most recent publications appear (or are forthcoming) in the International Journal of Law in Context, the Journal of Legal Pluralism, the Canadian Criminal Law Review, the Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, the Emory International Law Review, the International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family and the Journal of Comparative Law. A Trudeau Scholar (2003), she was awardes the Laval University Raymond-Blais Medal for “exceptional achievements of a recent graduate” in 2008, and the Québec Bar Association's Advocatus Emeritus distinction for “professional excellence and outstanding contribution to the profession” in 2009.