An Interview with Nathalie des Rosier on the “Pandemics and the Law” Intensive class

An Interview with Nathalie des Rosier on the “Pandemics and the Law” Intensive class

Co-Editor-in-Chief, Abdullah Khan, sits down with des Rosier to discuss the human rights angle of her January intensive course


By: Abdullah Khan (2L)


Photo credit:


On January 20, I had the opportunity to interview Nathalie des Rosier via Zoom. She is the current Principal of Massey College and served as the former MPP for Ottawa-Vanier and former Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. des Rosier recently taught the January Intensive class “Pandemics and the Law” for the Faculty of Law.


AK: Could you speak about the course “The Law of Pandemics” and how it touches upon the subject of human rights law?


NR: It was a pleasure to build a course on pandemics and law. I am grateful to the students and the guests I had for contributing to this continuing piece of reflection on the interaction of pandemics and our human rights framework.


The course was built with two objectives: understanding the legal consequences of a pandemic and understanding how pandemics affect different groups and different aspects of the legal system.


How do we create a human rights framework for the management of pandemics? We looked first at the impact the pandemic had on democratic oversight, the role of emergency powers, the role of the courts in oversight, and the limits of emergency powers in Canada. We looked at what international law says about pandemics asking, “what are Canada’s international obligations?”


Then we went into race and pandemics. It is clear that the pandemic has emphasized racial differences and societal class differences. That part of the course reflected on how to collect equity data that would not only help us understand the pandemic’s impact but to guide pandemic management in the future.


The course then moved on to look at law and disability, and the way in which people with disabilities may be affected by the choices and assumptions made in a pandemic, for example, in the triage of scarce resources such as ventilators.


We looked at the impact of the pandemic on homelessness and on the traditional civil liberties framework — looking at the case of travel bans and the case of irrationality in regulations, or distinctions that might have been made between different commercial endeavors.


The course looked at the impact on temporary foreign workers and essential workers, and their heightened exposure to the virus. Worker protections are essential.


Lastly, taking a law reform angle, we asked how to do things differently in the future, keeping a human rights framework in mind.


AK: You mentioned that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on racialized communities. How can we address this?


NR: We need to diminish discrepancies [between different racialized communities]. A commitment to [creating] equality, raising wages, and ensuring appropriate housing is distributed fairly will go a long way. The pandemic highlighted existing inequalities but also re-emphasized them.


Some presumptions in pandemic decision-making were rooted in the middle class [as a baseline]. “Stay home” presumed you have a home, a safe home, a home comfortable for all family members to work, play, and study at the same time, a home without violence or threats. A safe home can be a scarce resource.


Second, pandemic management must not only look at the necessity of the restrictions. There must be restrictions and support enacted to help alleviate restriction impacts.


That would require:

  1. Financial support. We will want to see if the help given was sufficient
  2. Sick days (leave)
  3. Bans on evictions
  4. Greater mental health support


The Premier, Solicitor General, and Minister for Health come [in front of the media] but the Minister of Social Services has to be part of the discussion [at media presentations].


We saw that it was possible to house homeless populations, for example using hotels. But we have to think about solutions in the longer term.


AK: How does vaccine distribution fit into the human rights framework?


NR: A human rights framework demands that all decisions are made under that framework. Whether they are re-emphasizing discrepancies or minimizing discrepancies. There must be accountability for the decisions. It is complicated to distribute vaccines; everyone wants it yesterday. There will be mistakes. The premise of this course is that pandemics will happen again. They will not be exactly the same, but the legal infrastructure, thinking, and accountability must be part of an ongoing reflection. 


AK: You talked about the law reform proposals. Could you give us some insights into what you are working on?


NR: Creating a human rights framework for pandemic management is one.


Another issue is whether we should have a no-fault COVID [compensation] — if you are affected by COVID (and suffer personal damages), you get compensated [no matter the origin]. It’s not a windfall but the compensation takes into account different impacts across different groups. There is mental suffering, funeral expenses, etc.


The Ontario government has instituted a statute that prevents people from suing a store if they got COVID at the store if the store followed public health guidelines. So, immunity has already been granted in some contexts. Can a no-fault system accompany that immunity? 


Another angle for a no-fault system could be people who suffer reactions from vaccines.


There was a no-fault system in place for family members after 9/11, and I am still working on seeing whether such a system can be put in place in this context.