Have a Question? Contact the Humanities Office or an Academic Unit


Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2014/2015

Term: 1

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Stefan Sciaraffa

Email: sciaraf@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 311

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23467


Office Hours: TBA

Course Objectives:

Course Description

This course provides an overview of key bodies of law and legal institutions, including the structure of Canadian government and court systems, Canadian constitutional law, criminal law, human rights law, and tort law. To obtain this overview, students will read some of the statutory material and court cases that define these areas of law. In addition, the student will read secondary material that critically evaluates the justice and value of the foregoing institutions and bodies of law. Thus, the course introduces the student to the larger mission of the Justice, Political Philosophy, and Law Program (pending approval) at McMaster University (JPPL):  to help the student develop (1) a sophisticated understanding of domestic and international law and legal institutions, (2) a command of the political and moral theories relevant to the assessment of the justice and value of these institutions, (3) and an informed critical view of these institutions’ shortcomings and worth.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Readings Posted on Avenue to Learn (AL)

Method of Assessment:


2 Essays (30% each)

At the beginning of the term, the student will be given four essay topics.. The student may choose any two of the four assigned topics, save she must write on topic 1 or topic 2 (note she may choose to write on both topic 1 and topic 2). For each paper, the student will be assigned to a peer review team. The student will have one week to write her rough draft and submit it to her peer review team. The rough draft must be substantially complete. If it is not, the student’s final paper grade will be docked one letter grade. The peer review team will have 48 hours to return comments to the student, and then the student will have 5 days to write her final draft. Each topic has a different set of due dates:

Topic 1                        Rough draft due-Oct 2             Final draft due via AL-Oct 9

Topic 2                        Rough draft due-Oct 27                       Final draft due via AL-Nov 3

Topic 3                        Rough draft due-Nov 10                      Final draft due via AL-Nov 17

Topic 4                        Rough draft due-Nov 20                      Final draft due via AL-Nov 27


Peer Review (10% total: 5% for each review)

Early in the semester, each student will be grouped into a peer-review team consisting of two members. Each team will be asked to review two peers’ rough drafts. We will match reviewees to peer-review teams. We will provide each peer-review team with a form that will guide the team’s peer evaluations. Each team’s peer-reviews will be graded on a check plus (90), check (80) or check minus (60) basis. We will evaluate each review on the basis of whether it is a constructive and careful attempt to help the reviewee improve her paper. Untimely peer reviews will result in a 1/3 letter grade deduction from the reviewers’ final paper grade. Should a review team’s designated reviewee fail to submit a draft for review, each reviewer’s grade for that review will be deemed to be an 80 or the weighted average of her other grades for the course (whichever is higher).



Final Exam (25%)

There will be a cumulative final exam during the designated exam period. It will comprise a number of short essay questions and one long essay.


Participation/Cold-Calling (5%)

During most classes, I will call on students at random. Each student will be called on at least once. I will ask questions about the course material that has been assigned for that day. The students will be graded on the basis of her demonstrated preparation for the day’s lecture. The student will receive a check plus (85), check (75) or check minus (55) for this portion of the grade. At the end of each class period, I will make clear what material we will discuss the next class period.



0-2 absences (no effect), 3 (-1%), 4 (-2%), 5 or more (-5%). Excused absences will not affect the student’s attendance grade. To be excused from an absence, students must follow the procedures specified by the registrar’s office (http://registrar.mcmaster.ca/calendar/2012-13/pg2246.html). Each class day, I will circulate an attendance sheet.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Schedule of Readings

September 4


********************Component 1*********************

September 8, 9 and 11

Tutorial and statutory law:


Tutorial on case law:


Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes (1998) (AL)


September 15, 16, and 18

Karl Llewellyn, canons of statutory interpretation (AL)

Herman Oliphant, Return to Stare Decisis (AL)


September 22, 23, and 25

Excerpts from Lon Fuller on the Rule of Law (AL)


Administrative agencies and tribunals; regulations; statutory law; case law;             common Law; civil law; precedent; stare decisis; legal realism

rule of law


********************Component 2*********************

September 29, 30 and Oct 2

Reference re a Resolution to Amend the Constitution, [1981] 1 S.C.R. 753 (AL)


Canadian Constitutional Documents:


See study questions for further direction on provisions of constitution to read.  


October 6, 7 and 9

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,


See study questions for further direction.


R. v. Oakes [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103 (AL)


Excerpts from  Jeremy Waldron, The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review (AL)


October 14 (Wed) and 16 (Th)

Excerpts from Waldron, The Core of the Case Against Judicial Review (AL)

Wil Waluchow, An Idiot Defends (AL)


Section 1; The Oakes test; judicial review; Canadian Charter; constitutional conventions; constitutional law; BNA; federalism; court structure; judicial review; parliamentary supremacy



********************Component 3*********************

October 20, 21 and 23

Canadian Criminal Law Code, skim, and consider closely assigned sections pertaining to murder. See study questions for further direction. (AL)


Doug Husak, Malum Prohibitum and Retributivism (AL)


October 27 (Mon) and 28 (Tue)

Kit Wellman, Rights Forfeiture and Mala Prohibita


Malum in se and malum prohibitum; mens rea; actus reus

********************Component 4*********************

November 3, 4 and 6

Basic International Human Rights Documents (Click Link)


From the page link immediately above, click through to the following four documents and read them. See study questions for further direction.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


Thomas Pogge, Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World’s Poor (AL)

Economic and Social Council, Comment 12 (AL)    


November 10, 11, and 13

Alan Patten, Should We Stop Thinking of Poverty in Terms of Helping the World’s Poor? (AL)


Human rights; ways of violating human rights; facts about global inequality; the international bill of human rights; monitoring committees           


*******************Component 5 *********************

November 17, 18, and 20

Crocker v. Sundance Northwest Resorts (AL)

Cook v. Lewis (AL)


November 25, 27, and 29

Palsgraff v. Long Island Railroad (AL)


Duty of care; standard of care; but-for causation; proximate causation; damages


December 1 and 2

Review and Consolidation

Other Course Information:

Administrative Notes

1.) The class convenes for three one-hour sessions each week. I will lecture during these sessions and call on students to help me discuss and explain the day’s material.

2.) The scale used by the Registrar's Office will be used to convert number grades to final letter grades.

3.) The instructor and the University reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term. The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses. If either type of modification becomes necessary, where possible reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Students should check their McMaster email and course websites frequently during the term and to note any changes.