Professors Kathryn Chan and Howard Kislowicz receive a SSHRC Insight Development Grant for “Divine Intervention” Project

Kathryn Chan

UVic Law faculty member Dr. Kathryn Chan and University of Calgary Law faculty member Dr. Howard Kislowicz have received SSHRC funding for a two-year project that explores how civil society actors may influence the development of constitutional norms. The study, entitled “Divine Intervention: a study of the operation and impact of non-governmental interveners (NGOs) in Canadian religious freedom litigation”, aims to improve our understanding of the role that non-parties may play in judicial proceedings that implicate Charter rights.

“Substantial numbers of NGOs participate as interveners in religious freedom cases in Canada”, says Dr. Chan. “However, there is little consensus on whether and, if so, how these interveners are valuable to the adjudication of Charter claims. One theory is that interveners provide courts with useful information and legal arguments, and thus promote the quality or “accuracy” of judicial decisions. Another is that interventions are valuable because they allow communities to feel they have had their voices heard, and thus promote the legitimacy or “acceptability” of judicial decisions. Either or both of these theories could provide a justification for increasing or decreasing the present rates of intervention in the Canadian court system. However, our ability to test the accuracy theory is hindered by a lack of empirical evidence about how the arguments of interveners are, or are not, reflected in judicial decisions. Similarly, our ability to test the acceptability theory is hindered by a lack of empirical evidence about why, when and how NGOs actually intervene in constitutional cases.  We hope to fill some of those gaps with our study, and then to reflect on the implications of the collected evidence for theories of constitutional development, and of the relationship between culture and law.”

The research team, which includes UVic law students Merissa Raymond and Andrew Mendelson, and University of Calgary law student Alexandra Heine, is currently collecting detailed statistical information on rates of intervention by NGOs in religious freedom cases in both first-level and appellate level courts. The team will also produce a qualitative analysis of written arguments submitted by interveners in identified religious freedom cases, and carry out interviews with representatives of NGOs that have recently intervened.

For more information about the project please contact Professor Kathryn Chan at or Professor Howard Kislowicz at