Silver medalist investigates the role of law in a religiously diverse society


- Mitch Wright

One of the biggest challenges Geoffrey Conrad faced in his graduate studies at University of Victoria Law was simply getting here—towing a U-Haul trailer behind a compact car through the Rockies and all the way from his hometown of Montreal.

Travel adventures aside, Conrad, this year’s recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal for top master’s thesis (all faculties), arrived safely and thrived within UVic Law’s graduate environment.

“Not only did our class form a close bond amongst each other, but we were welcomed with open arms by upper-year grad students, members of the faculty, and the administrative staff,” Conrad says. “It made for a friendly atmosphere, and one that contributed to the formation of a vibrant community of legal scholars-in-the-making.”

Conrad came to UVic for his Master of Laws degree, after two and a half years of private practice as a trial lawyer in Montreal, to pursue his interest in public and constitutional law.

Although initially eyeing Oxford University, he was swayed by a former prof at McGill, who noted the caliber of faculty at UVic in Conrad’s area of interest. Accepted to both institutions, Conrad chose UVic in part because he was also offered significant financial support.

“That tipped the balances in its favour,” Conrad says. “It didn't hurt that my wife and I had never set foot on Vancouver Island, and that Victoria sounded like a great place to live.”

Conrad worked closely with professors Benjamin Berger (now at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto) and Avigail Eisenberg at UVic, where his thesis explored how we should conceive of the role of constitutional courts in shaping public policy in a religiously diverse society, in particular when religious commitments are at stake.

“My interest in this topic was prompted by my concern with judging and public policy, while I have prof. Berger to thank for encouraging me to reflect on the particular challenges that religion poses for public decision-making,” Conrad says, adding that Berger was “thoughtful, intellectually rigorous, and generous with his time.”

“It really was an exercise in intellectual exploration,” he says of his graduate studies. “I didn't know where I was going to end up when I started. And as I engaged in my research, I became more and more interested in legal and political theory and philosophy.”

Along with the financial support through UVic and a SSHRC grant awarded to Prof. Berger, Conrad credits his wife Kristina for supporting and encouraging him to pursue his academic goals, even though it meant leaving their jobs and uprooting from their home. He says they were fortunate that Kristina was given a leave of absence from her job in Montreal and quickly secured a position working in administration at the Faculty of Education at UVic.

Conrad graduated from UVic last year and in September returned to McGill, where he completed his initial law degree, to begin studies for a Doctor of Civil Law degree and work toward his goal of becoming a professor. The Conrads also welcomed their son Charlie in December.


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Keywords: grad, award, law

People: Geoffrey Conrad, Benjamin Berger

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