Two UVic PhD students win top Canadian award

Humanities, Law

Tonkin. Credit: UVic Photo Services

An impassioned community volunteer who knows what it’s like to live on the streets, and a legal scholar who wants to change how the legal system deals with Aboriginal land claims are two University of Victoria students receiving three-year doctoral scholarships announced today by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, with a total grant of approximately $250,000 between the exceptional duo. It is Canada’s most prestigious doctoral award in the social sciences and humanities.

Ryan Tonkin dropped out of high school and spent his teenage years on the street, in group homes and in foster care. A long-time volunteer at local emergency shelters, food banks, literary groups and youth centres, the 31-year-old UVic alumnus could have pursued his doctoral studies anywhere. After graduating from UVic with a BA in philosophy from UVic in 2010, an MA in philosophy in 2011 and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 2014, he chose to come home to UVic. He will now focus his doctoral research on doctrines of justice in the context of taxation and income inequality.

“The study of philosophy can make a vital impact in the world,” Tonkin said in a recent campus interview which included a UVic-produced video. “Philosophy is a discipline of ideas. Ideas change people and it is people who make change in the world.”

Upon graduating from Harvard Law, Ryan Beaton was recognized for his contribution of over 1,000 hours of pro bono service as a law student. He holds a PhD in Philosophy, an MSc in Mathematics, clerked for Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin at the Supreme Court of Canada and is now pursuing his PhD in Law at UVic while working at a law firm in Vancouver, conducting historical and legal research as part of a team preparing an Aboriginal title claim.

Beaton’s research is tackling the inadequacies of an outdated legal doctrine for resolving Aboriginal land claims. “For 35 years now,” explains Beaton, “the courts in Canada have been developing a framework for recognizing Aboriginal rights under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. My project examines parts of this legal framework that have reached a breaking point and which, in many ways, obscures the underlying political stakes involved in Aboriginal rights cases. I have two basic goals for this research: to propose concrete changes to the courts that would further the stated aim of reconciliation, and to make the legal process more accessible to the general public to support broader democratic debate around these issues.”

Beaton and Tonkin are the seventh and eighth PhD students from UVic to receive this award since the program’s inception in 2004. Tonkin is also the first student in UVic’s Department of Philosophy’s new PhD program. Past recipients are: Dawnis Kennedy (2006); Andrée Boisselle (2008); Nathan Bennett (2010); Johnny Mack (2011); Aaron Mills (2014); and Rebeccah Nelems (2015).

As a Trudeau Scholar, Beaton will receive an annual grant of up to $40,000 per year (plus $20,000 travel stipend) over three years. Tonkin is also a Vanier Scholar 2017, as announced last month, with an annual grant of $50,000 from the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship for his first three years of doctoral research; he will therefore receive the annual travel stipend of $20,000 from the Trudeau Foundation for those three years, followed by a full grant of $70,000 from the Trudeau Foundation in his fourth year.

Only 15 PhD students were selected for the 2017 scholarships. The news release and details about the program are available at

-- 30 --


Media contacts

Ryan Beaton (Faculty of Law, PhD student) at

Ryan Tonkin (Dept. of Philosophy, incoming PhD student) at

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or

Tara Sharpe (University Communications + Marketing) at

In this story

Keywords: law, philosophy, student life, research, award

People: Ryan Tonkin, Ryan Beaton

Related stories