Choosing a career path can be a difficult and frustrating decision for many people. For Lisa Kelly, it was the opposite.
“I’m one of those ‘strange people’ who knew what I wanted to do from a very young age,” says Kelly. “I’d always had an interest in law, probably before I even knew what it was that lawyers did. During my undergraduate studies, my interest grew, to the point where I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Now, Kelly is winning awards for studying what she loves. The 29-year-old Vancouver native was recently awarded a scholarship from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation that will give her up to $180,000 to support her ongoing research project, “The innocence and deviance of the child at law.”
While studying African-American history at the University of British Columbia, Kelly’s interest in legal studies was stoked by the regulation of households during periods of slavery — both for slaves and slaveholders. This inspired her to go to law school at the University of Toronto, where her interest in family law continued to grow.
“In law school itself, I became very interested in how families, marginalized people, and people associated with the criminal justice system are affected on a daily basis by legal issues,” says Kelly.
After law school, Kelly articled with the Department of Justice in Ottawa, before being accepted to Harvard University, where she completed her LLM as a U.S.-Canada Fulbright Scholar. Now, as a doctoral candidate at Harvard, she is devoting her time to her research project.
“What I’m looking at is some of the ambivalence that the law has towards the child,” she says.
“One of the things that’s striking when looking at the history of the child in western society is the idea of the child as innocent and in need of protection is a new concept. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the child was transformed from a worker and material producer to an ineffective, vulnerable individual.
“What I’m interested in is the ideological understanding of the child as innocent and vulnerable, and how it co-exists with the competing view of the child as dangerous and a deviant.”
The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation was established in 2001 by friends and family of the former prime minister as a living memorial. The foundation awards up to 15 scholarships annually in support of doctoral candidates who are “pursuing research of compelling present-day concern.”
As stories of crimes being committed against and by children continue to be reported by the media on an increasingly consistent basis, the basis of Kelly’s research has never been timelier.
“In contemporary family and criminal law, there’s this ambivalence between treating the child as innocent on the one hand, and then on the other hand treating the child as a deviant and enforcing greater punishments on children and young people who commit crimes,” says Kelly.
“In Canada, there’s been a push to protect the child more by cracking down on Internet luring and raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. These are moves that argue that the child is a vulnerable individual in need of protection. At the same time, the government and the media are calling for harsher punishments against young offenders who commit serious crimes. I’m very interested in exploring this tension between innocence and deviance.”
She knows that this project will be a major undertaking, and is very grateful to have been awarded the Trudeau Foundation’s scholarship. Due to the fact that most of her research will be comparative, she expects that having the funding to travel between Canada and the U.S. will contribute greatly to the completion of her project.
“I was thrilled to be awarded this scholarship, since it’s one of the most prestigious doctoral awards in Canada,” says Kelly.
“It really allows doctoral students to take advantage of resources that they may not normally have access to. In addition to that, I’m very happy to join a vibrant Canadian community of scholars and mentors who make up the foundation. It’s been an amazing experience so far.”