Spotlight on the Chair: Interview with Jean-Frédéric Hübsch

  • December 05, 2022
  • Laura Pettigrew

 

 

 

 

 

I had the pleasure recently of sitting down virtually with Jean-Frédéric Hübsch, the current Chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s Child and Youth Law Executive Committee and former Chair of the Education Law Executive Committee. Our discussion ranged over many topics, from an exploration of what initially motivated him to pursue a legal career to his current academic interests relating to child-centered decision-making within the education system.   

Jean-Frédéric told me that even as a child he had an interest in the law. He wanted to gain a better understanding about how law structures our interactions and influences our lives. His personal experience assisting others with the challenges in the long-term care and health systems also fueled his drive to enter the profession and work towards positive systemic change.  

Before applying to McGill University Law School, Jean-Frédéric spent nearly a decade in the federal government, working in program operations, communications, and policy. It was through his work in the public sector that he was first introduced to the world of administrative law. After Jean-Frédéric graduated law school, he put his education and past experience in administrative law to work, joining the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman in 2014 as an articling student. Following articling, he joined the Office as counsel.

Jean-Frédéric explained that when in September 2015 the Office’s jurisdiction expanded to include oversight of school boards, he became the “go to” counsel in this area: researching and following developments in education law and tackling complex cases. He noted that during this period, he worked to resolve concerns about the education system and frequently heard from parents, educators, administrators, and elected officials. However, he was often left asking himself, “where is the child in all of this?”

In May 2019, when the Ombudsman’s Office took on the investigative function of the former Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, Jean-Frédéric was able to explore the law applying to services provided by children’s aid societies and residential licensees. He noted that one issue that resonated with him was the fact that while the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was specifically incorporated into child protection legislation, it was not expressly reflected in other areas of the law impacting children.

Jean-Frédéric took the opportunity to further consider the rights of children in the education system during his LLM studies in Administrative Law at Osgoode Hall Law School. During the program he wrote a major research paper concerning children’s participation rights in school discipline in Ontario. He later published aspects of this research in the Canadian Journal of Children’s Rights (https://ojs.library.carleton.ca/index.php/cjcr/article/view/2570), finding that children have few rights in a process that has significant personal consequences.

Jean-Frédéric’s passion for the subject of child-centered decision-making led him to leave the Office of the Ombudsman in 2020 and enter doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa. He is now a member of the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child in the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section. Jean-Frédéric’s current research focus is on how children experience their rights in schools. Jean-Frédéric explained that, in addition to considering the concept of procedural fairness according to the Baker principles, he is interested in learning what children consider to be a fair decision-making process. Jean-Frédéric noted that he chose to study the school system because for most children it is the first interaction they have with the state. His research will address how children participate in and experience decision-making in the classroom through a “children’s rights lens.”  He observed that the law in this particular area is very sparse.

Jean-Frédéric explained that the crux of his proposed study centres on actual on-site observation of classroom interactions to draw out the types of decisions made affecting children. His research will involve interviewing teachers, as well as conducting focus groups with students. Based on the results, he proposes to build a preliminary model of what fairness means to children and then validate it through further discussion with teachers and students. Eventually, Jean-Frédéric hopes to develop practical tools to help guide educators and others who work with children. Jean-Frédéric is planning to involve children in grades 5 and 6 for the exercise, noting that children in this age range (10-12 years old) likely experienced significant in-class time prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to live through the pandemic’s impact on their primary education. Jean-Frédéric describes the project as an iterative experience, which will evolve depending on what the children say.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Jean-Frédéric has continued to actively participate in the OBA. He noted that his involvement with the Child and Youth Law Section has given him the opportunity to further address the interconnections between the various areas of law affecting children. He sees great potential for this work to connect the dots between different OBA sections, including areas such as immigration and municipal law. He also sees immense value in leveraging legal expertise from different areas, with the child at the centre of the discussion. As Chair of the Child and Youth Law Executive Committee, Jean-Frédéric wants to continue to invite panelists and speakers to section events from diverse legal areas to encourage holistic thinking about the rights of children and youth. He believes that the Child and Youth Law Section is particularly well placed to think about intersectionality and encourage programs that address questions from different angles. He also noted that as Chair of the section he sits on the CBA committee allowing him to gain a national perspective on issues concerning children and youth.

When asked for his closing thoughts about Child and Youth law, Jean-Frédéric said he would ideally like to see children’s participation in decision-making, including in legal matters impacting them, as the norm not the exception. He would like to live in a world where we start by asking children what they want from legal and administrative processes. Consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child he noted that the first step in addressing the best interests of children is to actually talk to and listen to them.

As a final note, Jean-Frédéric mentioned that the Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child has resources available on its website for those interested in the area of children’s rights, including recent additions relating to child protection: https://www2.uottawa.ca/faculty-law/civil-law/irlrc#:~:text=The%20Interdisciplinary%20Research%20Laboratory%20on,Laboratory%20is%20vast%20and%20rich.

As usual, it was a delight to spend time with Jean-Frédéric, whose passion for and commitment to advance the rights of children continues to inform his academic research and contributions to the legal profession.  

Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this Section is that of the respective author(s) and not of the OBA.