Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Prof. Christopher Essert

By Sheldon Gordon

Eight years ago, when he began his academic career at Queen's Faculty of Law, Chris Essert was assigned to teach a course on property law.  He discovered that the connection between property rights and equality under the law raised so many interesting questions that it was an area he should address in his research, too. 

“The modern university works best,” he says, “when scholars are teaching and researching in the same areas, so that teaching informs research, which in turn informs teaching.”

That “virtuous cycle” continues for the Toronto-born leading academic as he joins the Faculty of Law as an associate professor. He graduated with his JD from U of T in 2005 before doing his LLM and JSD at Yale University. He will teach first-year courses on property law and tort law, and lead the upper-year seminar, ‘Homelessness.’

Professor Essert will also be working on a monograph tentatively titled A Community of Yours and Mine, a book-length project on the nature and justification of private property rights. “How can it be okay for some people to own more than others?” he asks. “Or for some people to exercise a very significant power over others that property law provides them?”

His book will try to answer those questions by suggesting that property law is necessary to permit a relationship of equals in a democratic society—“things like our relationships with our neighbours, the relationships we have as someone's hosts or  guests, and those we have when we give or receive gifts.”

His seminar will be a legal-philosophical inquiry into the nature of homelessness and potential legal and policy responses to it—including possible constitutional entrenchment of a human right to housing. 

“I do think that probably the fundamental commitments that the Charter aims to protect would be able to ground a right to something like housing, though it's not clear exactly how that would fit into the kind of jurisprudence that we have.“

In May, Professor Essert participated in consultations by the federal government on its proposed national housing strategy. “The government's discussion paper provided an abstract suggestion that a human rights-based approach is the way to go about developing a housing policy,” he says, “but it didn't go into enough detail in spelling out what that means.” He contributed an ideas paper that drew on his research about the idea of a human right to housing to suggest how that idea should structure the government’s planning of the National Housing Strategy. He is hopeful that these ideas will be taken into account as the implantation of the strategy continues