Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry

Study program:
Assistant Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia
Current affiliation:
McGill University

Jonas-Sébastien is Assistant Professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law of the University of British Columbia.

2009 Trudeau scholar Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry is a lawyer who graduated from McGill and Harvard before completing a thesis on the moral status of people with severe intellectual disabilities at Oxford. His interdisciplinary research is informed by law, ethics, and disability studies. He has published various articles and a book in French, English, and Spanish. He held academic positions at St. Catherine’s College, San Francisco State University, UQAM, and McGill, where he taught human rights, disability theory, and global ethics. He worked at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and a human rights NGO for over a year in Latin America. He also served as a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada and the International Court of Justice. 

Doctoral research

Justifying the Rights of Profoundly Mentally Disabled Individuals

Jonas' doctoral thesis aims at criticizing and expanding existing justifications for the rights and moral status of profoundly mentally disabled people (PMD). His main argument consists of a criticism of social contract theories for their self-regarding bias and their focus on autonomy, which makes it difficult to justify the strong moral obligations (generally correlating robust rights) we have toward the PMD. There is a strong tendency to justify the rights of the PMD by showing how even self-regarding concern requires that we care for them (we could, after all, be cognitively impaired ourselves or have family members who are or will be so impaired). This line of thought seems like a natural expansion of John Rawls’ influential argumentative strategy in his writings on justice. He has spent most of his doctoral work analyzing similar contractualist arguments and have found that this Rawlsian expansion, its criticisms and counter-criticisms may all fail to make sufficient room for the motivational power and the moral significance of other-regarding concern. They are not heading completely in the wrong direction but they always need to ground the concern for the disabled on some sort of contribution they can make to their community or at least some sort of engagement they can have with their community - which reduces the nature of the communal moral bond to that of a community (or likeness) in key cognitive capacities. In a closing chapter, he plans to explore which alternative theories justifying the rights of the profoundly mentally on other basis than their capacities are most promising, especially in so far as they make room for other-regarding concern.

Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry is a legal scholar working at the intersection of law, ethics and disability studies.

He was the Boulton Research and Teaching Fellow at the McGill Faculty of Law for 2013-2014, where he undertook a research project on the access to justice of witnesses with mental disabilities and designed a course on the theoretical foundations of disability law.

He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University, where he taught two courses: “Human Rights in Latin America” and “Human Rights and Global Justice.” He continued his work on disability ethics as a Visiting Adjunct Professor in the Philosophy Department at San Francisco State University before going to McGill.

Jonas graduated from the transsystemic program of common law and civil law from McGill University and obtained a master of laws from Harvard Law School, under the supervision of critical legal scholar Roberto M. Unger.

He is a member of the Quebec Bar. He served as a law clerk for the Honorable Marie Deschamps at the Supreme Court of Canada and as a law trainee with Judges Kenneth Keith and Peter Tomka at the International Court of Justice, in The Hague. He held the Harvard Human Rights Program, the Henigson Human Rights Fellowship, at the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the NGO representing the largest number of victims under the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights, in Buenos Aires. As a law student, he had previously worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission and interned at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica.

As a Pierre Elliott Trudeau scholar, he completed his doctoral thesis at the Faculty of Law of the University of Oxford, on the moral status of persons with severe cognitive disabilities. His dissertation studies the justifications of the rights of people with severe mental disability.

Jonas’s doctoral and postdoctoral research are in line with his fundamental interest in detecting and explaining how legal structures can contribute to exclude directly or indirectly certain groups of people (women, indigenous people, the poor, people with disabilities), as exemplified in his publications. He published a book on freedom of expression in Latin America at the Presses de l’Université Laval and various articles in the fields of critical legal theory, human rights and discrimination, ethics and disability studies. His current research project focusses on the obstacles faced by people with mental disabilities to act as witnesses in a court of law.

Experience as a Trudeau Scholar

The Trudeau Foundation helped me pursue my doctoral studies at the University of Oxford law faculty, which has special expertise in the philosophy of law. Studying there allowed me to thoroughly analyse theoretical questions about the foundations of the rights of disabled people.

The generous amount of the Trudeau scholarship and the annual travel allowance significantly transformed my doctoral experience. In my case, the Trudeau scholarship enabled me to take part in a bioethics course at NYU and to participate in many conferences, including the Amnesty Lectures at Oxford. I also visited world-renowned researchers working in the field of disability, including Anita Silvers, professor and chair of the philosophy department at San Francisco State University, and Eva Feder Kittay, professor at Stony Brook University (New York). I volunteered at L’Arche, a community that cares for mentally disabled people in Trosly (France), which gave me the opportunity to live with mentally disabled people and add a practical aspect to my theoretical research. While there, I had the privilege of speaking with the founder, Jean Vanier. And, finally, I was able to work with Carolyn Ells, associate professor in the biomedical ethics unit at McGill, and to develop deeper ties with the academic community where I hope to work. The various Trudeau events also helped me network by introducing me to exceptional academics and professionals, some of whom have become my friends.