Ryan Beaton

Study program:
Current affiliation:
University of Victoria

Ryan Beaton (law, University of Victoria) is examining the role Canadian courts have adopted over the past several decades in trying to reconcile the prior existence of Indigenous societies with assertions of Crown sovereignty.

Doctoral research

Sovereign pluralism and Indigenous reconciliation in the twenty-first century: From property rights under the Crown to Indigenous self-government on Indigenous lands

For 35 years, the courts in Canada have been developing a framework for recognizing Aboriginal rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In doing so, the courts have leaned heavily on the notion of a fiduciary duty owed by the Crown to Aboriginal peoples. My project examines parts of the legal doctrine of Crown fiduciary duty that have reached a breaking point. In particular, recent statements by the Supreme Court of Canada in Aboriginal title cases show the limits of using legal doctrine to resolve underlying conflicts in political visions.

I trace the development of the Crown fiduciary duty through the case law to reveal how the legal doctrine has become distorted while leaving unaddressed the underlying conflict between a nation-to-nation model of Indigenous-Crown relationships and a model of unilateral Crown acquisition of sovereignty. Drawing on the Court’s own reasoning in the Secession Reference, I argue that the Court could more openly acknowledge the limits of legal doctrine in resolving the clash of political visions, and I point to concrete ways in which this acknowledgment could help move forward the legal doctrine itself under section 35.

Ryan Beaton is a legal scholar whose primary interests include constitutional law, Aboriginal law, Indigenous land rights, and legal philosophy. His current research focuses on the challenge posed by the evolving conception of Aboriginal title to traditional notions of state sovereignty.

Ryan is pursuing a PhD in law at the University of Victoria, while working part-time as a lawyer conducting historical and legal research as part of a team preparing an Aboriginal title claim. Ryan has appeared as counsel before every level of Canadian superior courts. In 2014-2015, he worked as a law clerk for Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin at the Supreme Court of Canada. The year prior, he was a law clerk at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In May 2013, Ryan received his JD from Harvard Law School. On graduating, he was recognized for his contribution of over 1,000 hours of pro bono service as a law student.

Prior to law school, Ryan was a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Toronto, where he completed his degree in 2011. His dissertation examines the secularization of German moral philosophy in the works of Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. He also holds a MSc in mathematics, having completed a master's thesis on the set-theoretic interpretation of Fregean arithmetic.

Ryan was born to Scottish parents in a francophone suburb on the south shore of Montreal, where he grew up. He is sometimes said to speak every language with an ill-defined accent. He loves to travel and to study languages. He has lived with local families in Germany, Guatemala, and India, where he studied German, Spanish, and Hindi and Marathi, respectively. Ryan is an avid runner and an occasional dodgeball enthusiast.