Sophie de Saussure

Study program:
Current affiliation:
University of Ottawa

Sophie de Saussure (law, University of Ottawa) is exploring how courts might better take the interest of offenders’ children into account when determining offenders’ sentences.

Doctoral research

Considering the offender’s social ties in sentencing? An original proposal to move penal law from exclusion to inclusion

Sentencing laws in Canada today make no room for the offender’s social ties. Rather, they treat  these people as though they were without any social network. Could taking social ties into consideration at the sentencing stage contribute to reform penal thinking and practices? Sophie will explore this question by studying the consideration granted to offenders’ connections with their children at the sentencing stage. Children enjoy increased legal protection in many areas of the law, where legal authorities must consider their interests when making decisions that affect them. Yet Canada’s sentencing framework affords no specific place or protection to the children of offenders. Sophie’s dissertation project seeks to identify the obstacles to a more reflexive penal intervention, that would be more concerned with human rights and dignity. She will seek to develop a positive theory of sentencing based on social inclusion and on the refusal to marginalize offenders. This theory, in insisting on the importance of belonging to a community, could constitute an alternative to theories that dominate modern criminal law, which are rooted in the social exclusion and suffering of the guilty party.

Sophie de Saussure is a legal expert and a doctoral candidate in law at the University of Ottawa and is a member of the Canada Research Chair in Legal Traditions and Penal Rationality. Sophie holds bachelor of law degrees from the Université de Genève and the Université de Montréal, a master’s of law in criminal justice from the Université de Lausanne in Switzerland, and a certificate in criminology from the Université de Montréal. She worked as a litigation associate in a major Montréal law firm before beginning her PhD.

Sophie’s main interest lies in penal sociology, in the obstacles to evolution and innovation  in the criminal justice system, and in human rights. Her doctoral work focuses on the sentencing process, particularly the way that it might better take offenders’ social ties into account. She has received several scholarships to conduct her research, including the SSHRC’s prestigious Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship. The SSHRC also gave her an honourable mention in honour of Nelson Mandela.

Convinced of the need to pair her academic work with community engagement, Sophie uses various volunteer activities to engage with her research population. She works with the organization Continuité Famille Auprès des Détenues (CFAD) in Montréal, where she supports in their homework children whose mothers have a criminal record. She also takes part in “Mommy reads to me,” a program set up by the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada that gives imprisoned women the means to record themselves reading stories for their children. This program helps children and their mothers to maintain links despite being separated.