Kathryn Chan has long had both an academic interest in the relationship between government and civil society, and a practical interest in the challenges faced by those who seek to create a better society through their involvement in voluntary organizations.
Her master’s thesis, which was awarded the graduate essay prize of the Quebec Society of Comparative Law, criticized the longstanding, common law interpretation of the tax provisions governing registered charities as being inconsistent with Canada's constitutional structure and the federal government's commitment to bijural and bilingual federal laws. It also examined previously ignored legal sources related to the concepts of charity and bienfaisance in Canada, including sources from Quebec’s civil law tradition.
Following the completion of her LLM degree, Kathryn joined a boutique law firm dedicated to advising voluntary sector participants on governance and charity registration issues, and representing them in judicial appeals. However, her experience as a practicing “charity lawyer” has caused her to question the often adversarial relationship between the Canadian state and the voluntary sector, and the extent to which our regulatory regime is dominated by tax concerns. The paradigm of voluntary sector regulation in Canada needs to be rethought, in Kathryn’s view, to ensure that the government facilitates the production of social good in a fair, secure and constitutionally sound manner.
With her doctoral work, Kathryn hopes to strengthen the theoretical foundations of our voluntary sector regulation by addressing two broad normative questions: what role should the law play to support or regulate voluntary organizations in Canada? And how should the law carry out this role? Ultimately, she hopes to develop alternative models for the regulation of the voluntary sector in Canada, which draw on the experience of other nations, but reflect our distinct constitutional, social and legal culture.