Douglas Harris


Research Interests

property law
condominium law
legal history

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Research Methodology



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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

The financialization of housing in Canada and federally-backed mortgage securitization : public risks, private benefits (2023)

Over the past 20 years, the primary tool used by the Canadian government to promote homeownership has been the Canada Mortgage Bond. This Bond is created with financial and legal support from the federal government, and sold to private investors, who receive a guarantee on Bond payments backed by public funds. Funds raised by the Bonds are then used by the federal government to purchase mortgage-backed securities from the private banking sector, providing a steady source of funds from which to create more private mortgage debt. The financial instruments used in the program resemble some of those responsible for the 2008 financial crisis.This dissertation investigates this Bond program, outlining its history and legal structure, and exploring the risks that it poses to the Canadian public. I reveal that, while the program avoids some of the worst excesses that led to the financial crisis, it still uses some of the tools that were involved. Further, I discuss how the federal government used the program, along with the temporary Insured Mortgage Purchase Program, to delay the financial reckoning that hit many other countries, leaving Canada potentially vulnerable to another crisis. I also examine how the program centres homeownership and the private mortgage system as principal means to provide housing services to Canadians, sidelining other options and contributing to high levels of household debt in Canada.

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Using Indigenous legal processes to strengthen Indigenous jurisdiction: Squamish Nation land use planning and the Squamish Nation assessment of the Woodfibre liquefied natural gas projects (2021)

This dissertation examines how Squamish Nation has created its own legal processes in land use planning and environmental assessment to strengthen its jurisdiction over land, water, and resources in Squamish Nation Territory. It provides a case study of Squamish Nation’s development of the Xay Temíxw Land Use Plan for Forests and Wilderness of Squamish Nation Traditional Territory, its negotiation of an agreement on land use planning with the Province of British Columbia, and its creation of an environmental assessment process (the Squamish Process) to assess liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects being proposed in Howe Sound. The case study reveals Squamish Nation’s motivations for developing the processes; the type of community engagement it used; the perspectives, values, and laws Squamish members brought to their deliberations in the processes; and how Squamish Nation made its final decisions. It illuminates how these processes articulate Squamish legal principles to wider Canadian audiences through the plans, reports and agreements that have emerged from the processes. It also shows how these processes placed pressure on the state, as well as third parties, and how these pressures led to shifts in state/proponent practices and behaviours that have strengthened Squamish Nation jurisdiction. The research suggests that successful implementation of the doctrine of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) will be better achieved if Canadian governments shift their focus away from narrow judicial interpretations of the duty to consult, and toward Indigenous-led processes for establishing consent, articulated through Indigenous legal orders.

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Transnational law and borders in the Korean peninsula and beyond (2014)

This dissertation analyzes the ways in which internal, national, and international borders are embedded, constructed, and reinforced in the legal frameworks, enforcement patterns, and discursive practices on the Korean peninsula and beyond. Through a series of focused case studies on particular border sites, this dissertation reveals the ways in which law, as material reality, ideology, metaphor, and technology, enables and disables the movement of persons, things, and symbols across borders. The case studies begin with those borders constructed within and between two Koreas and then move outward to those that limit the movement of people beyond the Korean peninsula. The first case study analyzes North Korea’s efforts to regulate internal migrations through systems of residence registration, labor allocation, and travel certificates as part of its centrally planned economy. The dissertation then turns to the attempt to relocate a capital city in South Korea and the ways in which laws and practices, including written and customary constitutions, act as gatekeepers in Pyongyang and Seoul. The following chapter analyses the gendered construction of the “Socialist Big Family” in North Korea, paying particular attention to the manner in which borders are constructed to contain the female body. The dissertation then moves to an analysis of the law making it a criminal offence in North Korea to cross the national border, and draws on the legal response to the practices of East German border guards in using firearms to prevent the movement of people across the Berlin Wall. Further, in an attempt to understand the refugee border, the dissertation examines asylum cases on illegal exit from other countries in the U.S. to consider the possibility for North Korean asylum seekers. It assesses the work of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board in determining North Korean refugee claims from 1990 to 2011. In the final case study, I apply a gendered analysis of the definition of refugee in international law to the restrictions on the right to leave North Korea. To conclude, legal relations between and within borders are mutually exclusive as well as interconnected, and daily border-crossings challenge the existing legal structure for transnational justice.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Ts'uu JaasGalang hlgaajuu: cedar sisters framework (2022)

There is no framework for the analysis of Haida laws that is grounded in Haida culture. I take seriously the Haida worldview, the Haida conception of Tlgaa K̲’aaysguux̲an SG̲aanaG̲was (the Supernatural Realm), and SG̲aana K̲iidads (Supernatural Beings). From this perspective arises a framework based on the Cedar Tree, who in the Haida worldview, is an Ancient Sister called Ts’uu Jaasas. The conception of this framework was developed intuitively, drawing upon personal experience, knowledge about use of the Cedar Tree, and from observations of the biological functions of the Cedar Tree. I demonstrate the suitability of this framework primarily by drawing upon the ethnographic record of the Haida Nation, with a focus on the oral narratives contained in the work of John R. Swanton. He was an early ethnographer who recorded his work in the Haida language, worked with Hereditary Chiefs, and took the Supernatural Realm seriously. I used a quantitative method to examine the number of occurrences of the Cedar Tree in these narratives, which exceed all other species. I also draw upon oral narratives and teachings from my family, as well as observations of the Haida Nation’s articulation and exercise of Haida laws. These sources reveal that the Cedar Tree connects the land and sea, thereby rooting the framework in Haida Gwaii. This is a preliminary examination of Haida laws, pending further research with the Haida community.

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Gilbert Malcolm Sproat: British Columbia Indian reserve commissioner (1876-1880), and the "humanitarian civilizing" of indigenous peoples (2018)

Gilbert Malcolm Sproat (1834-1913) was one of British Columbia’s first post-confederation Indian reserve commissioners. He served two years as the joint commissioner to the Joint Indian Reserve Commission (1876-1878) and then two more years as the sole commissioner of a reconstituted commission (1878-1880). In these capacities, Sproat left thousands of handwritten pages analyzing his decisions allotting Indian reserves and providing his thoughts more generally about Indigenous peoples and their relationship to the new settler society. His legacy remains today most obviously in surveyed Indian reserve boundaries that represent more than just lines on maps: they also represent the ideas, beliefs, and reasoning that generated them. Through a comprehensive review of Sproat’s writing and an attention to his “intellectual history,” I analyze Sproat’s own explanations to elucidate what he believed about Indigenous peoples and why, and how those beliefs affected his reserve-allotment decisions. I conclude that two fields of 19th-century thought influenced Sproat most strongly: the push for Indigenous “civilization” and humanitarianism. Further, the idea at the core of Sproat’s beliefs is that the only way Canada’s Indigenous “civilization” program would succeed is if Indigenous people were the primary actors in their own “civilization.” By reviewing Sproat’s adult life prior to becoming reserve commissioner and his four-year tenure as reserve commissioner with these new insights, one can see his drive for the “humanitarian civilizing” of Indigenous peoples running throughout his decisions. This broader knowledge about Sproat’s influences, in turn, provide additional perspectives on the Indian reserve-creation process in British Columbia. Whereas previous scholars have addressed Sproat as an adjunct to other primary investigations, I begin with Sproat. I approach him from the perspective of a legal historian interested in the intersection of land; Indigenous occupation, rights, and ownership of land; and settler law about land and Indigenous people. I conclude that he was very much a man of his time, not of ours, and he can be best understood in light of his intellectual, legal, social, and cultural context, including as part of the liberal order framework, an emerging paradigm through which to analyze and understand Canadian history.

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Interwoven legal traditions. The extent to which state based decision makers are engaging with Indigenous legal traditions and the extent to which this is feasible: A celebration of an exceptional outcome (2015)

In recognition of Canada being a legally pluralist state, there is ample impetus from multiple players within the Canadian legal landscape for Indigenous legal traditions to be recognized, respected and considered as sources of legitimate legal authority. The need to be attentive to Aboriginal interests is becoming increasingly important in the context of government decision making regulating natural resources extraction that the constitutional duty to consult governs. However, state based decision makers must be attentive to the Indigenous legal traditions that comprise the legal systems that existed upon colonial settlement and which remain alive today. Taking the recent Caribou cases as a case study, I analyse the extent to which Dunne Za law was recognised and respected in successive administrative and judicial decision making. Several Dunne Za legal traditions were interwoven throughout the petitioners’ submissions which arguably incited the Caribou cases. Chief of these laws is the traditional seasonal round. I interpret substantive and procedural components to decision making pursuant to this land management regime for maintaining balance and order. Throughout the analysis I highlight cultural, legal and operational constraints to the ability of decision makers to consider Indigenous legal traditions. Chief of these legal impediments is the reasonableness standard of review pursuant to which decisions as to the adequacy of consultation are assessed.The Caribou cases exhibit varying degrees of respect for Dunne Za law. The Chief Justice’s inclusive balancing approach, which considers the legal traditions that were at play as legitimate law, contrasts that of the statutory decision maker and other appellate judge, which, inter alia, devalued the petitioners’ hunting right to an interest capable of being trumped by competing economic interests. On several levels, the Caribou cases are a positive result that ought to be celebrated. However, this case study is an exception among many battles over the duty to consult that are not won. While Indigenous law has a presence in state based decision making, considerable progress must occur in the extent of respect for and consideration of Indigenous legal traditions, before parity of influence exists with common law legal traditions in state based decision-making

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Pluralist Moral Theory in the Philosophy of Property and the Legal Form of the Condominium (2015)

This thesis outlines three major moral theories in philosophy – utilitarian, deontological, and pluralist or neo-Aristotelean – and examines their application to the law of condominium. The thesis uses a combination of moral analytic theory and a study of legislation and case law. The thesis begins with a discussion of theoretical methods in legal philosophy, adopting and defending an approach based on general pragmatism and legal realism. It then canvasses the application of moral approaches to property law, with an emphasis on explaining and further developing the application of pluralist moral theory to property. The thesis then considers how each of the three schools of philosophy analyzes the structure of condominium and makes predictions about how condominium issues would be resolved by each approach. In particular, this analysis focuses on how condominium presents a challenge to traditional views of property and highlights the connection between property and sovereign power by incorporating concepts of democratic governance. Afterward, the thesis engages a detailed review of statutes and case law that apply to condominium disputes in British Columbia and Ontario. The thesis concludes that courts and legislatures have been alternating between deontological approaches and pluralist approaches to condominium, with a general trend in recent developments away from the deontological approaches and towards pluralist approaches. The thesis tentatively suggests that on the whole, pluralist approaches lead to more just and equitable results in condominium, and suggests further avenues for study.

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Extinguishment by extirpation: The Nuxalk Eulachon crisis (2013)

De facto extinguishment of Aboriginal rights occurs when Aboriginal peoples are factually precluded from practicing their rights. While the Supreme Court of Canada has established that de facto extinguishment of constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights is an infringement of those rights, its acceptance of sweeping Canadian interests as valid objectives to justify the infringement of Aboriginal rights means the recognition of those rights provides limited protection.This thesis analyzes the nature of Aboriginal rights in Canadian legal system through an examination of the extirpation of eulachon from Nuxalk territory. It describes Nuxalk legal order prior to European arrival in Nuxalk territory, and the imposition of colonial laws to the detriment of Nuxalk sovereignty, territory, and people. It investigates the management of fisheries under Canadian law to show the inefficiencies of the fragmented Canadian legal system. An analysis of Canadian jurisprudence demonstrates that section 35(1) Aboriginal rights have minimal protection under the Canadian legal regime. A consideration of Nuxalk concerns regarding the Species at Risk Act indicates that the consultation doctrine has hindered the protection of Aboriginal rights. A review of the honour of the Crown in relation to Aboriginal rights suggests that fiduciary duties are confined to exceptional circumstances, and effectiveness of lesser obligations remains uncertain. This thesis concludes that the current state of Canadian law leaves the Nuxalk people with little prospect for any meaningful resolution to the eulachon crisis under the Canadian legal system.If Aboriginal rights are to have any substance under Canadian law, courts and governments must acknowledge the existence of these rights on a broader scale. Reconciliation requires the recognition and affirmation of Indigenous sovereignty by the Canadian legal system.

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  • Nos Disparus (2021)
    Advocate (Vancouver Bar Association), 79, 253-280
  • Peter A. Allard School of Law Faculty News (2021)
    Advocate (Vancouver Bar Association), 79, 75-80
  • Condominium government and the right to live in the city (2019)
    Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 34 (3), 371-392
  • Lawyers’ empire and the great transformation (2017)
    International Journal of the Legal Profession, 24 (1), 65-70
  • Owning and Dissolving Strata Property (2017)
    U.B.C. Law Review, 50, 935-970
  • Property and Sovereignty: An Indian Reserve and a Canadian City (2017)
    U.B.C. Law Review, 50, 321-392
  • Property in the City: Special Edition Introduction (2017)
    U.B.C. Law Review, 50, 885-890
  • Anti-Social Behaviour, Expulsion from Condominium, and the Reconstruction of Ownership (2016)
    Osgoode Hall Law Journal, 54, 53-86
  • Title Registration and the Abolition of Notice in British Columbia (2014)
    U.B.C. Law Review, 47, 535-564
  • Finding Nemo Dat in the Land Title Act: A Comment on Gill v Bucholtz (2012)
    U.B.C. Law Review, 45, 205-222
  • Condominium and the City: The Rise of Property in Vancouver (2011)
    Law & Social Inquiry,
  • Condominium and the City: The Rise of Property in Vancouver (2011)
    Law and Social Inquiry, 36 (3), 694-726
  • Indefeasible Title in British Columbia: A Comment on the November 2005 Amendments to the Land Title Act (2006)
    Advocate (Vancouver Bar Association), 64, 529-538
  • Historian and Courts: R. v. Marshall and Mi'kmaq Treaties on Trial (2003)
    Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 18 (2), 123-131
  • Territoriality, Aboriginal Rights, and the Heiltsuk Spawn-on-Kelp Fishery (2000)
    University of British Columbia Law Review, 34, 195-238
  • Inside the Law: Canadian Law Firms in Historical Perspective (1997)
    Dalhousie Law Journal, 20, 295-310

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