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McGill Reporter
January 24, 2008 - Volume 40 Number 10
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Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli, professor of Law, Beatrix Nuñez Rivas, Consul General of Uruguay, and Nicholas Kasirer, Dean of Law celebrate McGill Law’s venture into Latin America.
Owen Egan

¡Sí, se puede!

McGill's Faculty of Law has long been proud of it bilingual nature. Students have not only the unique experience of learning Canada's two systems of law alongside one another, but also the opportunity to do so in a community whose members have a working knowledge of Canada's both official languages.

But eventually, even bilingualism just wasn't enough.

Enter a group of professors who, nearly two years ago, began gauging interest in the possibility of adding a third language to the mix: Spanish. Results were conclusive; the interest was there as many were already working individually on issues of Latin American Law. An ad-hoc working group, which eventually morphed into a standing committee, was struck.

Their pooled efforts have now borne fruit as evidenced on Tuesday with a Faculty-wide Fiesta celebrating the Spanish Language Initiative, which currently consists of a commitment to teach at least one law class in Spanish per year, and the establishment of a student-run lecture series featuring Spanish-speaking guests and trilingual Q & A sessions.

McGill's very first Spanish language law course, The Inter-American System, is being taught this semester by Professor Evan Fox–Decent, who has been involved with this initiative from the beginning. The course traces the history and development inter-American human rights system and explores the work of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in Washington, D.C. and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica.

The group also hopes to expand the initiatives by reaching out to the Faculty's law journals and fully "include Spanish as one of the languages of scholarship at McGill," according to Professor Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli, a native of Puerto Rico, who joined the ranks of the faculty in August and was quick to sign up as well.

For him, the initiative's success is a result of "collaboration between the administration, the faculty, and the students," coupled with the "great enthusiasm, as well as the institutional, logistical and financial support" that those involved unanimously attribute to Law Dean Nicholas Kasirer.

"I think it can work in part because it wasn't a top–down imposition," says Muñiz-Fraticelli. "It really arose out of faculty efforts, and there was already an established interest among students. So when you're building from the two constituent elements of the scholarly community of the faculty, and they both independently and from the grassroots come up with similar efforts, it's very fertile ground to develop something."

Indeed, it didn't take long for students to get on board as well. "I heard rumors last year," says Tanja Tolppanen, President of the Latin American Legal Studies Association. This year, she got involved, eager to "promote Latin America and the Spanish language in the Faculty." LASLA is behind the aforementioned speaker series, which kicked off yesterday.

Tolppanen, a native of Finland, points out that one of McGill's strongest assets is that "it is so international, especially the Faculty of Law. International Law is our thing. It's already bilingual, and there are a lot of people who speak Spanish as well."

There's no question that the enthusiasm from both faculty and students is palpable, and Muñiz-Fraticelli adds that there is also interest from the "institutional side", referring to law firms with clients who are form or have interest in Latin America.

"We can sell this initiatives to the students as not only pure legal scholarship, but actually as something very relevant to legal practice," he says, "and once you line up faculty interest, student interest, and interest from the legal profession, you have a winning combination." ¡Por supuesto, professor!

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