Before returning to Canada in 2005, Professor Peter Oliver held a Chair in Law at the University of London (KCL) and a post as professeur invité at Université Toulouse I. In 2005-6 he was Scholar-in-Residence in the Constitutional, Administrative and International Law Section (CAILS) of Justice Canada. In 2006-7 he served as Special Advisor, Legal and Constitutional Affairs at the Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat of the Privy Council Office, where he and other team members won the Privy Council Merit Award for work relating to the debates around the Quebec Nation resolution. Since coming to the Faculty of Law, Professor Oliver has served as Vice Dean (Program, Research) on two occasions. He has been a member of the Civil Law Section since 2022, while still teaching two courses each year for the Common Law Section. He was one of the founders of the uOttawa Public Law Group and, with Professor Vanessa MacDonnell, founding co-director of the uOttawa Public Law Centre. He was co-Convenor, with Michael Pal and Jason Varuhas, of the fourth version of the Public Law Conference that was to have taken place in Ottawa, Canada, June 18-20, 2020 but which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the global pandemic.
Professor Oliver's early-career research focussed on a range of constitutional questions. His theoretical, comparative and historical approach has been applied to practical legal problems, such Commonwealth devolution, ever-closer European union, independence, secession and federalism. Much of this research focused on shifting understandings of two central theoretical concepts: ‘sovereignty’ and ‘legal system’. His treatment of both concepts yielded a theoretical account of fundamental legal transitions, one whose practical consequence is to explain how constitutional continuity can produce constitutional independence. His work has been cited in leading publications in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. His approach to constitutional continuity and constitutional independence is discussed comprehensively in his 2005 book, The Constitution of Independence: The Development of Constitutional Theory in Australia, Canada and New Zealand (Oxford University Press). This research contributed to the revival of interest in Commonwealth law, politics and history. His research often sought to retrieve forgotten Commonwealth scholarship and apply it to new contexts, including UK-Europe, UK-Scotland and Canada-Quebec. Professor Oliver’s work on sovereignty and legal systems has been cited in leading publications around the world. By way of example: Australian scholar, Jeffrey Goldsworthy, devoted a full chapter of his 2010 monograph, Parliamentary Sovereignty: Contemporary Debates, to discussing Oliver’s work; in his review of The Constitution of Independence for the leading journal, Public Law, David Dyzenhaus, professor of law and philosophy at the University of Toronto, described Oliver’s work as ‘an excellent example of how theory and legal history can be mutually illuminating’; and Andrew Macdonald, of the University of California at Berkeley, referred to it as “formidable scholarship … scholarly, rigorous and illuminating”. The distinguished Society of Legal Scholars, based in the UK, awarded Oliver one of the prestigious Peter Birks Prizes “for Outstanding Legal Scholarship” in 2006.
Professor Oliver’s more recent writing explores Canadian constitutional issues, particularly with regard to the federal division of powers, constitutional history and constitutional theory. In this body of work, one sees the same attributes that distinguished his earlier work: that is, the identification of the unstated theoretical assumptions that underlie constitutional debates, their evolution over Canada’s history, and their relation to comparable developments in other countries.
Professor Oliver was awarded an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in 2023 to fund a five-year research project on Canadian constitutional law and a “sustainable jurisprudence” – that is, a theoretical framework that sees law as both an authoritative standard and as an enduring, necessarily adaptable, ongoing project -- one that is able to meet the needs of the present even as it helps future generations meet their own, possibly quite different needs. The project considers the relevance of several factors for this framework, such as the legitimacy and authority of rules emanating from recognized sources, as well as the moral quality of these rules. Most distinctively, however, a sustainable jurisprudence encourages us to consider the appropriateness of those rules to ongoing, often changing contexts. Environmental challenges, public health crises and the rise of artificial intelligence are but a few of the changing contexts that are contributing to current debates among constitutional scholars, including discussion of whether our fundamental laws need to be adapted to better reflect and respond to new realities faced by Canadians. These issues arise, for example, in the debates between living tree constitutionalism and originalism, in the discussion of the proper role of unwritten constitutional principles, and in the ongoing debates regarding the proper judicial role.
Professor Oliver has been invited to present his research all around the world, notably at first-class institutions such as the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, the Max Planck Institute, Heidelberg, the University of Melbourne, the University of Toronto, McGill University, Université Toulouse I and Université de Montréal. He has been invited as a keynote speaker at the Constitutional, International and Administrative Law Conference organized by Justice Canada on two occasions. Professor Oliver was appointed as the Christensen Visiting Fellow at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford in 2015. He was editor of The Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution (2017). He is a member of the Constitutional Law Group that together complete the leading English-language casebook, Canadian Constitutional Law (Emond). In 2019, Professor Oliver was awarded an Outstanding Contributor prize by the Ottawa Law Review. In 2020, he was awarded the Excellence in Research Award by the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section. He was the recipient of the University College Alumni of Influence Award in 2021. In 2022, he was honoured for his teaching by the student association at the Faculty of Law.