Smart changes for a better world: Transforming AI, water governance and human rights policy

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Aerial shot of campus and parliament

Our world is changing at an unprecedented rate, challenging policymakers to keep up with technological advancements and economic, social and political innovations that are disrupting the status quo. Such rapid progress requires us to re-examine existing public policy and update or create new laws and regulations to help shape the new realities of our world, while safeguarding the rights and well-being of citizens. The Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue gives our university’s great minds the opportunity to do just that.

Created in 2017 and supported by more than $7 million in donations from distinguished uOttawa alumnus Alex Trebek, the Forum for Dialogue is a public policy research and outreach initiative that fosters constructive discussion and ideas around provocative, timely issues that matter to Canadians.

This year’s research projects, conducted over a three-year period, aim to improve public policy in three distinct areas: water law and governance, artificial intelligence in health care and the environment, and human rights in a changing world.

Involved in this initiative are 12 uOttawa Centres and Institutes leading research in public policy. The interdisciplinary nature of these projects will play a major role in finding solutions to these critical issues. Taken together, they will strengthen uOttawa’s position as a driving force in Canadian and international public policy.

From left to right, Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, Nathalie Chalifour, Eric Champagne and Marie-France Fortin.

From left to right, Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, Nathalie Chalifour, Eric Champagne and Marie-France Fortin.

Project on Water and Governance

“The most precious natural resource to humankind, fresh water, is largely unregulated, rapidly depleting at unsustainable rates and the climate crisis will exacerbate these difficulties in the coming years,” says Marie-France Fortin, assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section. “Addressing groundwater depletion is particularly urgent. Aquifers on the planet are overexploited due to a laissez-faire approach and under-regulated access to this often non-renewable resource. Fifty percent of the population world-wide depends on groundwater for drinking water, but by 2030, the planet will face a 40% shortfall in water supply unless we drastically improve the management of this precious resource.”

This joint project under the leadership of Nathalie Chalifour, Eric Champagne, Marie-France Fortin and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray seeks to foster dialogue between scholars, governmental actors, interest groups and the general public to identify the most pressing water-related public policy concerns.

Working with the Centre on Governance, the Public Law Centre and the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability, the project will build on different stakeholders’ perspectives, using water as a lens to identify climate change-induced problems and their ramifications, to make recommendations to multi-level policymakers.

“Canadian experts have repeatedly called for a national strategy on water,” says Fortin. “As consultations are taking place on the creation of a Canada Water Agency, now is an opportune moment to critically examine existing policies on the management, preservation and regulation of water in Canada, an endeavour that will require close, interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as the inclusion and representation of non-governmental organizations and other key stakeholders in developing policies.

“In addition to developing multi-level policies and model regulations aimed at the sustainable management of freshwater resources and tapping into the University of Ottawa’s expertise, we are hoping to foster dialogue and communication with governmental actors, interest groups and the general public. By ensuring knowledge dissemination to individuals in connection with the consumption, preservation and utilisation of fresh water, our project will contribute to protecting that precious resource and building inclusive and durable democracies.”

From left to right, Colleen M. Flood, Florian Martin-Bariteau and Kelly Bronson.

From left to right, Colleen M. Flood, Florian Martin-Bariteau and Kelly Bronson.

Project on AI for Healthy Humans and Environments

“Right now, it is estimated that in Canada, up to 24,000 deaths in hospitals per year are preventable — the equivalent of an airplane crashing every week,” says Colleen M. Flood, professor at the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section and University Research Chair in Health Law and Policy. “Artificial intelligence will rapidly transform health care systems and, if adopted appropriately, has an enormous potential to improve upon its quality and safety.”

Co-lead by Kelly Bronson, Colleen M. Flood and Florian Martin-Bariteau, the project synergistically brings together leading centres and researchers on AI to advance knowledge translation and research in health care, agriculture and the environment.

In collaboration with the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, the Centre for Law, Technology and Society and the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, along with a network of leading experts from the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability, the LIFE Institute, the Centre for Governance and the Centre for Public Law, they will strive to develop tools and a framework that support policymakers in Canada and abroad in implementing “smart” changes that will foster healthier and more sustainable AI-powered health care and food production.

“With the Trebek Forum funding, our project will explore how best to regulate AI in health care, particularly how the federal government should approach regulation of medical devices that include AI,” says Flood. “We don’t want to over-regulate, as that may stifle important innovation, and we don’t want to under-regulate, as that may lead to failings in safety and quality, for example, AI built on data that is not representative of all patients.

“We need to put as much effort into innovation of regulation as we do to the AI innovation itself. Rushing to adopt AI without an optimal governance and regulatory structure may cause harm to patients and result in a loss of trust in that technology that could take decades to restore.”

From left to right, Jennifer Bond, Monica Gattinger, John Packer and Rita Abrahamsen.

From left to right, Jennifer Bond, Monica Gattinger, John Packer and Rita Abrahamsen.

Project Changing Orders

“Uncertainty, insecurity, volatility and complexity are the dominant characteristics of our time,” says Rita Abrahamsen, professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and director of the Centre for International Policy Studies. “The rules-based international order is unravelling, with illiberal governments and populist movements challenging democratic values and institutions at all levels of governance. Domestic and global policymakers require novel ideas and responses that reflect these new realities. The challenges are urgent, cross the domestic-international divide and matter at all levels of politics—and for Canada’s place in the world. Failure to meet them entails grave risks for human well-being and even survival.”

Lead by Rita Abrahamsen, Jennifer Bond, Monica Gattinger and John Packer, the project seeks to reveal the fundamental dynamics underlying today’s governance and human rights challenges. It will mobilize leading-edge research and networks of decision-makers to address fundamental issues, including securing inclusive and durable democracies, multicultural cooperation and fundamental human rights in a fragmented and shifting global order.

Working with the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, the Centre for International Policy Studies and the Refugee Hub, the project aims to generate innovative ideas and secure policy responses to these pressing questions, including cutting-edge legal interventions to secure rights in a changing order.

“We developed this project before the COVID-19 pandemic, but its importance has been cruelly illustrated by the rapid spread of the virus and its enormous political and economic impacts both globally and domestically,” says Abrahamsen. “The pandemic has underlined the interconnectedness of the world, the need for multilateral cooperation and the close link between energy and climate. At the same time, the liberal world order is under unprecedented threat and international cooperation is at an all-time low, with potentially significant implications for Canada and Canadians.

“The project will investigate opportunities for reforming and reshaping multilateral cooperation, and for building more inclusive and equitable institutions. This includes a key focus on aligning global and Canadian energy/climate imperatives in the context of calls for ‘green recovery,’ as well as on securing the right of refugees at a time when the number of people displaced by conflict, persecution and mass atrocities is at record levels.”

Trebek has donated more than $10 million to his alma mater. The Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue is firmly rooted in the research mission of the University, helping expand the global reach and impact of uOttawa on all areas of public policy. These three new research projects will tap into the University’s wealth of talent, remarkable strength in public policy and strong vision for innovation to formulate targeted policy recommendations and address the complex challenges facing our societies. Together, they will help reinforce uOttawa’s leadership in informing public policy and in inspiring smart changes for a better world.

Back to top