2023 Viscount Bennett Scholarship Recipients
The Law Society of Alberta is pleased to congratulate Ricki-Lee Gerbrandt, Aimée Huntington and Reakash Walters, this year’s recipients of the Viscount Bennett Scholarship.
Ricki-Lee Gerbrandt’s career in law has been dedicated to advocating for freedom of expression and the rights of journalists and activists.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), dual majoring in Political Science and English Language and Literature at Western University, she completed her Juris Doctor at the University of Calgary and clerked at the Court of King’s Bench in Calgary. She earned her Master of Laws from Harvard Law School.
Ricki-Lee practised civil litigation for eight years in Calgary with a focus on media and constitutional law. In that role she represented national news organizations, telecommunication companies and a global social media company in cases involving intermediary liability, defamation, publication bans, competitive advertising and constitutional challenges.
She began her PhD research in 2022 at Cambridge University, a globally renowned centre of international law, with support from a previous Viscount Bennett Scholarship. She is continuing to develop her thesis titled Online Abuse and Disinformation of Journalists as a Media Freedom Issue: An Investigation into Online Safety Legislation.
“Although journalists have been targeted for their work throughout history, they are now subject to unprecedented doxing, mobbing and disinformation campaigns,” Ricki-Lee says. “Journalists are targeted by individuals, groups and governments for what they write, who they investigate and for who they are as individuals.”
Ricki-Lee is a researcher at Cambridge’s Lauterpacht Centre for International Law and the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law. She is also a member of the Journalist Safety Research Network at the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield and recently was a judge for the University of Oxford’s Price Media Law Moot Competition. With increased abuse and disinformation on social media platforms, her research is intended to provide legal and theoretical justifications for policies to protect journalists.
“On one hand, journalists are calling for greater restrictions on certain of the public’s speech,” she says. “On the other, they are also advocating for exceptions for legislative exemptions for journalists to ensure their speech is not censored.”
If the rigours of academic life and being a mother of two young boys weren’t enough, Ricki-Lee also completed a French language course at Cambridge and intends to continue to learn French throughout her doctorate.
As a first-generation university graduate originally from northwestern Ontario and someone who intends to return to Alberta after completing her studies, Ricki-Lee is appreciative of the support she has had to pursue her academic goals.
“The Viscount Bennett Scholarship’s continued investment in my research will directly enable me to dedicate the next few years to completing the research that I hope will have an immediate impact in law and policy,” she says.
A passion for environmental change, a focus on public policy and a love of the law have inspired Aimée Huntington to explore the interplay between theoretical legal principles and their practical implications in an environmental context.
After earning an Honours Bachelor of Science in Conservation and Biodiversity Biology and Sociology at the University of Toronto and a dual Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, Aimée is focused on why environmental concepts frequently struggle to find a place within traditional legal systems. The next chapter in her academic journey will take her to the London School of Economics and Political Science to pursue a Master of Laws.
Aimée’s position as a law clerk at the Federal Court of Canada helped hone her research, writing and legal analysis skills while providing her exposure to several areas of the law. The experience has ultimately deepened her interest in administrative, public and environmental law.
“On the academic side, there are a lot of discussions about theoretical implications of the law. Being a law clerk right now, you get to see a blend of theoretical concepts and their practical impacts”, Aimée says. “For me, I want to continue to explore this relationship in an environmental context.”
She says it is her passion for environmental change that has drawn her to the areas of public and administrative law. The London School of Economics offers courses such as Transnational Environmental Law and Climate Change and International Law that provide students a unique opportunity to obtain a comparative understanding of environmental law.
Aimée also completed two terms as a summer student at Gowling WLG in Calgary. Once she completes her studies, her goal is to return to Alberta where her family resides. She also has a clear vision that her future will be in the courtroom.
“I want to be a litigator, that is my passion. I love the thrill of being in court. Clerking has been the best experience of my entire life, where I get to sit in on trials and hearings,” Aimée says. “I think, now more than ever, it is so important to be a good litigator in the environmental context, given the current political climate and the pressing nature of environmental issues.”
Aimée has expressed sincere gratitude for the opportunities that come from earning a “well-known and prestigious scholarship” such as the Viscount Bennett Scholarship and its connection to the Law Society of Alberta.
“First and foremost, the financial aspect is critical. These are hugely expensive programs so I will be eternally grateful because a lot of people don’t get to pursue these opportunities without scholarships, and it is incredibly meaningful to be able to do so”.
Reakash Walters has a history of combining advocacy and action to address racism and inequities embedded in the legal system.
A self-identified “prairie girl”, Reakash was born in Calgary, raised in Lacombe, and did her undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta and at MacEwan University in Edmonton. She graduated Cum Laude from University of Ottawa’s English Common Law Program and is a member of the Ontario bar. Reakash is currently a law clerk for Madam Justice Sheilah Martin at the Supreme Court of Canada and is focused on criminal law issues.
“Our legal landscape is at a unique moment on issues of race. The Supreme Court has considered psychological detentions through a critical race lens for the first time and acknowledged certain racialized people, namely Black people, are treated differently by law enforcement,” Reakash says. “Appellate courts in Nova Scotia and Ontario have also found evidence of systemic anti-Black racism.
“These cases create cause for optimism, however, Canadian scholarship and jurisprudence on racial justice in the criminal legal system is arguably still in its nascent stage,” she says.
Reakash was accepted into the Master of Laws programs at Harvard University, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley, but chose to attend Columbia Law School in New York, one of the world’s leading institutions for Critical Race Theory. After completing her Masters, Reakash intends to pursue a Doctor of Juridical Science and apply for teaching and research positions with law faculties at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta.
She has long been involved in sociopolitical and cultural issues in Alberta. Reakash was a co-founder of the Edmonton chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in 2014 and organized anti-racism rallies and campaigns with fellow organizers across the country. In 2017, BLM Edmonton partnered with the non-profit Progress Alberta for a multi-city speaking tour on systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in the criminal legal system.
In 2020, she developed an advocacy campaign against police brutality that led to a multi-week debate at Edmonton City Council. Shortly thereafter, Reakash helped lead a successful advocacy strategy in support of 50 migrant families at risk of mass eviction by a non-profit housing provider.
In 2022, Reakash was a faculty member at the Crown Summer School for the Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario and helped teach an inaugural course, “Confronting Racism, Bias & Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System.”
“As a Black woman who is invested in fostering safer communities, I understand issues of punishment and safety are complex. Any changes to the criminal legal system must be thoughtful, courageous and bold,” she says. “My hope is that my research will inform racial justice theory and practice in the Canadian context.”
The unique opportunity provided by the Viscount Bennett Scholarship to study at Columbia and immerse herself with leading thinkers on critical race, systemic injustice and sociopolitical change is not lost on Reakash.
“I am deeply grateful to the Law Society of Alberta and the Viscount Scholarship Selection Committee for this incredible opportunity,” she says. “I hope to return to Alberta as a law professor and continue serving my community.”
About the Viscount Bennett Scholarship
The Viscount Bennett Scholarship is funded through a trust established by the late Right Honourable Viscount Bennett. It was put in place to encourage a higher standard in legal education, offered to support those interested in pursuing post-graduate studies in law. This prestigious accolade is awarded to individuals with an exceptional academic record and a clear dedication to contribute to their community through the practice of law.