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Courses & Program Requirements

The Ethics, Society & Law (ES&L) Program includes 80 optional courses drawn from across the Faculty of Arts & Science as well as a handful of core courses. Our small, intimate undergraduate program will help you apply a cutting-edge interdisciplinary approach to political, legal and ethical questions that societies must navigate today.


Many upper-year courses in ES&L have prerequisites determined by their home departments or programs, and many of those prerequisites are not ES&L courses. Thus students need to plan ahead and make sure their programs of study fulfill the prerequisite requirements for the courses they wish to take in upper years. Furthermore, because course prerequisites can change, students are advised to check the prerequisites for relevant years of study. Please consult Faculty of Arts & Science Calendar regarding ES&L courses, prerequisites and availability.


In order to improve and update the program, the requirements for ES&L change from time to time. The requirements that apply to you are the ones listed in the Faculty of Arts & Science Calendar current in the year you entered the program (view Archived Faculty of Arts & Science Calendars here).

TRN312H1 Sustainability Issues in Ethics, Society, and Law is a new ES&L program requirement; it is required for students starting ES&L from September 2021 onward. The course is optional for students who started before September 2021.

For specific content descriptions of each the 3 sections of TRN303H1 and each of the 3 sections of TRN412H1 being offered in 2020-2021, please see “3) Third year” and “4) Fourth year”, respectively, immediately below.

Required Courses: Ethics, Society & Law Major
(7 full courses or the equivalent)

1) First year

While no specific courses are required in first year, course selection should take into account the program’s admission requirements above, as well as the prerequisites for 200+ level courses students plan to take to complete the program. See also Admission Requirements

2) Second year

PHL271H1, TRN203H1, and TRN204H1 are required courses that students are recommended to take in second year (their first year of registration in the program).

TRN203H1: This course discusses key texts from various disciplines that introduce fundamental features, limitations, and possibilities of contemporary society. Political consent, economics, governmental administration, the global / post-colonial world, historical transformation, gender politics, and media may be addressed.

TRN204H1: This course introduces students to the study of law and legal reasoning through an examination of the participants, institutions and processes involved in law-making and law-administering.  Case law examples from various fields of law (including tort, criminal, constitutional) will be used to explore some of the themes of the course. Students will examine the organization of the Canadian legal system as well as critically engage with some of more challenging issues facing both the criminal and civil justice system including as well international law.

3) Third year

TRN303H1 Ethics and Society, is one of ES&L’s core required courses. We offer more than one section, each with its own thematic focus. These themes range from: Arts Interventions, ethics and politics of immigration, and the ethical implications of major political issues.

Students are asked to complete essay assignments that give them practice writing a research paper of the sort they will be required to complete in TRN412H1. This measure enables compliance with the protocol in the Degree Objectives Guidelines that “preparatory experiences for [a fourth-year integrative inquiry-based activity] should occur at earlier stages in the program.”

Students are asked to complete a component on interpreting and evaluating quantitative data in the context of ethical reasoning about social issues. This component of the course provides an introductory treatment of a selection of specific topics such as polling, sampling, graphs, correlations and causal claims. The course includes an assignment requiring the interpretation, evaluation, and use of quantitative data in an ethical examination of (one or more aspects of) a selected social issue.

2022-2023 Course Descriptions

TRN303H1-F LEC0101 Ethics and Society
2022-2023 Instructor: Jennifer Leitch
Sept. to Dec., 2022, Mondays 1 pm to 3 pm 

This course looks at a selection of contemporary social and political issues with significant ethical and legal implications. A variety of topics will be canvassed during the term, including, among others, the nature and compensation of surrogacy in society, the expanding limits of euthanasia, the treatment of and respect for non-human species, and the decriminalization of sex work among other topics. Threaded throughout this exploration of different socio-political and ethical issues is a discussion of how we think about researching these questions and the different research methodologies that can be deployed in research. The course material for this class will consist of various source documents including journal and book excerpts, newspaper articles, cases as well as research reports. In completing the work for this course, students will be required to present a research topic, complete a research paper as well as participate in weekly class discussions. 

TRN303H1-F LEC0201 Ethics and Society
Human dignity
2022-2023 Instructor: Connor Ewing
Sept. to Dec., 2022, Wednesdays 2 pm to 4 pm  

Human dignity pervades contemporary ethical discourse, serving as a legal and political touchstone in both domestic and international contexts. Even so, it is a hotly—perhaps even essentially—contested concept, and there is sharp disagreement over the most fundamental questions. What exactly does dignity mean? What does it require of individuals, social institutions, and the law? And how, if at all, should human dignity inform ethical inquiry and public decision-making? This course uses human dignity as an ethical value and frame to illuminate contemporary social issues. It begins with a brief exploration of dignity’s philosophical foundations, evolution, and multiple meanings before turning to dignity’s use in three prominent domains of ethical inquiry: human rights, equality and recognition, and bioethics. 

TRN303H1-S LEC0101 Ethics and Society
Rising Economic Inequality in Canada
2022-2023 Instructor: John Duncan
Jan. to Apr., 2023, Wednesdays 10 am to 12 pm 

After the World War period (1914-1945), in many states, including Canada, rates of economic inequality declined and remained largely stable until about 1980, after which they began to increase. Beginning in about 1980, the age of increasing economic inequality began, and it is still with us. The rich have been receiving increasingly greater shares of national income and wealth, while the rest of the distribution has been stagnating or falling behind. The situation is leading to significant problems.     

Because the distribution of economic resources is a fundamental feature of society, it is to be expected that a significant epochal shift in the distribution of economic resources would have significant effects on society as such. Furthermore, changes in access to economic resources, as well as various social effects, often have profound effects on quality of life. Thus, the age of increasing inequality presents us with new social issues to assess, some of which have effects of ethical significance.        

One of the leading academics who has worked on the issue of economic inequality in Canada is Lars Osberg. We read Osberg’s 2018 book The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise of Canada’s 1%, which, though written by an academic economist, is written for a non-specialist audience.  

The goal of the course is to become familiar with the basic state of increasing economic inequality in Canada, including its causes, effects and implications, especially from a normative perspective.  

TRN304Y1 LEC0101 Law and Social Issues
The Legal Practice of Social Justice
Sept. 2022 to Apr. 2023, Thursdays 1 pm to 3 pm

This course is being taught by 4 leading legal practitioners in various areas of social justice. The goal of the course is to expose students directly to work in the law that has a progressive social impact. Each instructor will lead 4-6 weeks/classes in their area of expertise. The class will discuss legal issues of social significance and how the instructors — as practitioners in various areas of legal work, such as at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, at a legal aid clinic, at a firm, and at Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit — approach important issues. For 2022-23, the instructors will be:

Abby Deshman is a lawyer and the Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Previously, she served as a Corrections Adviser on the Ontario government’s Independent Review of Corrections and as a Senior Policy Adviser to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. At CCLA, Abby has led advocacy and analysis in a wide range of issue areas including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, police powers and oversight, and the criminal justice system.

Yodit Edemariam is a lawyer and the Director of Legal Services at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic (RCLC) in Toronto. RCLC provides free services to community members living on low incomes in North Etobicoke, in the areas of housing (tenant defense); income maintenance; employment, and immigration. Prior to that, she articled at Parkdale Community Legal Services. Yodit has a particular interest in illegal act/impairment of safety eviction cases.

Akosua Matthews is an associate at Kastner Lam LLP, leading the firm’s state accountability work. Her practice includes civil litigation, public law, human rights claims, coroner’s inquests, and advising on policy and legislative matters. She is a Rhodes Scholar and completed her articles with the Ministry of the Attorney General. Prior to Kastner Lam LLP, Akosua was a litigation associate practicing primarily state accountability law at Falconers LLP on behalf of individuals, families and First Nations governments.

Anthony Morgan is the Manager of the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit. Prior to joining the City, Anthony was an Associate at Falconers LLP, specializing in the areas of civil, constitutional and criminal state accountability litigation.

TRN321H1-F LEC0101 Selected Topics in Ethics, Society, & Law
The Stories We Tell About Choice
2022-2023 Instructor: Simone Davis
Sept. to Dec., 2022, Fridays 2 pm to 5 pm

When we think about freedom, we often think about the freedom to choose. Seems like a bottom-line fact of our dignity that we have –or should have—some control over our choices and actions. But how free are our choices? What different forces shape or limit the choices that people make in their lives? Can we choose freedom in our minds no matter what else is going on…or not? We’re surrounded by narratives about “good” and “bad” choices: what work do these concepts do? The course will include class sessions on the issue of CONSENT AND AGENCY, the topic of WHERE WE HEAR ABOUT CHOICES in contemporary society, and on approaches to JUSTICE and to EDUCATION that try to change the narrative about choice.  The course will culminate in a shared group project, which students can present at the closing.

TRN321, The Stories We Tell about Choice, will bring together U of T-based students and students from the Community Healing and Peers Projects (CHP/CPP) community to explore our theme together as classmates. We will hold this small seminar class in circle, with lots of dialogue, collaboration, and experiential activities.  All different kinds of knowledge will be invited and relied upon. Healers and Peers are being trained or are already active as trauma resiliency facilitators and peer support workers and are bringing new resources and leadership to their home communities. https://stellasplace.ca/million-dollar-investment-in-the-community-healing-project/

To apply for this course, please submit a brief letter of interest via email as soon as possible to Simone Davis: sdavis@trinity.utoronto.ca

In 150 to 500 words MAX, please explain why you’re interested in taking the course, what you think you’ll bring to it, and anything else you feel like adding. Selected applicants will be interviewed. This course can count toward Group A, B or D requirements of the Ethics, Society, & Law program.

4) Fourth year

The role of TRN412H1 is to integrate the program by examining selected topics and readings related to the themes of ethics, society and law in the format of a senior seminar. The course is restricted to students in their final year of registration in the program.

In TRN412H1, students write a major research paper, independently framing and investigating a selected, nontrivial social issue with ethical and legal aspects. The inquiry must integrate material covered in the seminar with the student’s research on the chosen topic, and it must integrate material from each of the program’s general thematic categories (“ethics,” “society,” and “law”).

TRN412 typically includes group activities allowing students to discuss one another’s investigations, for example by sharing abstracts of their research findings with one another on the course’s Quercus/Canvas group.

2022-2023 Course Descriptions

TRN412H1-F LEC0101 Seminar in Ethics, Society, and Law
Law and Time
2022-2023 Instructor: Nathalie Des Rosiers
Sept. to Dec., 2022, Thursdays 10 pm to 12 pm 

Time structures our lives.  The passage of time has legal consequences.  The course will use the passage of time as an entry point in looking at a range of legal concepts:  from the concept of childhood to adulthood, discrimination on the basis of age, age and disability, age and race, age and poverty, the right to be tried within a reasonable time, sentencing, limitations of action (obligation to sue within a certain time), evidence of the past and evidence of the future. The objective is to critically examine how law deals with the passage of time and the assumptions about life cycles embedded in legal choices.  

TRN412H1-F LEC0201 Seminar in Ethics, Society, and Law
Our Failed War in Afghanistan
2022-2023 Instructor: John Duncan
Sept. to Dec., 2022, Wednesdays 10 pm to 12 pm 

Early in the Cold War, in which the USA (and its NATO allies) struggled against the USSR (and its Warsaw Pact allies) for global influence, Afghanistan became a nation of interest. Conflict erupted in 1978 when Afghan political divisions, significantly conditioned by the Cold War, began to descend into open hostility. Afghanistan has suffered largely uninterrupted major conflict since then.  

In 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan in order to stabilize it, but ended up blundering into a decade-long, brutal and failed war against Afghan resistance fighters—the Mujahideen.  

After the USSR withdrew, during the early 1990s, various warlord-led Mujahideen factions fought each other in a brutal civil war for control of Afghanistan.  

The Taliban formed as a group that included some of the millions of Afghan refugees that had been displaced by the USSR beginning in 1979, as well as Mujahideen fighters, all of whom identified with simple, conservative, and strict codes of Islamic and cultural values rooted in the large ethnic Pashtun communities that straddle the largely unenforceable Afghan-Pakistan border. The Taliban sought to form an Afghanistan according to its values. With allies like the al Qaeda network, which had also fought against the USSR, but which had longer-term, international ambitions for its radical Islamic vision, the Taliban defeated the warlord-led Mujahideen factions and began to govern Afghanistan by about 1996.  

In the Taliban’s Afghanistan, al Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden, planned the horrific 9/11 attacks, as the culmination of a line of much smaller, but highly significant, attacks against the US.  

A month after 9/11, in early October, 2001, the US, its NATO allies, and the remnants of the defeated Afghan warlords initiated the war to depose the Taliban regime and destroy al Qaeda. The war was largely successful and completed by mid November, 2001. By early December, 2001, Afghanistan was on a new path forward with an interim president and Western support to build a better future.  

However, soon afterwards, the Taliban started coming back to fight against the US-led coalition and its preferred government in Afghanistan.  

For nearly two decades, the war continued.  

In August 2021, some 19 years and 10 months after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda, the Taliban retook Afghanistan. 

We will look at major features of the war, which included a major attempt to reform Afghanistan, to bring it into the modern, Western world. Topics will include controversial tactics used by the coalition such as night raids, drone warfare, and COIN, as well as the rights of women, democracy promotion, and spin. We will attempt to asses each of these features of the war on its own terms, and also keep an eye on the mosaic constituted by the individual features, with the goal of making assessments of the war as a whole.  

TRN412H1-S LEC0101 Seminar in Ethics, Society, and Law
Social justice policy in Ontario
2022-2023 Instructor: Kathleen Wynne
Jan. to Apr., 2023, Mondays 1 pm to 3 pm  

Governments of all stripes in Canada will argue that the policies they propose and implement are designed to advance the best interests of their citizens. Most often, there are no objective criteria built into policies that could allow analysis of the success of these claims. In this section of TRN412H, we will discuss policies designed to foster social justice in the Ontario context over the past 20 years and the degree to which we can agree that they were successful. We will examine changes to the publicly funded education system between 1995 and present day; progress of reconciliation with Indigenous people in the context of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; poverty reduction initiatives and particularly the Basic Income Pilot and finally, issues of equity and inequality that have been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID pandemic and the subsequent economic volatility.   

The instructor will draw on her experience as an elected official in Ontario since 2000 to augment and foster discussion. Students will be expected to complete assigned readings but additionally, to bring relevant policy discussion items from current media.  

TRN412H1-S LEC0201 Seminar in Ethics, Society, and Law
Constitutional Democracy: The Theory & Design of Modern Governance
2022-2023 Instructor: Connor Ewing
Jan. to Apr., 2023, Tuesdays 12 pm to 2 pm  

Constitutional democracy is the predominant form of modern governance and political life. Almost every country in the world has some form of constitution and—by explicit declaration, substantive commitment, or pretence—each aspires to some form of popular rule. But the union of constitutionalism and democracy is beset by tensions—between popular will and minority rights, the rule of the people and the rule of law, the claims of the present and the commitments of the past. This course explores the theory and design of constitutional democracy. It proceeds by examining the philosophical foundations and component institutions of constitutional self-government, culminating in a collaborative constitutional convention addressing the challenges of structuring political life together. 

TRN412H1-S LEC0301 Seminar in Ethics, Society, and Law
Freedom of Expression, Harmful Speech, and the Law
2022-2023 Instructor: Michael Kessler
Jan-Apr, 2023, Wednesdays 2 pm to 4 pm  

The right to freedom of expression is generally regarded as necessary for a thriving political and intellectual culture. As such, within liberal societies there is a strong protection for freedom of expression, even when the expression in question is offensive, unpopular, controversial, or graphic. The aim of this course is to try to answer two big questions: 1) why is freedom of expression a fundamental right within a just society?, and 2) when is a government permitted to ban or restrict expression due to its content? We will study various answers to these questions by focusing on some specific case studies: 1) hate speech, 2) obscenity law, 3) “revenge” pornography.  

5) Any year of registration in the program.

1 FCE from ETH201H1, ETH210H1, ETH220H1, ETH230H1, ETH350H1, ETH401H1, PHL265H1, PHL275H1, POL200Y1, to be taken in any year of registration in the program.

6) Courses from Groups A-D

3.5 FCEs from Groups A-D including at least 0.5 from each of Groups A-C and at least 2.0 at the 300+ level. Courses taken in fulfillment of requirement 5 above may not be counted toward the Group courses.

N.B. (1) The above CRI courses are available only to students enrolled in the double major program Ethics, Society & Law and Criminology. (2) Access to courses in the Ethics, Society & Law Program is not guaranteed; students must check prerequisites. 

Senior Limited Enrollment Courses (Not Required, Invite Only)

TRN407Y (Community Research Partnerships in Ethics)

Typically in mid-July, 12 senior ES&L majors with strong cGPAs are invited to join the Community Research Partnerships in Ethics course. The course is challenging and the number of projects is limited. It is unlikely the cut-off would go below a cGPA of about 3.50 in any given year. The course is administered either by the director of the Ethics, Society & Law Program, or a CRPE Project Coordinator. Each student project is supervised by a University of Toronto faculty member.

In 2017-2018, CRPE students worked with non-profit organizations on research projects that addressed challenging issues in community health, human rights, social justice and the environment. Click here to learn about their CRPE experience and the impact of their research.

TRN425Y (Law Workshops)

Typically in mid-July the senior E, S & L majors with the highest GPAs are invited to join the Law Workshop course.  The course is challenging and seating is limited.  It is unlikely the cut-off will go below a GPA of about 3.50 in any given year.  Students are introduced to fundamental approaches to the study and interpretation of law – such as positivist/natural law traditions, critical race, feminist, indigenous, as well as law & economics among others perspectives. In addition, the students attend workshops and/or lectures within the Faculty of Law in which they are able to see these various approaches in action.  The students also participate in in-class case studies that seek to engage with the various perspectives studies.  The students are expected to present a reading each term, complete related assignments as well as a research paper in the winter term.

Centre for Ethics Course

Consider ETH401H1 Seminar in Ethics, a course which offers priority to ES&L students, and includes regular seminars with leading authors in ethics, offered by U of T’s Centre for Ethics, located at Trinity College. 



Trinity students enroll in and take courses offered by the Faculty of Arts & Science. The two main tools used for course selection and enrollment are the Faculty of Arts & Science Calendar, which includes information on courses, programs and the rules and regulations of the university, and the Faculty of Arts & Science Registration Instructions and Timetable, which contain scheduling information and enrollment procedures. If you have any questions about the Calendar or Timetable, please contact the Office of the Registrar: 416-978-2687 or registrar@trinity.utoronto.ca.

Contact Us:

Program Information: esandl@utoronto.ca

Prof. John Duncan:
Director, Ethics, Society, & Law Program
Office hour: Wednesdays 11 am to 1 pm

Prof. Jennifer Leitch:
Associate Director, Ethics, Society, & Law Program

Gabriel Wee:
Ethics, Society, & Law Program

Book a virtual appointment by clicking here or by sending an email.