Canada makes mark at international Jessup competition

Although moot season wrapped up weeks ago for most Canadian teams, three talented teams made it into the “playoffs” and participated this past week in the White & Case international rounds of the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.

With the University of Ottawa common law and the University of Victoria law school teams competing, and McGill University participating as an exhibition team, the Canadian presence was impossible to miss at the Washington, D.C., tournament. That being said, the Canadians were certainly not the only standouts.

At the opening ceremonies, held at the Capital Hilton, members of the more than 120 teams, from 79 countries, strutted onto the stage, waving their national flags. The delegations from Kyoto University and Sophia University in Japan received standing ovations. So did the team from Birzeit University, the first Palestinian team to compete in the tournament’s history.

It could hardly have been lost on anyone who attended that rarely are representatives from all over the world able to spend a week together competing, getting to know each other, and trading items of national regalia. From the Qatari gold coin used for the ceremonial coin toss, to the Friday night party hosted (annually I am told) by the Philippine delegation, the competition was truly an international event.

As can be expected in an international law moot competition, politics were not altogether absent. The competition problem touched on issues such as laws requiring coverings for women, terrorism, targeted drone strikes, and bribery, and was designed to echo real-life scenarios that continue to be debated nationally and internationally. Having teams from all over the world address these issues (both during and outside the competition rounds) added a significant dimension to the international competition, one that is necessarily absent from the national rounds.

Although there was the usual friendly sparring between the Canadian and American teams, more interesting were the private conversations that sprung up between nationals of countries that don’t always see eye to eye, or indeed of countries that simply don’t know much about one another.

Competing on this international stage, the Canadian teams enjoyed considerable success. The University of Victoria placed 23rd overall in the tournament, and its combined written pleadings were ranked 14th. In addition, the University of Ottawa’s combined written pleadings placed in the top 50 — with its applicant side placing in the top 10! Two members of the University of Ottawa team were also ranked individually as among the top 50 oralists.

After heading home, we are likely to see our newfound Iraqi, Israeli, or Irish friends show up in our Facebook newsfeeds, and perhaps even to exchange e-mails. However, it is hard to ignore the possibility that some of us will meet again, in a forum that may not be too different, but where the problems at hand will be far more real.

Gordon Brandt was a co-coach of the University of Victoria team who travelled with the team to Washington, D.C., for the competition and is a UVic law alumnus.

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