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Blockchain Education Heads to Canadian Capital

[caption id="attachment_6122" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Fauteux Hall, the Faculty of Law building at the University of Ottawa.[/caption]   A new blockchain-focused lab at the University of Ottawa's Centre for Law, Technology and Society is the latest in a string of new academic efforts to incorporate blockchain into law school curriculum. The University of Ottawa’s lab joins schools such as Cardozo Law, Duke and Vanderbilt, among others, currently providing curricular content for law students around blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. University of Ottawa professor of law Florian Martin-Bariteau said the lab evolved out of a spike in student interest that started about a year and a half ago. Initially, students were interested in looking at how Canadian law specifically handled blockchain-based cryptocurrencies. “Since the summer, we have focused on cryptocurrencies under Canadian law because it's in the headlines everyday,” he noted. Currently, Martin-Bariteau is working with students on a project to map Canadian law that could apply to the use and valuation of cryptocurrencies. Between “anti-money laundering, securities, tax law, there are a lot of issues,” Martin-Bariteau said. A separate line of research at the lab is currently looking at potential applications of smart contracts and blockchain-enabled technology within the practice of law. Canada’s law programs have taken up technology in other means as well. The Toronto-Waterloo corridor in particular is known among both attorneys and technologists for its wealth of resources around artificial intelligence and machine learning. The area is also home to ROSS Intelligence, one of the first companies to market an artificial intelligence-based legal research software. Martin-Bariteau noted that Canada has taken a slightly more measured approach to regulating cryptocurrencies than its counterparts in the U.S. and elsewhere, in part because of the country’s use of broader frameworks around what constitutes securities, for example. “I think it’s the best way to write statutes, in the way that they can auto-adapt to society and be able to answer societies new issues, new questions. Not to be just a reaction to something that happens,” he said. This broader framework learning is something that Martin-Bariteau hopes to impart on students working in the blockchain lab. “I want to create a space to reflect,” Martin-Bariteau said of the lab. “It’s a very good way to learn to become lawyers and ask the right questions and research a case. Some of my best students, they’re still trained to craft what the law is, but at the same time, it's like not everything is written in the case law,” he said. For now, however, the technical elements of cryptocurrency and blockchain programming remain in the realm of engineers. “We’re not coding yet, at least not in blockchain stuff,” said Martin-Bariteau, adding stress to “yet.” He's currently negotiating with the College of Engineering at the University of Ottawa to develop potential collaborations between law and engineering students to employ blockchain technology for an access to justice-focused project. “If we find a way to leverage those kinds of technologies for access to justice, maybe we could try to build something and put it in practice and see how it works,” he said. For the time being Martin-Bariteau remains committed to mapping relevant law around blockchain in Canada, but he hopes to parlay some of this work into legislative action, especially given that the work is based in Canada’s capital city. “When we finish that report with all the issues and propositions to maybe update Canadian law, we will try to meet with people on the hill to try and unpack and propose new regulations. We did that lately for the [Digital] Privacy Act in Canada. I want to continue to do that policymaking work,” he said.