Law professor Shigenori Matsui - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 7 |
Jul. 6, 2006
Japanese Constitutional Expert Keen on Freedoms
By Lorraine Chan
The state can use law to hone or hobble freedom of expression and nowhere is that more evident than in cyberspace, says Prof. Shigenori Matsui.
He says in Japan it’s illegal for political candidates to renew information about themselves on the Internet during an election.
“That is to me an unreasonable and unjustified restriction of individual rights,” says Matsui, an internationally renowned expert in the fields of constitutional law, Internet law and medicine and law.
Matsui joined UBC Faculty of Law this January as director of the Japanese Legal Studies Program. Prior to UBC, he served as associate dean at Osaka University’s Law School, where he taught during the past 22 years.
Matsui says while governments need to monitor the Internet for illegal or criminal activities such as child pornography, he says it’s vital that citizens keep an eye on excessive regulations.
“My perspective is to respect freedom of expression as much as possible,” says Matsui.
He adds that in Japan, it’s also illegal for political candidates to conduct door-to-door canvassing or to hand out written materials during an election.
“Canada’s Supreme Court has been much more active in enforcing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Japan, the court has been much more passive in enforcing individual rights.”
Matsui explains that in Japan, the Cabinet selects Supreme Court judges and the Cabinet has wide discretion. “The main problem is that the conservative government has held power mostly since the 1950s.”
Matsui says the main reason he came to UBC was the opportunity to give Canadian students “a much more clear picture of Japanese constitutional law.”
“And for me the benefit is to be able to look at Japan from outside,” says Matsui, who’s currently researching the differences between Canada and Japan in the areas of juvenile justice and Internet law.
Matsui says he’s keen to promote academic exchange between UBC and Japanese universities and to conduct comparative constitutional studies.
University of Washington Law Professor Veronica Taylor praises Matsui’s prowess in grasping the legal and political processes within different countries. In 2001, Taylor, Director of the Asian Law Centre, invited Matsui to teach at the U of W as a visiting scholar.
“In the U.S.,” says Taylor, “there’s a tendency to view every social problem through a constitutional lens, that it’s a rights issue.
“But in Japan, there’s a different history of handling social issues or political friction, and Shigenori is a fresh and distinctive Japanese voice on how problems can be resolved across different constitutional frameworks,” says Taylor.
Matsui says his passion for law spills over into his leisure pursuits. “I really enjoy reading and writing, so that’s what I mostly do. But I also love jazz, so I’m looking forward to going to some festivals and concerts that Vancouver has during the summer.”