The newly formed Canadian Association of Environmental Law Societies (CAELS) hosted its inaugural Canadian Environmental Law Conference on February 22-23, 2013. The conference, themed “Think Big & Small,” was held in Ottawa and drew in approximately 120 participants, though I was the only delegate from Osgoode in attendance.
Lindsay Chan, Mark James, and Jessica McClay, the co-organizers, were all law students from the University of Ottawa. Their goal for the conference was to facilitate discussion between lawyers, academics, and practitioners on environmental issues. Delegates from across Canada hailing from law schools in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and, of course, Ontario, gathered to hear panels consisting of some of the leaders in environmental law. Importantly, delegates from non-legal disciplines were also present and their contributions were welcomed into this idea-sharing forum.
Keynote speaker David Estrin, who is sometimes referred to as the “grandfather of environmental law in Canada,” provided insight on how meaningful changes could be made to the Environmental Bill of Rights. Notably, these reforms included less discretionary governmental action, meaningful environmental assessments, increasing the autonomy of scientists, and establishment of an Environmental Supreme Court.
The second day of the conference opened with an Aboriginal Welcome Ceremony performed by Josée Whiteduck, which set the tone for the respectful and thought-provoking panel discussions to follow.
Discussion on Arctic perspectives covered broad issues of sovereignty and drilling of exploratory wells in this region. Following this, the “Liquid Assets” panel dealt with environmental and legal issues in Canadian waters with a focus on fisheries issues and the current effects on killer whale habitat. Environmental assessment panellists then dealt with mining issues and angles for future litigation post-Bill C-38. Various “lunch and learn” workshops were then held with speakers lecturing on a range of topics, such as the role of science in decision making, environmental litigation, carbon tax policy, and campus sustainability. The final panels focused on climate change law (federal, provincial and local perspectives) and the advantages/disadvantages of corporate social responsibility.
Next year, organizers are planning to expand the conference and encourage more delegates from across Canada to attend. Not only did this event provide an initial meeting place for environmental law students, but it also led to new (and hopefully enduring) friendships being cemented over a few beers at a local pub following the close of the conference.