For the National Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, held in Vancouver in February 2011.

Visit website

Ecojustice Hosts Environmental Law Conference

Canada is world-renowned for its stunning natural landscapes. However, our ecological blunders have caused ongoing environmental impacts. If we want to preserve the health and beauty of this country, we, as a society, must make changes to the way we operate. The Law Foundation of BC found substantial evidence of this when they conducted an environmental assessment in 2008. Their findings indicated that there were major environmental needs that were not being addressed and that had a significant impact on the public. Due to these findings, the Law Foundation realized the need for a conference that addressed the issues and would contribute to solving them. At this point, they asked Ecojustice to take the reins and initiate plans for “Renewing Environmental Law: A conference for public interest environmental law practitioners.”

Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) is Canada’s largest and most prominent non-profit environmental law organization. Using its own research as well as the legal system to influence law reform, Ecojustice has held governments and organizations accountable for making responsible land use decisions since 1990. With this mandate, they have managed to set landmark precedents for clean water, natural space, healthy communities, and global warming solutions.

Partnering with West Coast Environmental Law and the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria, Ecojustice created a conference where all delegates had the opportunity to engage with the presenters and be part of the discussion. They envisioned that the conference would establish best practices for environmental law in Canada in a whole new way. 

The conference was held in Vancouver on February 3rd and 4th, 2011 and covered topics such as environmental rights; aboriginal rights and environmental protections; climate change and the need for law reform; access to justice; environmental tribunals; a judge’s panel; and many others. The conference attracted 125 professionals from across Canada and was a great success. It generated collaboration between organizations, practitioners, and other sectors, allowing for a greater body of knowledge and providing a snapshot of what environmental law looks like in Canada today.

“Feedback from participants overwhelming[ly] rated the conference as excellent and [indicated that] they would like it repeated,” says Devon Page, Executive Director of Ecojustice (pictured right). “The highlight of the conference was a Judge’s Panel and opportunities to create an ongoing dialogue with the bench are being pursued,” says Page. “In addition, strategic analysis of conference presentations and topics has identified new opportunities for collaboration, and a renewed commitment to leadership from conference organizers.”

In highlighting the need for leadership action—like this conference—to support change, Page notes that “…over 140 countries have amended their constitutions to require environmental protection; Canada’s Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is silent about the environment. This is just one example of how we lag behind other countries in both common and statutory environmental law.”

In 2010, we awarded Ecojustice a $15,000 grant in support of the conference, reflecting the Real Estate Foundation’s commitment to education and law reform regarding sustainable land use.

- Alicia Olive