Last week, one of the most influential environmental advocates Canada has known passed away in Vancouver. Doug Chapman, Fraser Riverkeeper, will be sorely missed by his family and friends.
Those who knew Doug are touched by his death. Those who love Canada's wilderness, clean water, fish, fish habitat and natural spaces have been touched by his legacy.
My relationship to Doug lasted a lifetime. As a boy in Kitchener Waterloo in the 1960's, I first knew Doug Chapman as young lawyer and close friend of my father. His energy and passion was impossible to forget. In the 1970s, he left his criminal law practice to take up sailing and then commercial salmon fishing off the coast of British Columbia. I vividly recall my first visit to British Columbia in 1978. My mother brought me and my sister and brother to the docks to visit Doug on his fishing boat. Seeing him with his colourful salmon lures, long lines and heavy tackle made me want to be a fisherman too. Doug however soon returned to Ontario to practice law, becoming an environmental prosecutor in 1985. Soon after I graduated from law school, I joined Doug in private practice. In 2001, I became the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. Doug adopted his beloved Fraser River in 2006, becoming BC's first Riverkeeper.
Doug loved the water. When he was not on the water he was working for the water. Doug also loved advocating for the underdog. These passions made him the most effective environmental lawyer in Canada.
He took on many lost causes, fought tough battles - and he won. Doug was the first prosecutor to put a polluter in jail in Canada. He made would-be polluters think twice, and for that every Canadian owes him a huge debt of gratitude.
Doug spent decades enforcing environmental laws in Canada, ensuring that our country has some of the best fish and fish habitat protections on earth. It never made him rich. It never made him famous. His work was an enormous gift to you and to me and everyone who ever pulled a fish from a river or lake in this country.
It was tough reading headlines over the last few weeks about proposals to dismantle Canada's environmental laws. Doug lived and breathed the Fisheries Act for so many years and, through his work, he taught an entire generation of lawyers and Waterkeepers about its power. It will be tougher, still, meeting the challenges of the coming decades without him at our side.
So many of the people who wake up every morning committed to Canada's water were empowered by Doug and his work. For that, I will remember him most. And the fishing lure hanging over my door will always make me think of my friend and mentor Doug and the legacy he left behind.
If you wish to remember Doug with his friends in Toronto, a special get-together will take place:
Tuesday, April 17
Castro's from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Google Map here.