The first semester of the first national Clean Water Workshop is drawing to a close, signaling the conclusion of a groundbreaking eight-month pilot project. Twenty-seven law students from seven law schools are helping Canadian Waterkeepers win back environmental rights for six watersheds: Bay of Fundy, Detroit River, Grand River Labrador, Lake Ontario, Ottawa River, and the Petitcodiac River.
The national Clean Water Workshop is an expansion of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's four-year old program. The Workshop pairs law students with Waterkeeper programs, providing mentoring and training. Law students assigned by Pro Bono Students Canada donate their time and research skills to help address environmental justice concerns.
The Workshop is a bit different from traditional law clinics, which supply legal expertise to clients. Instead, the Clean Water Workshop is designed to research forgotten areas of environmental law, teach innovative problem-solving techniques, and create citizen-friendly access to Canada's justice system.
In our first three workshops, Waterkeepers talked about the different kinds of environmental rights that Canadians enjoy. These are the process-oriented rules that determine how to make decisions fairly and wisely, such as environmental assessments and the Environmental Registry in Ontario. These are also the substance-oriented rules that determine what contaminants can be released into our environment and under what limits, such as industrial emissions limits and strict prohibitions against pollution like the Fisheries Act.
We talked about the problem-solving process that you must go through to figure out what your issue is, what your goal is, and what tools you have at your disposal. This process is the same for every environmental justice issue; it clarifies the tools you have to hold polluters accountable for past acts, to stop ongoing pollution, and to ensure proposed projects are designed as wisely as possible.
We also discussed some of the factors that every nonprofit organization considers when deciding what issues to become involved in and which legal tools to choose. For example,
Are we connected to the people who are directly affected?
If we don't help, what are the chances of success?
What human and financial resources do we need to see an issue through to the end, and where can we find them?
Is this so outrageous that we have to act, even without resources?
How can we stay true to our public-interest, charitable mission?
While we talked about these issues, students also launched independent research projects. Windsor Law School students are creating profiles of municipal and industrial discharges into the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, and the St. Clair River. They are also helping Grand Riverkeeper Labrador prepare a profile and identify options for dealing with the daily release of Happy Valley-Goose Bay's untreated sewage. University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall, and Ottawa U students are helping prepare a detailed profile of the nuclear industry on Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River. Queen's University students are working on cement kiln and alternative fuels project permits. And University of New Brunswick students are researching ways to protect the Bay of Fundy from impacts associated with the oil industry.
It's a powerful combination of important issues, dedicated students, and nonprofit organizations. As the pilot project unfolds, we are identifying better and better ways to make the Clean Water Workshop a new instrument for environmental justice across Canada. The goal? Clean water. And a new generation of environmental activists.
More information Law students to research polluted river
Special thanks to Pro Bono Students Canada and the Law Foundation of Ontario for their assistance.