West Coast Environmental Law
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|Purpose||advocate and public voice, educator and network|
|Headquarters||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.|
|British Columbia, Canada|
|Website||West Coast Environmental Law|
West Coast Environmental Law is an environmental law and public advocacy organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It believes in a just and sustainable society where citizens are empowered to protect the environment and environmental protection is enshrined in law. It fulfills its mission in a variety of ways. First, it works to shape existing and future environmental policies in British Columbia and in Canada. Work in this area spans a variety of topics including green communities, climate change, energy, forests and land use, aboriginal law and environmental assessment. Second, it provides free legal advice regarding environmental issues, and it provides grants, through its Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, to individuals or groups who need to hire legal representation to resolve an environmental conflict. Third, it tracks and analyzes developments in British Columbian and Canadian environmental policy, and distributes this information to the public, through its Environmental Law Alert Blog, monthly Legal E-Brief newsletter, and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.
West Coast Environmental Law was founded in 1974 and is the oldest environmental law organization in British Columbia, Canada. It was established to promote the cause of environmental law reform and to empower citizens so that they could work together to bring about progressive change. For much of its history, it has been engaged directly in law reform, legal education and test case litigation. In the late 1980s it was determined that a stand-alone environmental law organization, which would devote itself primarily to test case litigation, was required. As a result, West Coast Environmental Law played an active role in the establishment of Sierra Legal Defence Fund, now known as Ecojustice Canada, to take the lead in using test litigation to defend and protect the environment. West Coast Environmental Law in turn narrowed its focus to drafting and advancing legislative reform initiatives and providing public legal education. From 1990 to present West Coast Environmental Law and Ecojustice Canada have avoided duplication by cooperating and coordinating on areas of potential overlap, and having distinct market niches.
West Coast Environmental Law has a lengthy and successful history of influence on environmental legislative reform in British Columbia and in Canada. It has helped establish and shape many significant environmental legislative initiatives. Some of its notable achievements include:
- Playing a role in the development of several key environmental laws, including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
- Representing the Peace Valley Environmental Association at hearings on the controversial Site C dam.
- Working, as part of a delegation, to help negotiate the Kyoto Protocol.
- Negotiated the amendments that resulted in the protection the Great Bear Rainforest.
- Helping to draft the "good wood" certification standard for British Columbia, which independently verifies that wood products come from forests that are managed in an ecologically and socially responsible way.
Areas of work
West Coast Environmental Law works to ensure that progressive, stringent environmental laws are created and enforced. It currently specializes in areas dealing with Green Communities, Climate Change, Energy, Forests and Land Use, Aboriginal Law and Environmental Assessment.
- Green communities
- Work in this area is focused on reducing urban impacts, strengthening local government environmental by-laws, policies and practices, and advancing community livability and sustainability through strategic use of the law and law reform.
- Climate change
- Work in this area is focused on creating a legislative framework that will allow British Columbia and Canada to do its part to protect and sustain the Earth's atmosphere.
- Work in this area is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by working on projects that shift us away from on our reliance on fossil fuels and towards sustainable renewable energy sources.
- Forests and land use
- Work in this area is focused on transforming the way rights and responsibilities about land use are understood in British Columbia –creating new legal mechanisms for resource tenures (licenses) and land use decision-making that are more democratic, sustainable and just.
- Aboriginal law
- Work in this area is focused on providing legal and strategic advice to First Nations and First Nations political organizations including crafting law reform solutions that address Aboriginal Title and Rights and foster ecological and cultural sustainability.
- Environmental assessment
- Work in this area focuses on law and policy reform discussions at both the federal and provincial levels, and work on a number of fronts to advance its law reform objectives.
Environmental legal aid
West Coast Environmental Law provides legal information or advice to members of the public who are facing an environmental problem. In some cases, it will provide brief legal opinions or letters where doing so has the potential to achieve an important environmental result. Some examples of successes as a result of this service include; an environmental assessment on a major resort was put on hold to allow better information to be collected; a public advisory committee was put in place to examine concerns about a highway project; a medical health officer recommended changes to Vancouver's bylaws dealing with wood smoke; and a municipal proposal to build a road through a park was dropped.
Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund
West Coast Environmental Law provides grants, through its Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, to individuals or groups who need to hire legal representation to resolve an environmental problem. The Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund is the only source of environmental legal aid in British Columbia and is used to hire lawyers, at a legal aid rate. The grants have allowed recipients to obtain legal advice on a wide range of issues; pursue alternative dispute resolutions; appear before government tribunals; participate in environmental assessments and challenge government decisions in court. Since 1989, when the Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund was established, it has provided over $4 million in grants, which have helped support and resolve more than 500 legal cases in British Columbia. In one such case marine biologist and fish farm activist, Alexandra Morton, used funding from West Coast Environmental Law, to successful challenge the constitutionality of allowing fish farms in British Columbia. In another such case, a group of citizens known as Coal Watch, used funding from West Coast Environmental Law, to oppose a proposed coal mine located in Baynes Sound in Vancouver Island.
Environmental Law Alert Blog, Legal E-Brief Newsletter, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
West Coast Environmental Law tracks and analyzes developments in British Columbian and Canadian environmental policy, and distributes this information to the public, through its Environmental Law Alert Blog, monthly Legal E-Brief newsletter, and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. Specifically, it comments on proposed changes to the law that will weaken, or strengthen, environmental protection; stories and situations where existing environmental laws are failing to protect the environment; and emerging legal strategies that could be used to protect the environment. By doing so it helps ensure that citizens hear both sides on controversial issues and policies.
In the news
West Coast Environmental Law is recognized as being the trusted authority on environmental policy, legislation and regulation in British Columbia. Staff lawyers are regularly quoted by the media commenting on environmental issues in the news. Recently, staff lawyer Andrew Gage was quoted in the Victoria Times Colonist, commenting on the state of enforcement of environmental laws in British Columbia "The result is less protection for B.C.'s environment, we're talking about toxins going into the environment, we're talking about people's health, which is at stake if they can't enforce these laws.". Staff lawyer Josh Paterson, was also recently quoted in the Globe and Mail, commenting on the need for a legislative ban on oil tankers sailing off of the coast of British Columbia "We have a world-class coast that needs strong, legal protection from the threat of oil spills – whether from Enbridge or any other project. We're going to keep working toward a legislated ban.".
- "West Coast Environmental Law". West Coast Environmental Law.
- Comox Valley Echo - Environmental Law Fund celebrates 20 years
- "West Coast Environmental Law - Our Unique Role".
- "West Coast Environmental Law - Our History".
- "West Coast Environmental Law - Annual Report 2009-10" (PDF).
- "On the Ground" (PDF).
- Comox Valley Echo - Environmental Law Fund celebrates 20 years
- "Comox Valley Echo - Award salutes 'CoalWatch' group".
- Victoria Times Colonist - Pollution convictions dropping, watchdog says
- "The Globe and Mail - Opposition MPs pass motion on oil-tanker ban off B.C. coast".