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Dear Readers,

Autumn is here, and as the air turns cooler and the leaves take on their shades of red and gold, ECELAW’s staff and recent summer students are reflecting on all that we have accomplished in the months since our last newsletter. 

Understanding Reconciliation in Local Watersheds

From October 12th–14th, KAIROS Canada held a three-day conference in Halifax. The theme of the conference was “Reconciliation in Our Watershed,” and the event included film screenings, panel discussions, guided walks, workshops, and lots of opportunities for rich and lively conversations about intersections between reconciliation and environmental justice.
Having been invited by KAIROS to take part in the event, ECELAW was pleased to share in conversations that are so pressing to communities throughout Nova Scotia today.
On Thursday evening, ECELAW Executive Director Lisa Mitchell took part in the panel discussion that followed a screening of In Whose Backyard? at the Halifax North Memorial Library. Environmental racism in Nova Scotia was the topic of the evening, and Lisa took the opportunity to explain how the Nova Scotia Environmental Rights Working Group’s draft Environmental Bill of Rights could create useful legal tools for historically marginalized and vulnerable communities that are threatened disproportionately by environmental harms.
On Saturday morning, ECELAW staff member and Schulich School of Law student Tina Northrup led a guided walk that took participants from the Law Courts on Upper Water St. up past the Provincial Court on Spring Garden Rd. At stops along the way, Tina discussed the roles that courts can play in Indigenous attempts to protect local watersheds, and she revisited the same theme in a conversational workshop later that afternoon.
We are excited to have made some new connections through these events, and we look forward to building on our conversations in the months to come.

Playing a New Role in the Harrietsfield Prosecution

In late July, Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution service took over the Harrietsfield prosecution.
As many of you know, the Harrietsfield prosecution began as a private prosecution by Marlene Brown, a Harrietsfield resident who has worked tirelessly to champion her and her neighbours’ rights to access clean water. Marlene’s private prosecution of an environmental offence was the first of its kind in Nova Scotia, and Marlene made history by bringing her case. Needless to say, ECELAW is proud to have been there to support her and help her to navigate the legal system—which is no small task when you’re doing something that’s never been done before!
By taking over the prosecution, the Crown has lifted a heavy burden from Marlene’s shoulders. Legal proceedings are demanding at even the best of times. They often require significant time commitments and financial resources, and they can tax the parties’ mental and emotional wellbeing too.
“It has taken a long time, but I am relieved that the government is finally stepping in to enforce the Environment Act,” said Marlene when the news was announced. “This is what we have been asking them to do for years.”
As the Harrietsfield prosecution moves forward, Marlene and ECELAW will be watching closely. Harrietsfield residents have been living with contaminated drinking water for more than a decade, and we hope that these proceedings will help to make things right. We would also like to thank local lawyer Jamie Simpson, who joined with ECELAW to represent Marlene throughout the proceedings.

Collaborating to Protect the Diversity of our Ocean

This summer, ECELAW’s articled clerk, Mike Kofahl, attended the Oceans 20 conference in Ottawa to learn about marine protected areas (MPAs) and proposed changes to Canada’s Ocean Act that would make it easier to establish MPAs. Since then, ECELAW has been busy building connections with old and new partners and positioning itself as an East Coast leader in coastal and marine environmental protection.
ECELAW has been working closely with the Ecology Action Centre and the West Coast Environmental Law Association to advocate for minimum protection standards in future MPAs. Since the purpose of MPAs is to protect sensitive and biodiverse ocean habitats, we believe that, at a minimum, destructive practices such as oil and gas development and bottom-trawling should be prohibited within MPAs.
We also believe that MPAs should be community-led local initiatives and that Indigenous communities must play a vital role if MPAs are to be successful in Nova Scotia and around Canada. That is why we have been busy reaching out to community organizations and groups to learn more about how others have achieved community-led MPAs, and it is why we played a front-and-centre role in advocating for minimum standards in MPAs when the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Standing Committee came to the East Coast recently. 

Updating ECELAW’s Online Information Library
Between September 2015 and April 2017, Pro Bono students from the Schulich School of Law worked to compile research on environmental case law in Atlantic Canada, and their hard work laid the foundation for important updates to ECELAW’s online Information Library. This summer, funding from the Schulich Academic Excellence Fund for Internships made it possible for one of those students to complete the first of those major updates.
ECELAW’s Information Library is open-access and intended for public use, and it is the only resource of its kind that the public can access free of charge. The library collects case law and environmental legislation from throughout Atlantic Canada, and it outlines hundreds of court decisions in short case summaries that have been written with lay readers in mind.
“The ECELAW case database is an extremely valuable resource for law students, lawyers, and the general public, no matter where they live,” says Sara Seck, an environmental law professor at the Schulich School of Law. “It provides an easy-to-review compilation of key cases from East Coast provinces, which tend not to receive a lot of attention in other parts of Canada.”
As the 2017-2018 academic year gets underway, a fresh influx of Pro Bono students will be working to update the legislation and secondary sources sections of the library, and volunteers will lay foundations for a whole new section on Aboriginal / Indigenous law in environmental contexts. In the meantime, users can now explore more examples of Atlantic Canadian environmental law cases than ever before.

Building Capacity to Support Local Communities
Funding from the Schulich Academic Excellence Fund for Internships and the Canada Summer Jobs Program created two other summer student positions that that benefitted ECELAW enormously this summer.
Summer student research into sewage disposal practices throughout Nova Scotia made it clear that the provincial government is failing to enforce environmental laws and regulations that would prevent raw sewage from being discharged directly into nearby bodies of water. Additional research on the proposed Water Act that the provincial government of Prince Edward Island has published helped us to evaluate the Act’s strengths and weaknesses.
Not only did our summer students carry out important research, but they also worked to draft presentation materials that will later be used in workshops and community legal clinics throughout the Atlantic region. Their efforts produced valuable materials for ECELAW to use in the months to come as we work to support local communities, and they inspired us with their commitment and energy.
Copyright © 2017 East Coast Environmental Law, All rights reserved.

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