Since 1990, Ecojustice has been going to court to tackle Canada’s toughest environmental challenges. I feel privileged to have been with the organization for almost half of those 25 years, first as a lawyer working to protect endangered species and now as executive director.
Ecojustice got its start in response to environmental and public demand. The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster was fresh in the minds of the public. South of the border, environmentalists were successfully using the power of the courts to protect the environment. But, not so in Canada. Canada needed an independent organization that could litigate on behalf of the planet and the people on the frontline of the environmental movement. Ecojustice’s founders worked tirelessly to make that a reality, introducing Sierra Legal Defence Fund.
One of Ecojustice’s first cases would illustrate the crucial role we have come to play. Representing the “Friends of the Oldman River,” a grassroots group in Alberta fighting to protect this historic waterway, we fought a proposed mega-dam. In a case that eventually went to the Supreme Court of Canada, we helped force the federal government to live up to its responsibilities to properly assess the harm that large industrial projects cause our environment. And we brought environmental awareness to Canada’s highest court. In a ground-breaking decision that opened with an acknowledgment that “the protection of the environment has become one of the major challenges of our time,” the case established the precedent requiring environmental assessment for most major development projects across Canada.
25 years later, we continue to represent people and communities who would not otherwise have a voice in environmental decision-making. We launch innovative cases that lead to powerful precedents and we increase environmental literacy among the judges, regulators and law makers. Together with our clients and you, our supporters, we have saved plants, animals and ecosystems from extinction, held polluters to account and helped communities protect their air, land and water.
We’d like to work ourselves out of a job. But, despite all that we have achieved, Ecojustice is needed as much today, if not more, than we were 25 years ago. Too often, it falls to our lawyers to make sure that environmental laws are enforced. And we go further, leveraging our expertise to push for stronger laws, including the recognition of the right to a healthy environment in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s a tall order. But when we look back on what we have achieved with the support of people like you, we know we are ready for the challenges that lay ahead.