Jamie Simpson’s speech for the David Suzuki Foundation Blue Dot / Environmental Rights Tour, St. John’s NL and Halifax NS – September 24 and 27

Last Saturday morning, I was staring at my computer screen, wondering what I would say this evening, feeling just a little nervous about stepping onto this stage.

The words were not coming easily, so, my strategy, was to shut down the computer, and ask my friend if she was up for a walk. We ambled towards the water, through coastal heath barrens. We moved slowly, filling a couple of baskets with huckleberries.   I don’t know how many of you pick huckleberries, but if you haven’t, I’d recommend them. They are these perfect,little bursts of sweetness.

Berry picking, as it happens, is not so bad for speech writing. My mind wandered, along with my feet. I started thinking about the generations of people who had picked huckleberries in this same spot. And the cranberries too, that grow a little closer to the shore. I thought about kids gathering pail-fulls, fishermen’s kids, Mi’kmaq kids.   I stole a quick glance at my friend’s basket, to see if I was keeping up with her harvesting pace.

That led me to think about people around the world, who end up with toxic contaminants in their bodies, in their breast milk, after eating food from the land. I thought about people up north, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, whose traditional foods are now laced with toxics, brought in by air and water currents and accumulated in the flesh of the food they eat.Food from the land, food that should be the healthiest food in the world.

I thought about people, in various parts of Canada, who are sick because of exposure to toxic chemicals in their surrounding water, air, soil and, even their food.

I thought, how can it be, that we do not have a right to live in an environment that does not compromise our health?

I recently went back to school.

I don’t know; a life crisis perhaps. It was law school or a motorcycle. I think I’d recommend the motorcycle. But I can say that as I made my way through law school, I came to see the law though new eyes. Eyes slightly blurred from days on end of reading.

I can say that I came to realize three things in particular.

First, we are embedded in this thing called “law”. It’s not just about crime and prisons – rather, it touches every part of our lives. Shaping how we live our lives, how we interact with each other, how we interact with our government. When you dig into it, there’s hardly an aspect of our lives, of our society, that isn’t influenced by law.

Second, I learned about human rights.

The legal recognition of human rights is fairly new in our Canadian history. Not so long ago, for example, there was no legal right against discrimination.

When my grandmother was 18, in 1940, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Montreal Forum was within its rights to refuse to serve a man by the name of Mr. Fred Christie. Mr. Christie had ordered a beer for himself and two friends, after watching the Canadiens play a game.   The Supreme Court of Canada said that the colour of Mr. Christie’s skin, was reason enough for any business in Canada to deny him service. It’s a decision that seems unfathomable, today.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Canada andthe provinces had all implemented Bills of Human Rights. It wasn’t until 1982 that we had our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Don’t get me wrong – we are far from perfect on human rights in Canada. Look to those living in abject poverty. Look to those with little access to justice, with little opportunity to assert their rights. Yet, despite the challenges, we have come a heck of a long way since Mr. Christie’s case.

Nonetheless,our human rights journey is far from complete. So long as our legal system does not recognize that a child has a right to live in an environment that does not make her sick, our work on human rights remains embarrassingly deficient.As I’m sure you know, there are Canadian children, and adults, whose health is compromised by environmental contaminants.

That brings me to the third thing I realized while studying law. Law is not cast in stone. Law is malleable. Law evolves. It evolves due to pressure –pressure from groups of people with a cause, pressure from individuals passionate about an issue.Pressure from us.

At this moment, we do not have environmental rights in Canada, or in Nova Scotia, or, in Halifax. But, a few decades ago, we did not have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There will be a day when we, and our children, will say, “can you believe it, in 2014, Canada did not have Environmental Rights,” and shake their heads in wonder.

How can we not have a right to breathe clean air?

How can we not have a right to drink clean water?

How can we not have a right to live in an environment that will not compromise our health, our children’s health?

Changing law is not easy – it takes a lot of work – a lot of pressure – but changing law is possible. Public pressure works. The human rights we do have now in Canada are proof that sustained community pressure works.

The East Coast Environmental Law Association is working with people in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to move environmental rights forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, get in touch and let me know.


Now, I’m honoured to introduce to you, the person we’ve come here to see. Dr. Suzuki has known, first hand, one of the failures of our human rights record in Canada – the law that forced Canadian families, of Japanese descent, into internment camps during the second world war, leaving behind and forfeiting most of their possessions, their businesses, their properties. You can read about these experiences in Dr. Suzuki’s 2006 Autobiography.

In 1974, Dr. Suzuki developed the CBC’s Quirks and Quarks program, and hosted it for its first 4 years. In 1979, he became host of the award-winning The Nature of Things with David Suzuki.

Please join me in welcoming, Dr. David Suzuki.

ECELAW's executive director Jamie Simpson was honoured to speak at the David Suzuki Foundation's events in St. John's NL and Halifax NS.  Jamie was asked to deliver a speech on environmental rights and to introduce Dr. Suzuki. You can read Jamie's speech here.  Both events drew some 1,000 people to hear Dr. Suzuki make his compelling case for Canadians' right to a healthy environment.

The DSF is crossing the country with the message that it is past time for Canada to recognize Canadians' right to clean water, air, and land.  Visit www.bluedot.ca to learn more, and to add your voice.


Student Papers

ECELAW pleased to work with three outstanding students who participating in the 2014 Environmental Law Placement course -- check out their research on environmental rights, endangered species, and cosmetic pesticide by-laws.

  1. Will Horne Pesticide bylaw paper v 1 3
  2. Moose Paper, Steven Evans, June 24 2014
  3. Environmental Rights and Aboriginal Rights Placement Paper, April 2014

Do you have questions about the recently released draft report from the Independent Aquaculture Regulatory Review for Nova Scotia Panel? ECELAW has prepared three background reports that may help you. ECELAW staff members are available to answer questions about the reports and assist groups with their review of the Panel Report.

On April 23, 2013 ECELAW released Aquaculture Regulation in Nova Scotia: Overview of the Regulatory Framework and Considerations for Regulatory Reform. This Report provides an outline of the aquaculture industry in Nova Scotia and an overview of the current federal and provincial regulatory framework. The Report identifies seven specific areas of consideration in the context of strengthening provincial regulation to make the industry more environmentally sustainable. This Report does not provide an in-depth analysis of aquaculture regulation in Nova Scotia; rather it provides an overview to serve as a foundation for that analysis, discussion and future regulatory reform.

On May 1, 2013 the former Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture announced a review of the regulatory framework for aquaculture in Nova Scotia. The Minister appointed a two-person independent panel to carry out an extensive public consultation process and information gathering exercise leading to a proposal for an innovative aquaculture regulatory framework.

On April 25, 2014 ECELAW completed a Comparative Analysis of Five Aquaculture Regulatory Frameworks in Canada.   This Report was commissioned by the Panel to gain insight into the regulatory approaches to aquaculture in four Canadian jurisdictions: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia. The Report compares key elements of those regulatory frameworks to the current approach in Nova Scotia. Ultimately the Report strives to identify regulatory provisions and approaches from each of the jurisdictions that may serve the Panel as they seek to develop a world-class regulatory framework for aquaculture in Nova Scotia.

On June 10, 2014 ECELAW completed a Comparative Analysis of Aquaculture Regulatory Frameworks in Maine and Nova Scotia. This Report was also commissioned by the Panel to gain insight into the regulatory approaches to aquaculture in the state of Maine and to compare key elements of the Maine regulatory framework to the current approach in Nova Scotia.

On July 4, 2014 the Doelle-Lahey Panel (Independent Aquaculture Regulatory Review for Nova Scotia) released their draft Report for public comments. Comments will be received until July 24, 2014 and community engagement sessions will be held in the following locations:

  • July 21: Yarmouth, Rodd Grand Hotel, 417 Main Street, Yarmouth
  • July 22: Tatamagouche, Tatamagouche Fire Hall, 202 Main Street, Tatamagouche
  • July 23: Baddeck, Baddeck Fire Hall, 560 Chebucto Street, Baddeck
  • July 24: Halifax, The Lord Nelson, 1515 South Park Street, Halifax

ECELAW staff members are available to assist groups seeking to comment on the draft Panel Report.
Please contact us at: [email protected]


2009 Workshops

In July 2009, ECELAW held its third annual summer workshop.  Entitled “Neighbourhood Watch: Bringing a private prosecution in Nova Scotia”, Doug Chapman, the Fraser Riverkeeper, gave an in-depth introduction to private prosecutions at workshops in Annapolis Royal, Halifax and Charlottetown. 

Lisa Mitchell, MES, LL.B has been part of East Coast Environmental Law since its inception.  

Lisa served on ECELAW's originating Board from 2007 to 2009, and she has been providing legal support to the organization since 2011. Lisa obtained her law degree from Dalhousie and followed that with a graduate degree in Environmental Studies. Her early law career was with the federal government, where she contributed to the drafting of pesticide legislation. After a brief period in Ottawa, Lisa returned to Atlantic Canada to begin an environmental law practice focused on legislative drafting and interpretation, and agricultural law. Over the years, that practice grew to include a broad range of environmental law practice areas and clients. Lisa has provided advice and training on environmental legislation and policy in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario. Her recent work with ECELAW has included valuable collaborations with national, regional and local groups on the creation of legally-based environmental rights.