Summer Student Series 2020: Laura Graham

August 11, 2020

Summer 2020 has certainly been an odd summer. One thing that COVID-19 has not changed, however, is the increasing risk to coastal areas of Nova Scotia as a result of sea level rise and storm surge from climate change. Despite the pandemic, I was lucky enough to be one of East Coast Environmental Law’s summer student interns this year—safely, from a distance—and focused my work broadly on coastal issues.

The Nova Scotia government recently passed the Coastal Protection Act (not yet in force), with the goal of protecting the province’s beautiful coastal areas and natural ecosystems. The legislation aims to set clear rules to ensure new developments are safe from sea level rise and coastal flooding. The associated regulations, however, are still under development at this time, and so questions about the specifics of the Coastal Protection Act remain. New legislation aside, coastal issues continue to come up and need to be dealt with from a public interest perspective.

The Ecology Action Centre ("EAC") is another local organization that receives lots of questions about rights and rules around coastal access and development. This summer, I was able to directly support the EAC through my work with East Coast Environmental Law. For instance, I conducted background policy research for the EAC on instances of and perspectives towards “managed retreat” in Canada. Managed retreat—or property buyback—is a tactic used to help convince people to relocate away from properties that are highly susceptible to damage from flooding as a result of climate change. 

In addition, I was able to help develop public legal education resources that will assist the public in understanding the legal aspects of coastal issues in Nova Scotia. For example, the existing legislation and rules around what is and is not allowed on the coasts are overlapping and complex. Some pieces of legislation that come into play, depending on the activity and the environment, include the Beaches Act, the Crown Lands Act, the Environment Act, and the Endangered Species Act. This, however, is only at the provincial level. There are also municipal bylaws to contend with, along with the federal laws like the Species at Risk Act and Canadian Navigable Waters Act, among others. Ask me what piece of legislation matters the most right now in terms of coastal issues in Nova Scotia and you can probably guess what I’ll say—it depends. The Coastal Protection Actmay very well change this in the coming years, and I look forward to seeing the regulations come into effect to better protect people and places on Nova Scotia’s coasts.

Beyond my work with the EAC, another highlight of my summer was being included in working on an inquiry received by East Coast Environmental Law. Through this, I conducted case law research to draft a detailed memo that addressed a wide array of issues. I was included in a variety of conversations with clients and stakeholders and had the thrill of feeling the pressure of some “real-world” deadlines. I of course cannot divulge the details of the inquiry. What I can say, though, is that I was incredibly proud and honoured to be trusted with such an exciting project at this stage of my legal career. I learned a ton and will look back on this experience fondly.

Because of COVID-19, I was unable to meet with any members of the East Coast Environmental Law team in person. However, the team adapted well to working productively, apart. It was a privilege to be able to work on meaningful environmental issues this summer, and I look forward to seeing how I can maintain a connection with East Coast Environmental Law in the years to come. 

Laura Graham

Laura's work with us was funded by the Schulich Academic Excellence Fund for Internships: a summer internship program administered by the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.