Summer Student Series 2023: Cat MacKinnon

September 12, 2023

This summer I had the opportunity to join East Coast Environmental Law as a Legal Research Assistant. My interest in environmental law stems from a dedication to protecting the environment, which grew from my academic experience at the University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Law. Courses such as “Environmental Law” and “Global Climate Change and Governance” provided me with an understanding of analytical law and policy frameworks for evaluating environmental issues, which helped me in my research at East Coast Environmental Law. As a Legal Research Assistant, I have had an impactful learning experience being part of a team that advocates for environmental and climate justice.  

Under the supervision of Lisa Mitchell, Executive Director and Senior Lawyer at East Coast Environmental Law, I conducted legal research and analysis on environmental law issues, including a jurisdictional review of national biodiversity legislation and biodiversity policy in Canada. The purpose of this research project was to provide information on biodiversity legislation in jurisdictions compatible with Nova Scotia and identify policy directions for biodiversity protection. Although there is a growing number of national biodiversity laws around the world, Canada does not have any national, provincial, or territorial biodiversity legislation outside of Nova Scotia’s 2021 Biodiversity Act. There are, however, biodiversity strategies in New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. 

During my placement, I also conducted legal research on Canada’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. In alignment with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework ("KMGBF") that was adopted at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the Government of Canada is leading the development of a national Biodiversity Strategy. The government has stated that the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy will reflect Canada’s priorities for halting and reversing biodiversity loss and will include implementing sustainable resource management, conserving habitats, and creating Indigenous-led conservation initiatives. The government is currently consulting Canadians to inform the development of the strategy. East Coast Environmental Law has participated by providing input via an online survey, collaborating on a submission by national and regional environmental and nature groups, and participating in virtual engagement sessions hosted by Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

I also had the opportunity to attend a hearing in Chambers at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. (East Coast Environmental Law was not directly involved in the hearing; it was argued by colleagues in the local environmental law community.) The matter related to an Emergency Order that was issued by the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, John Lohr, in June 2023. Minister Lohr issued the Emergency Order to maintain water levels in Lake Pisiquid (a human-made lake located in Windsor, Nova Scotia) for potential firefighting purposes. The flow of the Avon River into the Minas Basin was blocked when the highway 101 causeway was constructed in the 1970’s, leading to the creation of Lake Pisiquid. Since the construction of the highway, the flow of the river is controlled through causeway gates. The result of the Emergency Order was to effectively close the gates at the Avon River causeway which hinders the movement of fish between the Avon River and the Minas Basin. 

Species of fish in the Avon River rely on passage through the causeway gates to complete their lifecycles and make it out to the sea or up the river. Operating the gates in a way that maximizes opportunity for fish passage allows fish to pass through and continue their natural migration patterns. Operating the gates in this way reduces the level of water in Lake Pisiquid. Study of the area ecosystem has demonstrated that the survival of many fish species is dependent on managing the causeway gates at the Avon River in a way that ensures the unrestricted and timely passage of fish.

Shortly after Minister Lohr issued the Emergency Order in June, Mr. Darren Porter, a local commercial fisher, initiated a judicial review proceeding on the grounds that the State of Emergency had no valid basis. In addition, Mr. Porter filed a motion to stay the Emergency Order until a decision is reached through the judicial review process, which is expected to take place in the late fall or early winter.  Unfortunately for Mr. Porter, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia dismissed the motion to stay, so the Emergency Order remains in place.

My experience as a Legal Research Assistant at East Coast Environmental Law has been invaluable in deepening my understanding of environmental law and policy. Through my involvement in conducting legal research and analysis, particularly in the area of biodiversity legislation and policy, I have gained valuable insights into the current state of biodiversity protection in Canada. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the important work of advocating for biodiversity protection and look forward to continuing my journey in this field.

ECEL Cat Blog Photo

Cat MacKinnon

Cat's work with us this summer was funded by the Canada Summer Jobs Program