This blog post by Tricia Barry, founding Board member and current Board Secretary, is the fourth and final instalment in a Tribute and Celebration series that reflects on 15 years of East Coast Environmental Law and pays tribute to our friend and colleague Meinhard Doelle, who was instrumental in establishing the organization and encouraging advocacy for a more just and sustainable world.
December 12, 2022
My first experience in environmental law came during my undergrad at the University of Victoria, where I was pursuing a degree in environmental studies. In the early 2000s, British Columbia was the incubator for environmental law non-profits, and I learned alot about the important work they did while at UVic. When I came to Dalhousie for my law degree, hoping to focus on environmental law, I was surprised to find there were no non-profits focusing on public-interest environmental law in Atlantic Canada. Meinhard was my environmental law professor, and I asked him about this. I remember his face lighting up explaining why there wasn’t such a non-profit, why there should be, and his vision for getting there. That conversation we had in my first year of law school fueled the fire.
Through my time in law school, Meinhard’s plan for building East Coast Environmental Law was slowly revealed as he encouraged the Environmental Law Students’ Society (ELSS) to work on the issue. Those of us on the ELSS who remained in Halifax after graduation formed a core group of the founding Board members who worked so passionately to see Meinhard’s vision come to life.
When I look back at how it all came together, I can see what I wasn’t aware of at the time – Meinhard had a very clear plan for how to make East Coast Environmental Law come to life. He knew how East Coast Environmental Law had to fit into the existing landscape of environmental law non-profits so it could be a teammate for the cause rather than a competitor for work and fundraising dollars.He knew who we needed to get on the Board, where we needed support, where to seek initial funding. We acted as the engine, and he was the navigating system.
For some time, I served as the Vice-Chair to his position as Chair, and when I re-joined the Board in2020, it was with an understanding that Meinhard would also join again at some point soon so we could continue furthering his vision. I was excited to learn about what his new ideas for growing East Coast Environmental Law would be, as the organization had met most of his original goals. I know it filled him, as it does me, with such satisfaction that in 15 short years, East Coast Environmental Law has reached almost all of the goals originally dreamed by its founding members – legal staff, representation in other Atlantic provinces, an articled clerk and summer student program, to name a few. While our amazing Executive Director and staff deserve the lions’ share of credit for all that’s been accomplished in 15 years, I also tip my hat deeply to Meinhard’s clear vision and the strong foundation he helped build for the organization.
Now East Coast Environmental Law is left to search for its new directions and goals without its original visionary … its backbone. As I write, forging ahead without Meinhard’s guidance feels overwhelming and a bit scary (and personally, so very, very sad). However, we know that forward is where he would want us to go and where Atlantic Canada needs East Coast Environmental law to go. I will be one of the Board members making sure that in the absence of Meinhard’s physical presence, his vision is furthered, the strong backbone he gave East Coast Environmental Law is enshrined, and his memory is kept alive in all the amazing work our organization continues to do for Atlantic Canada. We were so lucky to have him.