Providing public legal education is one of the three pillars of our mandate at East Coast Environmental Law. This May, we were thrilled to launch a pilot project called “Youth to Youth: Law and the Environment”, which we developed specifically with high-school youth in mind.
Delivering the "Youth to Youth" project was our first experiment in providing public legal education to youth. The project brought law students from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University together with high-school students at the King's Edgehill School in Windsor, Nova Scotia, to engage in active and experiential learning about environmental law. As we prepared to deliver the project, our staff and our law-student facilitators were galvanized by the growing momentum of the youth climate movement and the impressive initiatives being taken by high-school students in Nova Scotia and across the globe.
Funding from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation enabled East Coast Environmental Law to develop materials for a learning initiative that would expose high-school students to the field of public interest environmental law and create opportunities for engagement and mentorship between law students and high-school youths.
The theme of the "Youth to Youth" session was biodiversity, with emphasis on wilderness conservation and protections for species at risk. Twenty-four high-school students and four law-student facilitators took part in the session, which was run in part by East Coast Environmental Law staff and in part by the law students themselves.
The session began with an introduction to public interest environmental law and a short presentation on Canadian and Nova Scotian laws that exist to protect biodiversity and species at risk. The high-school students were then divided into small groups and taken outside, where law-student facilitators walked with them through the trail that surrounds the King's-Edgehill campus and discussed a hypothetical legal problem that East Coast Environmental Law staff had drafted with that specific region in mind. The session concluded with mock negotiations in which the high-school students sat down together in small groups to discuss the hypothetical legal problem that East Coast Environmental Law staff had drafted for them.
In the hypothetical legal problem that grounded the mock negotiations, pressing agricultural interests were colliding with concerns over habitat conservation and the health of local species at risk. The high-school students assumed various stakeholder positions and worked together to suggest possible ways of resolving the issue fairly. The session demonstrated how many interests—government, private, and public—may be involved when environmental issues arise that should trigger government action to protect species at risk.
After giving each group roughly half an hour to discuss the problem, East Coast Environmental Law Staff closed the mock negotiation session and invited each group to share its results. As each group shared the highlights of its discussions, we heard that many of the students had come up with similar ideas to foster important agricultural interests while also taking steps to safeguard at-risk species. Students also asked thoughtful questions as they sought to understand how various aspects of Canadian and federal species protection laws might work in practice. We know that our law-student facilitators learned a lot as well as they explored innovative ideas proposed by the high-school participants and queried for themselves how such ideas could contribute to our existing legal regimes.
We look forward to engaging more high-school youth in the future, and to building relationships with other high schools in our region.
We extend our special thanks to the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. With the financial support of TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, we were able to engage directly with high-school students, create new mentorship opportunities between law students and high-school youth, and expand our program offerings to reach a wider audience of learners in our region.