West Coast – Participating in the Creation of all Significant Environmental Legislation in BC Since 1974
Protecting the environment through the law is a complex business and requires many different types of legal expertise. BC is blessed to have three public interest environmental law organizations – West Coast Environmental Law, Ecojustice, and the Environmental Law Centre at UVic – each fulfilling a unique and important role in environmental justice. At West Coast we are often asked what is the difference between our three organizations, so for inquiring minds who want to know, West Coast is happy to dispel the mystery!
West Coast is the oldest environmental law organisation in BC, and for much of our 35 year history we engaged directly in law reform, legal education and test case litigation . In the late 1980’s the need for environmental law services had grown to the extent that West Coast and others determined that a stand-alone environmental law organisation that would devote itself to test case litigation in the interests of the environment was required. In 1990, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, now Ecojustice, was born.
From 1990 to the present West Coast Environmental Law and Ecojustice Canada have avoided duplication by (a) cooperating and coordinating on areas of potential overlap, and (b) having distinct market niches. West Coast staff lawyers focus on a range of legal strategies required to achieve legislative reform in priority environmental law areas, including public legal education. West Coast has a unique approach that uses hard-hitting and in-depth legal research and analysis to engage citizens, catalyze coalitions, mobilize allies, and influence decision-makers to implement environmental law reform. In addition, recognizing that environmental legal aid is important not just in high profile test cases, but also to resolve the very real environmental problems of individual, community groups and First Nations in all corners of the province, West Coast has now for 20 years offered environmental legal aid through the Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund .
As noted above, in BC Ecojustice staff lawyers are overwhelmingly dedicated to test case litigation, by taking on cases with the potential to set legal precedents and strengthen laws through the court system.
In 2004, the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria was able to transform itself into a full-service environmental law clinic, and now has the benefit of in-house counsel to oversee student work. The availability of ELC students to represent clients and/or undertake projects on behalf of clients is an important complement to the summary advice service provided by staff lawyers at West Coast. In addition, students at the ELC often work with lawyers who have received grants from West Coast’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.
West Coast, however, continues to be the only environmental law organisation in BC that possesses decades of experience around the complex legislative and regulatory regimes that form BC’s environmental law framework. Our experience has demonstrated that comprehensive and lasting change must be built through reforms to our statutes and regulations. West Coast has been and continues to be a leader in crafting and advancing legislative reform initiatives to protect and sustain our environment and communities in BC.