2020 summer law students energizing our work at West Coast

Summer 2020 has been intense, to say the least – but luckily this summer we've had a group of dedicated law students to energize and inspire our work at West Coast. Each year we host a new group of lawyers-to-be, who assist with legal research, developing educational resources, legal aid support and more. This year's cohort has contributed enormously to our legal programs over the past few months, while gracefully managing new ways of communicating and researching online as a result of COVID-19.

Below, our 2020 summer law students share their reflections on their work experiences with our team, and explain what drives them as they move into the future. We can't wait to see what they do next.

Rebecca Park

My summer with West Coast Environmental Law began from my desk at home. Thankfully through Zoom, I was able to virtually meet and get to know all of the wonderful West Coast staff and students. While my time here was short, I feel extremely honoured to have spent a fulfilling six weeks with such an incredible team.

In the midst of a global pandemic and a widespread uprising against racial injustice, we collectively grappled with pressing questions about the lasting impacts of COVID-19 and how we can all push forward towards more meaningful and sustainable solutions for our communities, the environment, and the economy.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked closely with the RELAW team this summer. I took a deep dive into learning about the Sto:lo legal system and how it simultaneously originates from, and continues to shape, the people’s relationship with the land and local watersheds. I also played a small role in the process of articulating and synthesizing these traditional laws for the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance Legal Synthesis Report. The Report will be an important resource for transferring knowledge and communicating laws to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who manage and interact with the Lower Fraser Fisheries.

Additional highlights from this summer include learning about trauma-informed approaches at the online RELAW retreat, and conducting research on various topics from the theory of legal principles to analyzing the fish barrier provisions of the Fisheries Act.

My experience as a summer law student at West Coast was unexpected in many ways, but it certainly did not fall short of being meaningful. I gained valuable insight into the powerful and impactful work that West Coast’s lawyers engage in and gained practical experience in public interest environmental law. But most of all, I will never forget how uplifting it is to be surrounded by lawyers and staff who radiate with compassion and empathy.

Julia Roe

I entered law school with the hope of gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to use the law to advance climate action and environmental justice. Therefore, assisting with various environmental law reform efforts this summer at West Coast Environmental Law was a truly dream come true.

Throughout the summer, I researched and wrote memos on a variety of topics, including cruise ship pollution, green infrastructure funding, environmental review of railway operations, climate adaptation and more. This meant I was always learning about new issues and areas of environmental law, making for an interesting and exciting summer!

One of my favorite assignments related to establishing a legislative framework to hold the federal government accountable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and doing our fair share in the international effort to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. I had the opportunity to help with West Coast’s research and analysis on best practices in climate accountability law. As part of these efforts, my work involved drafting model legislation. It was motivating and hopeful to look at what has been done in other countries and think about what could be most effective in Canada.

I also greatly enjoyed collaborating with Victoria on a project for West Coast’s access to justice team. We created documents designed to help people interested in starting their own not-for-profit organization understand the process of incorporation and the ongoing legal obligations. We combed through the provincial and federal legislation and regulations and organized the multitude of legal rules and requirements into clear, user-friendly guidance documents.

A particularly impactful part of the summer for me was participating in the online RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air & Water) retreat sessions. The sessions provided an introduction to working with stories to articulate and apply Indigenous law. RELAW Project Coordinators shared their experiences of working with Indigenous nations who are using their own laws to address environmental issues in their territories. We also heard from amazing storytellers and learned about trauma-informed facilitation.

Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic was a unique experience. I really appreciated that all the lawyers and staff at West Coast put in significant effort to get to know the summer law students and ensure that we were well-supported. Overall, I feel incredibly grateful to have spent the summer working and learning with the amazing team at West Coast.

Sunshine Waisman

Despite the unique circumstances of starting an internship during a global pandemic and working with colleagues you had never seen outside of your computer screen, the team at West Coast Environmental Law succeeded in making our summer full of connection, learning, and impactful work.   

In the beginning of the summer all of the law students participated in a multi-day RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air & Water) retreat via Zoom. We were able to hear from master-storytellers and experience the power of Indigenous storytelling, as well as co-learn with fellow participants about how they’re revitalizing Indigenous laws in their own communities, and learn about West Coast’s work with Nations across BC. As an Indigenous person from the South Pacific, I felt like my mother’s teachings of Fijian Talanoa (storytelling) about our own Indigenous law were reinforced and strengthened in ways that I didn’t think were possible in a Canadian legal setting. Spending two hours, twice a week for three weeks discussing with other participants about our heritage and Indigenous laws was truly nothing short of a life-changing experience for me, of which I am so grateful for.

My two main projects this summer have been within West Coast’s Access to Justice realm. My first project included running the intake for West Coast’s summary legal advice program. I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with folks across BC who have come to West Coast seeking advice about how to handle their environmental concerns and issues. Not only did this allow me to gain an insight about some of British Columbians’ most pressing environmental concerns, but it also gave me experience with navigating some of the legal avenues available to folks who are trying to protecting the land. The Access to Justice team, including Dr. Larry Reynolds, Barb Everdene, and Shelby Lindley, have been so incredibly supportive in my work, and have helped me gain confidence when working with clients, as well as in developing the solutions and answers to provide them with. 

My main project this summer was working on an Environmental Justice Project in relation to our two Access to Justice programs (our summary legal advice program as discussed above, and the EDRF (Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund)). I was given the opportunity to project-manage an initiative where I was asked to take a hard look at the practices of our two programs through an environmental justice lens that acknowledges that racialized and Indigenous communities (and other historically marginalized groups) are often disproportionately impacted by pollution and unsustainable development. Our intention was to establish how we can make our Access to Justice programs more accessible to folks who are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues in BC, and how we can ensure that their voices are being heard and that they are benefiting as much as possible from the services we offer. I will be producing a report of recommendations that will be reviewed by an internal committee who will then decide on how to proceed with implementing my recommendations. I am lucky enough to be working with and learning from West Coast’s brilliant executive director Jessica Clogg who has been an incredible mentor throughout the summer.

As a Black and Indigenous person, the issue of environmental justice and racism are very close to my heart. My mother raised me with the painful understanding that our village in in Fiji has become unrecognizable in a lot of ways due to environmental degradation within just a few generations. I’m grateful that I get to be a part of this work at West Coast to help protect the environment on Coast Salish territory while acknowledging and working to dismantle environmental racism in ways that are within our power. 

 There are so many others aspects of the summer that I could discuss, including an “Ask a Law Student” webinar in which all of the summer students were panelists, and an Environmental Justice and Racism webinar of which I was lucky enough to take part in. I was even able to assist in the creation of a new project proposal regarding an Environmental Racism Map that we will be working on in the fall. Overall, my summer has been characterized by the incredible amount of leadership and independence that I was trusted with, while still being bolstered with thoughtful support from all of the Staff. Reflecting on the past summer in this blog post has truly made me realize what an remarkable experience I’ve had at West Coast, and how much learning and growth I will be taking away with me, as well as a huge appreciation for the entire Staff and the formidable work that they do. 

Victoria Baylis

This summer with West Coast has been an incredible learning experience, one that I believe is not available at most law firms. There is a very special community of individuals at the helm of this organization, and their dedication is inspiring. Despite the pandemic, and the restrictions that have kept us all working from home, I was able to connect with the members of the West Coast team in a meaningful way, and I really valued the inclusive and collaborative environment.

There is a great breadth of work being done at West Coast, and it was amazing to partake in a number of different projects. I wrote freedom of information requests for material regarding a major project being carried out in BC. I researched how the insurance industry is regulated in Canada, and how this sector is working to address emerging climate concerns. I was able to work closely with another West Coast student to create a guide with step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate a provincial society, or a federal not-for-profit corporation.

I was also given the unique opportunity to attend a retreat as part of the RELAW (Revitalizing Indigenous Law for Land, Air & Water) program, which provided a safe and open space for Indigenous participants to voice concerns, challenges and successes associated with the revitalization of their laws. As such, despite being hired for a specific project, I had the opportunity to engage with a number of different assignments and programs at West Coast.

I did spend most of my summer investigating the laws that regulate human activities leading to cumulative effects in salmon watersheds. The research was for a collaborative project between West Coast and the Salmon Watersheds Lab at Simon Fraser University, and we all worked very closely together.

Before deciding to pursue a career in law, I obtained a degree in biology and initially envisioned a very different path forward for myself. This summer I was given the opportunity to marry my two degrees. For this project, the lab was tasked with providing information on specific impacts stemming from a variety of human activities, while I researched the applicable laws, regulations, policies and guidelines governing the activities. I strongly believe in the importance of inter-disciplinary collaboration, and for this study on cumulative effects, it proved crucial.

Initially, I viewed the cumulative effects project as a puzzle, and I figured that all of the pieces were out there; that I merely had to fit them all together. However, I soon learned that the issue was quite diffuse and I have yet to locate all of the pieces. I now believe that some may even be missing. Through my research, I located any provisions that pertained to, or allowed for environmental protections, and looked into how various permits and authorizations are awarded. I discovered many gaps and, after speaking with a number of government representatives, I have learned that many issues remain unaddressed, or loosely so.

This work has only fueled my drive to develop a more comprehensive legal system that respects the limitations of our natural environment. I am grateful for the legal foundation I have gained from a summer with West Coast, and will continue forward with my dream of establishing stronger environmental protections.

Top photo (Clockwise): Law Students Sunshine Waisman, Rebecca Park, Victoria Baylis and Julia Roe

West Coast Environmental Law