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Letter from law students and lawyers demands environmental changes be removed from Bill C-38

Law students add their voice to the growing chorus of concern amongst the legal community, opposing the changes to environmental laws outlined in the budget bill.

“Reading the lawyers’ letter coordinated by Patrick Canning inspired and mobilized law students to voice our deep concern with Bill C-38. The government is using an omnibus bill as a vehicle for weakening environmental protection” said Lindsay Chan, president of the Environmental Law Students’ Association (ELSA) at the University of Ottawa.

The letter campaign is a non partisan effort spearheaded by ELSA at the University of Ottawa, an active student group with 40 members last academic year. It has received support from seven student environmental law groups across Canada and was sent to the Prime Minister and
Members of Parliament.

Devin Fulop, incoming president of Western Environmental Law Association at Western University explained, “Many law students are motivated to pursue a legal education in order to become environmental advocates. The very laws that are supposed to protect our environment are being gutted in the omnibus budget bill and sufficient debate by the public and elected MPs
has not been allowed.”

The law students advocate for the government to split the bill so it can be debated thoroughly by the appropriate committees.

“Given the recent Montreal protests and the increasing weight of students' voices, we urge our government to listen to the future face of Canada’s environmental law community.” said Kevin Thompson, Co-Chair of the Environmental Law Society at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Read the letter below: 

To the Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Honourable Members of Parliament,

We are Canadian law students and we write as those who will one day serve the many businesses, organizations and people of Canada who will be affected by the decisions made in Parliament.

As law students, we have the opportunity to engage with the law closely and in various capacities such as academics and employment. Although we are not lawyers yet, we have a great interest in the changes to Canadian environmental laws as it will be our duty to deal with the repercussions of these changes in our practice. We deserve to have our voices heard and concerns addressed as future advocates, environmentalists, academics and generally as Canadians.

We support the sentiment expressed by the lawyers and legal scholars speaking out against the amendments proposed in Bill C-38 that seek to change the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), National Energy Board Act, Fisheries Act, Species At Risk Act, Canada Gas and Oil Operations Act and repeal the Kyoto Protocol and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The apparent streamlining of our Environmental Laws are in fact weakening environmental protection and will have a long term negative impact on the economy.

As a result of the repeal and replacement of CEAA, we believe the new environmental assessment process will exclude important projects from assessment, lack thoroughness, and reduce public participation. Importantly the great discretion afforded to the Minister to make decisions throughout the environmental assessment process politicizes a process that requires objective and science based evidence. The environmental assessment process will be lessened to a formality instead of an essential tool for environmental protection and as a result, all Canadians especially First Nations will be seriously impacted. With respect to the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, we feel that the amendments will threaten our already sensitive ecosystems and diminish the level of protection offered to fish and fish habitat.

Bowing out of the Kyoto Agreement sends the message internationally that Canadians do not care about the implications of climate change and that we do not respect a process that seeks to resolve this global environmental problem. This decision does not speak for all Canadians. As burgeoning legal scholars, we are greatly disappointed with the closure of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The NRTEE is not only a foremost resource for students, but for any Canadian citizen to seek advice, clarity and perspective on issues regarding the environmental and economy.

Many of us sought to become lawyers in order to become advocates for the environment and have faith in the democratic process. The changes to environmental laws in an omnibus budget implementation bill suggest to us that our government does not value our environment nor the democratic process. We strongly urge you to reconsider the impacts of this bill and to do so in a manner that is accountable and transparent to voting Canadians. We respect and value our natural resources would like to see them protected for future generations.


Environmental Law Students’ Association at University of Ottawa
Western Environmental Law Association at Western University
Environmental Law Society at Osgoode Hall Law School
Environmental Law Students' Association at University of Alberta
Robson Hall Environmental Law Group at University of Manitoba
Environmental Law Society at University of Calgary
Environmental Law Club at University of Victoria

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