Blog: 30 in 30 – Confessions of a CELA Lifer


Incredibly, 2016 marks my 30th year at CELA. Since it is customary to sit back and reflect upon such milestones, here are 30 memories (good, bad and ugly) over the past 30 years of working on CELA cases and campaigns:

1. Arriving at CELA in 1986 fresh out of law school, but quickly discovering that I had not learned much about the day-to-day practice of environmental law.

2. Hearing an exasperated provincial court judge declare that he would rather be back with his “murderers and burglars” than preside over our private prosecution of air pollution offences.

3. Rejoicing with other staff upon the wonderous arrival of CELA’s first fax machine.

4. Representing CELA clients in public hearings across Ontario in various venues, including municipal council chambers, hotel rooms, church halls and hockey arenas.

5. Attending an environmental charity event that featured tasting and rating beverages from local microbreweries (Best. Fundraiser. Ever.).

6. Driving to Kirkland Lake to attend the Adams Mine landfill hearing, and marveling at the scenic beauty of the Temagami region.

7. Being handed a lucky nugget of fool’s gold by a well-wisher (?) at the start of the Adams Mine landfill hearing.

8. Taking numerous flights to and from Thunder Bay for the endless Timber Management Class EA hearing, and sitting beside a CELA lawyer when she won airline tickets to anywhere in the world.

9. Getting into my parked car at the Toronto airport and noticing that someone had stolen my Tragically Hip music.

10. Working with great clients and co-counsel in the Lafarge tire-burning case, and then getting thanked for our efforts by The Tragically Hip in the liner notes for their next album.

11. Experiencing the thrill of reporting successful court outcomes (and sometimes handing over large cheques) to happy and highly relieved clients.

12. Experiencing the lows of reporting unsuccessful court outcomes to clients, but still receiving their sincere thanks and gratitude for CELA’s work.

13. Serving as CELA’s representative on governmental advisory bodies that helped draft Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) and Class Proceedings Act.

14. Sitting in the gallery at the Ontario Legislature (and later dining with the Premier) when the EBR was introduced for first reading.

15. Racing through my final argument in an OMB case near Ottawa so that I could fly back to Toronto in time to attend the birth of my first child (I arrived with 10 minutes to spare).

16. Doing legal research at the Queen’s Law Library when I received word that my wife was going into labour with our second child.

17. Appearing before standing committees at the federal and provincial levels to discuss environmental law matters, but becoming dismayed by the partisan (and often irrelevant) exchanges between committee members.

18. Representing Walkerton citizens during the public inquiry into the drinking water tragedy, and admiring the quiet resolve and perseverance of the community as it struggled with deaths, widespread illness and the prolonged boil-water advisory.

19. Receiving threats while personally serving legal documents upon unrepresented defendants in civil litigation.

20. Walking along the Burlington waterfront during a break in the Niagara Escarpment Plan Review hearing, and seeing a giant salmon splashing around the water surface.

21. Hiking, boating and fishing with clients (and catching salmon, too!).

22. Driving home from a landfill hearing in Belleville, and having my rental car rear-ended by a dump truck.

23. Living the dream by touring countless dumps, landfills, pits, quarries, mines, brownfield properties and industrial facilities across northern and southern Ontario.

24. Speaking at community meetings or public education events, and meeting lots of passionate, creative and energetic environmental advocates.

25. Being very appreciative that I can focus on my casework and law reform (rather than non-stop fundraising or applying for grants) thanks to the core funding that CELA receives from Legal Aid Ontario.

26. Sitting at the counsel table in precedent-setting cases in the courts and before tribunals, and being able to observe some of Ontario’s top litigators in action.

27. Getting cross-examined by the defendant’s counsel in the cost hearing arising from the Smith v. Inco class action.

28. Watching CELA lawyers intervene at the Supreme Court of Canada in a rock-blasting case when a small earthquake shook the courthouse.

29. Having the pleasure of working with, and learning from, CELA colleagues, Board members, clients, expert witnesses, First Nations representatives and environmental groups across Canada; and

30. After three decades of CELA service, realizing that there is more to learn and do in order to safeguard the environment and protect public health and safety, particularly in low-income or vulnerable communities.

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