Blog: Faces of CELA, Kanisha Acharya-Patel

What is your role and how long have you been involved with CELA?

I have been working with CELA in my capacity as a summer student since the beginning of May 2021 (until end of July 2021). I had the opportunity to obtain a placement with CELA through the Schulich School of Law’s Academic Excellence Fund for Internships, and collaborated with CELA counsel to create a summer project workplan which focuses on environmental discrimination within the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

What inspired you to get involved in environmental law and public policy?

I have a long-standing interest in environmental conservation, but I think the inspiration came from my appreciation for wildlife and animal welfare; I suppose the “charismatic megafauna” drew me in! Completing my undergraduate degree in Natural Resources Conservation (BSc) broadened my understanding of social and environmental issues and gave me the opportunity to study both environmental science and sustainable governance. By examining environmental issues through a scientific and governance lens, I became very interested in the idea of using science-based laws and policies to address environmental issues, which is essentially why I decided to pursue environmental law.

What’s the most rewarding part of working/volunteering with CELA?

The most rewarding part is feeling reassured that I am on the right path for me! Working with CELA has given me a valuable practical sense of what working in public interest environmental law entails, and I have also really enjoyed collaborating with CELA staff and other summer students. CELA provides a supportive work environment and has expanded my understanding of environmental issues especially as they pertain to human health.

What do you think is Canada’s biggest environmental challenge today?

While I could go on and on about Canada’s environmental challenges, in my opinion Canada’s biggest environmental challenge is climate change. To meaningfully address climate change and follow through on climate commitments, a paradigm shift is required, which would threaten the status quo and is therefore extremely challenging! However, if this challenge is addressed, the government will have to make substantive changes in the way that environmental issues are dealt with, and I think these changes will have trickle down effects and result in the reform and improvement of laws and policies in various areas of environmental and human rights law.

How do you think we can best approach this challenge?

In my opinion, political will is vital to approaching this challenge, but also I think there is a massive need for the use of science and evidence-based policies when the issues at hand are environmentally related. The possible conflicts of interests that must be weighed when addressing climate change often favour all other interests (such as industry) above environmental interests, and this prevents meaningful progress from being made. Because of this, I think having an independent government body (that is responsible for the creation and implementation of environmental laws) can improve objectivity and ensure that climate change commitments are being prioritized.

If you were the Leader of the World, what environmental law or policy would you implement?

I would implement a reverse onus approach for all industry/government proposals that interfere with Aboriginal title/land/rights, the health of vulnerable communities, Canada’s climate change commitments, and critical habitat of species at risk. In my opinion a reverse onus approach is the only way to truly implement the precautionary principle and comply with Canada’s international and domestic commitments.

When you’re not working on environmental issues, what do you like to do?

When I’m not working on environmental discrimination issues, I like to bake, go for walks, and throw pottery. I also love hanging out with my cat, and I foster cats through rescue organizations whenever I can!