Blog: Faces of CELA, Peter Hillson

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

I am a summer law student at CELA working on plastics regulation and CEPA reform work This has included monitoring the progress of the recent proposed ‘plastics ban’ and analysis of Bill C-28.. I started volunteering with CELA in the fall of 2020 as part of a placement with the Osgoode Hall Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic. I have continued that work in a full-time capacity this summer with the support of funding through the Osgoode Summer Internship Program.

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

Since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with the natural environment and wildlife. I was particularly taken with the incredible diversity, ingenuity, and adaptability among plants and animals around the world.  As I’ve gotten older this has matured into a broad interest in environmental degradation and impacts of that degradation on human health and well-being. While pursuing an undergraduate major in political science, I became particularly interested in the disproportionate impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations in Canada and the Global South as a whole. Having developed a firm commitment to egalitarianism throughout my studies of political theory, I have come to believe that environmental law and policy is a vital avenue for ensuring substantive justice for all.

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

I really enjoy the opportunity to dive deeply into the history, nuances, and possibilities contained in important environmental legislation. It is very rewarding to find opportunities for greater and more effective environmental protection in our laws. Fingers crossed that some of the work I’ve done this summer will help CELA to advocate for a stronger Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

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

I think climate change is definitely Canada’s biggest environmental challenge today. Environmental protection has always intersected with the economy, but climate change is uniquely difficult to tackle because of its multifarious and intertwined connections with processes at the core of Canada’s economic structures. Combined with the fact that it has the potential to disproportionately harm those already most vulnerable, (such as low income, racialized, and Indigenous Peoples), climate change is certainly a large environmental, (and societal), challenge.

How do you think we can best approach this challenge?

This is a big question! In instances like climate change I believe the magnitude of the problem must be matched with an equally robust response, consisting of many policies that approach the issue from different angles. One action that I believe would be particular impactful is a ‘Green New Deal’ style program of investment in green infrastructure, economic support for those most likely to bear the brunt of climate impacts, and a just transition for workers currently employed in unsustainable industries.

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

This relates to my last response, so, in addition and relation to the economic measures I talked about above, I would implement nationalization of the fossil fuel industry and gradually wind down production. This would put fossil fuel production and distribution under more democratic control. It would also provide opportunities for worker-based governance in this industry and the transition to more sustainable forms of employment.

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

I’m a big movie buff! I enjoy everything from schlocky horror movies to prestige dramas. First Reformed is an excellent recent addition to the canon of environmental films. I also really enjoy cycling, hiking, and most other forms of outdoor activity, as well as spending time with my dog (who thankfully shares these interests).