April 17, 2018

Law students, faculty share their voice on new federal legislation

Bill C-69 seeks to reform federal environmental review process.
Government of Canada
Several students and faculty have been invited to provide input on Bill C-69 Flickr photo by tsaiproject, licensed under Creative Commons

Imagine it: You’re asked to submit your recommendations on a new bill to a House of Commons Standing Committee. You want to sound intelligent, and you need to do your research, but you only have so much time. And you’ve never done it before. Where would you start?

Six University of Calgary law students gained an edge this semester with an initiative to submit their observations and recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment Law course, taught by professor David Wright.

Bill C-69 aims to update environmental protection laws

The committee is currently studying Bill C-69, An Act to legislate the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act, and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

“The federal legislative landscape is changing very quickly, and quite fundamentally,” says Wright. “This course puts students in a position to be deeply familiar with emerging federal legislative changes, which all allow them to add value in future professional activities in the field of environmental impact assessment law and beyond.”

Throughout the course, students studied in detail the proposed new impact assessment regime, as well as parts of the proposed Canadian Energy Regulator Act. Students were able to compare the proposed Impact Assessment Act with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, as well as the original federal assessment legislation and several provincial and territorial impact assessment regimes.

Hands-on learning in legislation reviews

“Instead of learning about the legislation in a theoretical way, the submission was an opportunity to learn how the legislation is actually developed in practice,” says second-year law student Amal Tharani. “We were able to do this in an informed and meaningful way because the course exposed us to a diverse range of practitioners who shared their experiences.

“It’s also pretty incredible being part of the draft legislation review process and knowing you have a voice, however small, in the development of laws that affect Canadians,” she adds.

Profs to present to committee on Bill C-69

In addition to filing briefs, professors Martin Olszynski and Nigel Bankes have been invited to appear before the committee as part of its review of Bill C-69. Bankes’s submission focuses on the parts of the bill that create the new Canadian Energy Regulator, while Olszynski’s submission focuses on the Impact Assessment Act and the role of science in particular.

“One of the major lessons to emerge out of the current reform process is that the science of environmental assessments is often not up to par,” says Olszynski, a problem that he says has been linked to potential conflicts of interest between project proponents and environmental consultants.

Alongside several Canadian environmental scientists, he is calling for a “duty of scientific integrity” to be included in the legislation, and for increased transparency in terms of baseline information, monitoring data and the effectiveness of mitigation measures.

Several other faculty members submitted written briefs, including professor Sharon Mascher on the lack of legislative criteria or thresholds to trigger impact assessments.