1 The History of Our Work | West Coast Environmental Law


The History of Our Work

In 1989, West Coast Environmental Law submitted an application to the Law Foundation of British Columbia requesting $60,000 for West Coast to provide a new type of legal aid to British Columbians. Bill Andrews, then the Executive Director of West Coast, recalls:

"[West Coast] discussed how we could expand our delivery of legal services, get out of Vancouver and meet regional needs … [and] expand the public interest environmental bar in BC … It all came together with the idea of a fund that could pay for environmental help around the province."

The result has been one of the most flexible and successful environmental law programs in the country. Today, West Coast’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund (EDRF) is the only source of environmental legal aid in BC, funding the cost of environmental lawyers and scientific experts. With the continued generous support of the Law Foundation of BC, the EDRF has granted over $4 million to communities across BC, supporting more than 500 legal cases since its inception in 1989.

Many of the significant wins that the EDRF has had over its 20 year history are documented in our 20th Anniversary Report, On the Ground: How the West Coast Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund has used the law to protect BC's environment for 20 years.

We have a lot to celebrate! Some of the EDRF’s wins over its 20 years include:

  • 2008-2009 - Fish farm laws unconstitutional: Celebrated fish farm opponent and marine biologist Alexandra Morton, with EDRF funding, teamed up with long-time environmental lawyer and West Coast Honourary Director, Greg McDade, in a successful challenge to the constitutionality of BC’s laws allowing fish farms in BC’s waters, ruling that fish farms fall under federal jurisdiction.
  • 2005 - Parks for turtles, not developers: The West Kootenay EcoSociety successfully challenged the plans of the Minister of Parks to relocate Park roads in Grohman Narrows Provincial Park through the habitat of threatened painted turtles to accommodate a local developer.
  • 2003-2008 - Zero waste Vancouver: EDRF funding to the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council and the local Cornwall Watershed Coalition was instrumental in derailing plans to turn the sensitive grasslands at Ashcroft Ranch into a landfill, and convincing MetroVancouver to work towards zero waste.
  • 2001-2002 - Marbled murrelets protected: The Sunshine Coast Conservation Association used EDRF funds to successfully challenge plans to log in the habitat of the endangered marbled murrelet.
  • 1997-2000 - Protecting the Pitt Polder: A large scale golf resort would have opened the wetland and agricultural lands known as the Pitt Polder, in Pitt Meadows, to development. However, thanks to grants from the EDRF, the Pitt Polder Preservation Society was able to convince the BC Court of Appeal to throw out bylaws that allowed for the development.
  • 1994 - No logging in Victoria’s Watershed: The Western Canada Wilderness Committee, with a grant from the EDRF, went to court to challenge commercial logging in the Victoria watershed and won.
  • 1992-1994 - Negotiating parks for BC: When the BC government created the Commission on Resources and Environment to develop land use plans on Vancouver Island and in the Kootenays and the Cariboo-Chilcotin, the environmental sectors were chronically underfunded. Support from the EDRF helped contribute to a process that saw 100,000 acres of land added to BC’s protected areas every month for three years.
  • 1990-1995 - Blocking the Kemano Completion Project: Alcan’s controversial power generation project, which would have destroyed fish habitat on the Nechako River, was defeated in large part due to the efforts of the Rivers Defense Coalition. Thanks to five years of EDRF grants, the Coalition was represented by the late Andrew Thompson, formerly a West Coast Honourary Board member, in a court action and BC Utilities Commission hearings, leading to the defeat of the project.

Thanks for this remarkable and successful fund go to the staff of West Coast (and especially Bill Andrews, who first came up with the idea), and the Law Foundation of British Columbia, which has funded it through its 20 year history. And, of course, to the lawyers who work at our partially pro bono rates to protect BC’s environment. The EDRF has won major environmental victories and it has given a voice to people and communities who otherwise would not have been heard. We hope it will continue to do so for another 20 years, and beyond.

[Update: 21 January 2015 – At the start of 2015, the EDRF announced that it would focus future funding on grants where the client group was able to actively engage in community organizing, supported by a legal strategy. See the main EDRF page for more information.]