West Coast really lucked out this year with our incredible cohort of summer law students! For the past four months, our legal interns have been getting a taste of what practicing environmental and Indigenous law looks like by supporting our programs on applied issues – including research, attending forums, contributing to blogs and reports, and much more.
We at West Coast are grateful to have been a part of their legal journey and we look forward to seeing what’s in store for this next generation of environmental lawyers. Check out what they had to say about their time with us:
Working for West Coast has been an incredibly special experience. I began my internship by spending a month in the downtown Vancouver office, before returning to Tiohtià:ke/Montreal to complete the rest of my internship remotely. I loved getting the chance to experience the office ‘buzz’ – and working remotely has only continued to feel engaging and rewarding. At least once every week I’ve joined staff working in the office and those working remotely across BC for check-ins and meetings. I’m amazed by how cohesive the whole team has felt even when some of us have connected through the screen. We have a lot of laughs and fun moments together.
It was great having the opportunity to dip my toes in a number of different projects and West Coast program areas throughout the summer. I started off by learning about BC’s archaic ‘free entry’ mineral tenure regime and researching how it compares to mining laws in other jurisdictions. I also did research for the RELAW team and the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, looking into how organizations and First Nations have revitalized selective fisheries and summarizing the legal context of such work.
For the Sue Big Oil campaign, I assessed elements of potential class actions against major oil companies for the climate change costs they have passed on to local governments and taxpayers. More recently, I was able to do preliminary work for a team using shareholder advocacy as a tool towards ensuring that the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples is fully respected if industrial activities are to take place on their lands.
Compared to when I first started my internship in May, I now feel so much more confident in my legal research and writing skills, and more knowledgeable about where legal work can figure into strategizing for climate justice and decolonial movements. I have also been so thankful to learn from such welcoming and supportive people at West Coast. The lawyers and staff made sure we understood the broader context and impact of the projects we were working on and I always felt I could ask questions.
Even though some of us summer interns weren’t in the same city at the same time, I felt like we all instantly connected – I loved getting to know each other and learning together. I can’t wait for our paths to cross again. I am going to miss the people and work at West Coast so much when I return to school in fall, but I am so grateful I have this experience to carry with me forever.
As a law student one of the most common questions I get is, “What area of law would you like to practice?” My answer is always that I am not sure. However, the best advice I got entering law school was to keep my mind open to new experiences. I was sure that getting hands-on experience in one of the fields of law would be the best choice in finding my best path. My plan heading into my summer at West Coast Environmental Law was to step out of my box and try something new while also utilizing my past work experience and education background.
My plan was made easier as one of best parts of West Coast is that there is a diverse team of staff lawyers collaborating to tackle a variety of different environmental focuses. One of my first and favourite projects was for the Build Back Better Together (BBBT) flood recovery initiative. After enduring one of the worst climate crises in BC this past fall, being able to work on a project that aimed to unite the affected communities and industries and change the systems that failed us was so empowering. A highlight of this project was attending the BBBT forum and hearing community leaders strategize and work together to start building a future that helps everyone.
It is no surprise that life as a legal intern consists largely of reading and summarizing different types of literature. I know this may not sound like the most exciting task for any future law students that may be reading this post, but it is a great way to learn about a new area that hadn’t crossed your mind before. Some of the research and reading that I enjoyed was reviewing land use agreements between Indigenous communities and the BC provincial government, understanding the implications of the mineral tenure system in BC, and how Indigenous oral histories can be understood as law.
I am also proud of my work in writing environmental petitions for Canada’s Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development. As I lack a science background, I had to work hard to catch up with the related terminology and issues. While it was certainly a challenge, I learned a lot and hope to see my writing help to drive change while maintaining accessibility for everyone. The legal world has historically been inaccessible to many individuals and marginalized communities, thus ensuring accessibility is a key component to environmental justice and I am proud to take part in West Coast’s commitment to access to justice for all.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with West Coast and will take the lessons and values I learned into my work moving forward. Thanks for a great summer and invaluable experience!
I have wanted to practice law since I was in the ninth grade, inspired by my (former) obsession with the animal rights organization PETA. In addition to being an advocate for animal rights, I have also always had an interest in environmentalism. Working at West Coast Environmental Law gave me the opportunity apply my legal skills at a non-profit organization in an area I am truly passionate about.
One highlight of my summer with West Coast was volunteering at FernFest in Victoria, BC to promote the new Sue Big Oil campaign alongside Staff Lawyer Andrew Gage. This allowed me to learn from a passionate and knowledgeable colleague, as well as connect with members of the public and gain an understanding of their concerns, opinions, and questions. As a legal practitioner, it is important to be able to explain complex legal issues in plain language and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend the day learning how to do so effectively.
The wheels for this campaign were set in motion years ago and it was an honour to join in on the efforts right as the campaign was finally coming to fruition. In addition to assisting with the outreach component of the campaign, I also conducted legal research relating to the logistics and legalities of working with local governments within the context of BC’s Community Charter.
Another highlight of my summer was being able to apply my knowledge about natural resource law gained at a previous summer job, as well as learning about marine law, an area of law I was entirely unfamiliar with. Feeling like a fish out of water, I found this work challenging because I hardly knew anything about the legislation and case law relating to marine protection. I had to spend a significant amount of time familiarizing myself with marine science before I could even begin to dive into legal research. Fortunately, all the staff lawyers on the West Coast marine team were patient and understanding, and very excited to share their wealth of knowledge.
As someone in the early stages of their legal career, I cannot express how impactful it was to work with experienced lawyers who were understanding of the inevitable learning curve associated with familiarizing oneself with a new area of law. The supportive approach taken by everyone at West Coast, as well as the shared passion for pursuing a more just and sustainable future, made for an enriching summer work term. I am so proud to be able to call myself a member of this incredible team.
It has been a privilege to have a behind-the-scenes look into the day-to-day operations of an organization that is transforming the legal landscape both by supporting Indigenous law revitalization projects and leveraging colonial legal tools to protect human and non-human beings, land, air, and water. Working at West Coast this summer has helped me feel inspired to continue pursuing my law degree.
Through my research for the marine protection team, I learned about the ongoing process to establish a marine protected area (MPA) network in the Northern Shelf Bioregion (NSB), also known as the Great Bear Sea. This research included writing a memo about the progress made in developing large MPA networks in other jurisdictions around the world, and writing another memo examining Indigenous co-governance.
I also worked on several smaller assignments related to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project and the Build Back Better Together (BBBT) initiative. I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural BBBT forum where I observed municipal, regional, and Indigenous governments in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland brainstorm ways to work together to create more resilient and equitable communities after the devastating floods in 2021.
I also got to co-write a blog post that shone a light on the failure of BC lawyers to take a clear, collective stance committing to addressing climate change and its impacts on the legal profession. It was exciting to be here to witness the launch of the Sue Big Oil campaign and to help with organizing materials to inform a future academic paper which will be written by a West Coast staff lawyer.
The projects I had the opportunity to work on helped broaden my understanding of the field of “environmental law.” I have a deep appreciation for the intersectional, interdisciplinary, and interconnected approach each West Coast campaign area employs in their advocacy. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the creative, passionate, and dedicated team at West Coast this summer.
West Coast would like to thank our 2022 summer law students once again for their contributions to our work! We wish them all the best as they continue their studies – and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
Top photo (from left to right): Jade DeFehr, Kaymi Yoon-Maxwell, Memegwans Johnson-Owl and Brittany Scott