Law Students – Living and Breathing the Environment

From the Fall 2007 issue of Nexus.


Environmental Club - 2007
L to R: Kristen Courtney, Andrew Moeser, Kate Skipton, and Nalin Sahni (standing)

As an outdoor enthusiast and avid mountain biker, third year student, Kristen Courtney, came to law school knowing she wanted to go into environmental law. "I always had a personal commitment to the protection of the environment, and saw a legal education as something that would allow me to work for what I believe in," she says.


During her first year of law school Courtney's interest became a passion as she met other like-minded students at Environmental Law Club events, and as she studied major cases in Canadian environmental law in her constitutional law class. "As I started to learn more about environmental issues, I realized that environmental conflicts extend far beyond the intrinsic value of trees and wildlife. Poor environmental laws and policies can also have serious human health effects and can raise profound questions about human rights."

A Donner Fellowship following her first year of law school allowed Courtney to spend four months working at the national office of the Sierra Club of Canada where she researched the legal framework that regulates the environmental impacts of the Alberta oil sands industry. In the beginning of her second year Courtney enrolled in U of T's combined J.D./Environmental Studies program. This summer, she was selected as the Eric Krause Memorial Intern, a placement that has allowed her to work at the City of Toronto's Environment Office on the new Climate Change and Clean Air Action Plan that will help Toronto improve its air quality and meet its share of Canada's Kyoto obligations.

Joining forces with her classmate and friend, Emily Kettel, has allowed Courtney to share their mutual passion for the environment with other law students. Last year, the pair worked together to breath new life into the dormant Environmental Law Club. They immediately focused on increasing club membership. "We wanted to create a more involved and cohesive environmental law community at U of T," says Courtney.

Kettel came to law school following a degree in Biological Engineering and summer work as an environmental consultant. "I couldn't see myself as an engineer in the long term, but realized I could use some of my technical background and potentially do some good as an environmental lawyer," she says.

With the leadership of Kettel and Courtney, the students' Environmental Law Club has pursued a number of initiatives to increase the presence of environmental law at U of T. They have maintained a regular environmental law column in the student newspaper, helped with the founding and policy development of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, and have joined forces with the law school's Sustainability Working Group. They have also started the Club's first working group in cooperation with Sierra Legal Defence Fund to allow interested students to gain exposure to working in environmental law and to provide research assistance to one of Canada's foremost environmental NGO's.

Most importantly they have generated enthusiasm for the issue among a number of first year students, including Nalin Sahni, Andrew Moeser, and Kate Skipton, pictured here along with Courtney.