Ontario Ministry of the Environment

From the Fall 2007 issue of Nexus.

 

Foreground from left to right: Linda Naidoo, Nadine Harris. Background from left to right: Laura Denison, Larry Fox, Frederika (Freddie) Rotter, Becky Thorson, John Turchin, Laura Nemchin and Justin Jacob (student).
Foreground from left to right: Linda Naidoo, Nadine Harris. Background from left to right: Laura Denison, Larry Fox, Frederika (Freddie) Rotter, Becky Thorson, John Turchin, Laura Nemchin and Justin Jacob (student). Not shown in the photo are U of T law grads: Victoria Kondo, Sylvia Davis, and Cynthia Brandon.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is a surprising mid-town mecca for Faculty of Law graduates working in Toronto. Ten of U of T's finest live and breathe environmental law issues each day at the Ministry's Legal Services Branch located at St. Clair and Avenue Road - almost a quarter of the Ministry's team of forty-six lawyers. These law school grads - interestingly 8 out of the 10 are women - come from a variety of backgrounds, but share a strong environmental consciousness and commitment to their notable public service careers.

 

Victoria Kondo, Frederika (Freddie) Rotter, Sylvia Davis, John Turchin, Larry Fox, Cynthia Brandon, Linda Naidoo, Becky Thorson, Nadine Harris, and Laura Denison are spread throughout the Ministry's four practice areas - or "teams" as they are referred to within the MOE - including Prosecutions, Hearings, Litigation, Interjurisdictional/ Drive Clean, and Solicitors.

Kondo is Deputy Director of the Legal Services Branch of the MOE, overseeing three out of four MOE teams. No stranger to public service, she joined the MOE in 2004, having previously served in the government as Executive Legal Officer to the Ontario Court of Appeal and as litigation counsel at several government ministries. Members of her team of lawyers include grads Rotter and Davis, who are kept busy in hearings before the Environmental Review Tribunal relating to environmental protection legislation such as the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act, and who represent the province on environmental issues in court.

"It's very satisfying to know that the work we do can have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of Ontarians," says Kondo. "In environmental issues, there can always be a crisis - and we get very little advance notice when we have to jump in and work on high profile, politically intense situations. We're very proud of being able to respond quickly, with great tools at our disposal to resolve issues," she adds.

Toronto's recent lead poisoning scare, and the negotiations over where Ontario might ship its garbage if Michigan closed its gates to foreign waste, are just two examples of hot topics that MOE staff have recently managed, says Kondo.

The Interjurisdictional/Drive Clean Team, led by Turchin, advises the government on greenhouse gases and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. "The bulk of our jurisdictional work is representing Ontario in negotiations with the federal government and for cross-border agreements on issues relating to air pollution and climate change," he says. Turchin's team has also overseen the negotiations and implementation of agreements with several US states including California and Michigan.

They also provide strategic advice to Ontario's Drive Clean Office. "We are the central address for all concerns relating to vehicle emissions, and our program is widely considered one of the most environmentally successful public-private partnerships in North America," he adds.

The largest pool of U of T talent is found in the Solicitors team which boasts six U of T alumni - Fox, Brandon, Naidoo, Thorson, Harris, and Denison who is currently on leave completing a PhD in film/media and the environment. They work on a huge variety of issues including aboriginal, administrative, constitutional, corporate and commercial law, conflicts of interest, privacy law, intellectual property, real property, regulatory liability and trade.

For the past several years, MOE lawyers such as Nemchin have worked with U of T environmental law professors Jutta Brunnée and Andrew Green developing deeper links with the law school. One of their first initiatives was to establish a student internship opportunity at the Ministry to give students hands-on experience and a chance to 'testdrive' a career in environmental law. This summer, law student Justin Jacob worked closely with all of the legal services teams. "It's been fantastic to get such a diverse range of experience on such a large number of issues that have a public interest significance," says Jacob.

Nemchin, who graduated from Osgoode, is a welcome fixture at the law school, regularly co-teaching an upper year course in Environmental Law with Brunnée. She has also worked closely with the law school's student environment group, this past year organizing a panel discussion on the federal government's proposed climate change legislation, and special screenings of Manufactured Landscapes - a film that won the best Canadian feature at last year's Toronto International film festival - and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

"I really see our relationship with the faculty as a great way of bridging the academic and theoretical world with the practical. It's a very positive cross-pollenization, where students get practical experience with us, and we get consistently fresh and energizing new ideas from the students we work with. It's a winning two-way street," says Nemchin.