Environmental law’s new star

The field of environmental law has a new star. Michelle Campbell, 32, is a third-year Osgoode Hall Law School student and the winner of the 2004 Sir John A. Mactaggart Essay Prize in Environmental Law.

Right: Michelle Campbell

Campbell’s paper, titled Re-inventing Intervention in the Public Interest: Breaking Down Barriers to Access, examines the role of community groups and individuals, otherwise known as interveners (or individuals who do not have formal standing in the court), in environmental law court cases. In her paper, she reviews how public intervention has changed over the years.

“Michelle is one of Osgoode’s most talented environmental law students with a bright future ahead of her in the environmental law field. It is a tribute to her superior writing and research skills that she has won the Mactaggart Essay Prize – the only environmental law prize of its kind in Canada – for her essay on public intervention,” said Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School. “She is also on the shortlist of candidates under consideration for first prize in the Ministry of Justice’s national annual essay competition for her submission on climate law and the Kyoto Protocol.”

Interveners have played significant roles in environmental law, explains Campbell, who cited, as an example, the case involving the town of Hudson, Quebec, and two companies who were licensed to apply pesticides. Hudson had passed a municipal bylaw in 1991 which restricted pesticides for cosmetic use with in its boundaries. The companies challenged the law and lost both challenges. The companies then took the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. On June 28, 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the power of municipal governments to restrict the use of pesticides within their communities. The decision reinforced the ability of municipal governments to protect both the health of their citizens and their local environment.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Nature-Action Quebec, with legal representation from the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, successfully intervened in the precedent-setting case in support of local pesticide reduction initiatives. On behalf of the three groups, Sierra Legal argued that municipalities have an important role to play in protecting the health of residents and the environment, and that pesticide reduction measures are within the bounds of their local powers.

Campbell, a mature student, has a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Guelph and a BSc in environment science from the University of Waterloo. A native of Norwood, Ont., Campbell’s essay was one of 17 submissions from students enrolled in law schools across the country. The judges were unanimous in their view that hers was the best paper and that it made a useful contribution to the environmental law field by addressing an issue in environmental law that is original, significant and relevant to Canada. Campbell’s advisor was Osgoode Professor Benjamin Richardson.

“My paper provides an overview of the law of public interest intervention in Canadian courts, with a special emphasis on intervention in environmental law cases,” said Campbell. “The prize is a $500 cash award provided by the Mactaggart Third Fund, plus a bound volume of my choice from Carswell, who are suppliers of law books. My paper,” she added, with a trace of pride, “will also be submitted to the Journal of Environmental Law and Practice for consideration for publication.” JELP is Canada’s foremost environmental law journal.