Osgoode makes mooting history

York’s Osgoode Hall Law School recently made Canadian mooting history when it staged the first and only national moot court competition devoted to environmental law.

Two months later, the law school is still receiving kudos about the inaugural Willms & Shier Environmental Law Moot. “Long overdue!” and “A tremendous success!” are just two of many very positive comments participating lawyers, judges and students have made about this distinctive moot.

Founded by Osgoode in partnership with Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP, the goal of the competition is to promote awareness of the growing role of environmental issues in contemporary legal practice and public life, while enhancing law students’ written and oral advocacy skills.

Eight teams of law students and coaches from Osgoode, Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto, Dalhousie University and the University of Victoria descended on the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto on Feb. 19, to argue the case Cousins vs. McColl-Frontenac Inc., after having filed written arguments in January. The case focused on the measure of damages for contaminated land, a controversial and unsettled question in Canadian law.

“Osgoode has long been a pioneer in clinical education and was one of the first Canadian law schools to offer courses on environmental law,” said Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin (LLB ’92). “This important new event further cements York’s leading position in these fields.”

Osgoode Professor Stepan Wood (LLB ‘92), the driving force behind the founding of the competition, said the idea was hatched more than 10 years ago when he took a team of students to compete in the US National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition at Pace University in New York.

Stepan WoodLeft: Stepan Wood

“We enjoyed the experience, but it was hard to compete against American law students on fine points of US administrative, constitutional and statutory law,” said Wood. “I came away thinking how much better it would be if Canadian law students could have a competition on their own turf, grappling with cutting-edge issues in Canadian environmental law.”

Over the following years Wood tossed the idea around with environmental law students, professors and practitioners from around the country. The response was enthusiastic. “There was clearly a substantial demand for a national environmental law moot,” said Wood, who is also a former director of Osgoode’s Mooting Program.

Wood approached his former Osgoode classmate Marc McAree (LLB/MES ’93), who heads the litigation group of one of Canada’s foremost environmental law boutique firms, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP, and the firm’s founder John Willms (LLB ’72), about partnering with Osgoode to create the moot competition. “They jumped at the opportunity and threw the firm’s resources into the effort enthusiastically,” Wood said.

One distinguishing feature about the Willms & Shier Environmental Law Moot, shared with only a handful of moots, is that each student must research, prepare and deliver oral arguments for both sides. “This requires an intimate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in each side’s position,” noted Wood. “The adaptability and breadth of perspective needed to do this well are invaluable preparation for life as a lawyer.”

While Osgoode did not win awards this time around, the law school was ably represented by Juris Doctor (JD) students Kent Parsons and Terry Romaniuk, coached by Paula Boutis of Iler Campbell LLP and Eric Gillespie of Eric K. Gillespie PC.

 A member of the Dalhousie University team argues before (from left) Barry Weintraub of Rueter Scargall Bennett LLP, Isabelle O'Connor and James Flagal (LLB/MES '93) of the Ontario Ministry of Environment Legal Services Branch, while respondents Osgoode students Kent Parsons and Terry Romaniuk (far right) look onRight: A member of the Dalhousie University team argues before (from left) Barry Weintraub of Rueter Scargall Bennett LLP, Isabelle O’Connor and James Flagal (LLB/MES ’93) of the Ontario Ministry of Environment Legal Services Branch, while respondents Osgoode students Kent Parsons and Terry Romaniuk (far right) look on

Osgoode students Anton Tabuns and Kirsten Mikadze stepped in courageously as an exhibition team when another team withdrew at the last minute. Nikki Petersen operated the complex scorekeeping system while Natalie MacDonnell managed a team of 20 volunteers from Osgoode, York, the University of Toronto, the Ontario Bar Association and Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers. Tracy Razi of Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers was the moot’s administrator.

“I was very impressed by how many students came out to work as volunteers at the event,” Wood said. “Without them, the event would not have been the success that it was.”

The tournament was judged by leading environmental law practitioners and judges, many of whom commented on the high level of advocacy. Queen’s University and the University of Toronto argued the championship match in a packed Courtroom Number 1 at historic Osgoode Hall, before an illustrious panel including Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada, Michael Moldaver and Robert Armstrong of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Katherine van Rensburg of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and the retired chair of the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, Toby Vigod.

Sean Miller, Stephen Ronan and Patrick Stratton of Queen’s University, coached by Professor Bruce Pardy, took home the Willms & Shier Environmental Law Moot Championship trophy. Miller also won the award for First Place Oralist. The University of Toronto and Dalhousie were the second and third place teams.

Osgoode Professor and environmental law pioneer Paul Emond (LLB ’72) graciously lent his name to the D. Paul Emond Award for Best Respondent’s Factum, won by Dalhousie University. The University of Toronto won the award for Best Appellant’s Factum. In the tournament’s spirit of innovation and sustainability, the trophy and mini-awards were all one-of-a-kind creations made from antique objects and hand-carved driftwood.

The next Willms & Shier Environmental Law Moot will be held in February 2013.