Students at Osgoode have the ability to get real world experience in affecting positive environmental change by combining theory and practice through the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic. The program is a full-year 15-credit course and has students getting involved in meaningful and long-lasting relationships with local community organizations.
While any policy change or effective steps in the future of equitable environmentalism undoubtedly take time and long-lasting community relationship-building, Program Director Dayna Scott explains that while students begin and end the clinic from September to April, they carry cases over and keep relationships active for the next set of students arriving in September.
“Students won’t necessarily be able to tie a whole project up with a bow, but more students will take over and keep working on it. Myself and professor Estair Van Wagner try to keep those relationships alive within the community because they are much longer term relationships,” Scott continues.
As part of a range of experiential learning programs offered by York, the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic aims to tackle diverse issues related to climate change and environmentalism such as Indigenous rights, civil rights, and gender equality. There are long-term placements such as those with the Canadian Environmental Law Association or EcoJustice, where students continue integral work on their current cases as well as more urgent cases.
“We also do common clinic projects, where students work together with us on pressing priorities for various community organizations, or First Nations who have legal research needs, but don’t have a supervising lawyer— so it wouldn’t be one of our formal placements.
“For these cases, we try to work on things in three areas: We try to include something in relation to resource extraction or sustainability each year, we try to include something focused on climate justice, and then we also try to have something that’s more of an urban planning or municipal law type of problem. Those things all overlap, of course, and it varies from year to year, but we try to cover those three areas as students typically have an interest in one or more of those,” says Scott.
Entry into the program, while competitive, is open to second- and third-year students, and accepts only 20 to 30 students per year, with priority given to third years in the case of oversubscription.
“Sometimes students come in with a really strong demonstrated commitment to environmental justice or sustainability that’s already apparent on their CV or in the work that they’ve done in the past prior to law school, and we generally admit those students directly into the clinic.
“We also give people a chance that have learned about it in law school and are discovering environmental justice or sustainability as an interest, and want to experiment with it as a potential practice area,” Scott explains.
Ultimately, according to Scott, the Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic is trying to “foster a sense of working together on big problems in hopes that students will get into the spirit of cooperation and collective effort to solve problems like climate change, which can feel overwhelming and beyond us.
“But there’s a power and a kind of energy you can get from working together with a team on things and we try to achieve those through the clinics,” Scott concludes.
Information on the Environmental Justice Clinic and Eligibility Requirements can be found on their webpage.