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Celebrating a Legal Visionary

Law professor Stewart Elgie chats with Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux Dube, Institute of the Environment Director Dr. Scott Findlay and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair at the Ottawa premiere of the film, A Chemical Reaction on March 11.

Law professor Stewart Elgie chats with Supreme Court Justice Claire L’Heureux Dube, Institute of the Environment Director Dr. Scott Findlay and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair at the Ottawa premiere of the film, A Chemical Reaction on March 11.

I have to bring attention to an article in today’s Vancouver Sun, which declares tomorrow, Dec. 5, as “EcoJustice Day:” http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/Ecojustice+celebrates+Mother+Nature+legal+team/3928281/story.html.

The significance would be lost on virtually everyone in the United States and, I’m guessing, most people in Canada, too. But EcoJustice, the Canadian non-profit environmental law firm formerly known as Sierra Legal Defense Fund, is hugely important to those of us in the organic lawn care movement and the environmental movement in general.

Founded 20 years ago by a visionary young Harvard graduate named Stewart Elgie, EcoJustice/Sierra Legal has taken on all sorts of cases where the environment needed a champion. No cases were more significant than Hudson v. Spraytech and ChemLawn, which started in the Canadian court system in 1992 and wound up in the Supreme Court of Canada eight years later.

The unanimous 9-0 decision in favor of Hudson in June of 2001 allowed hundreds of Canadian municipalities to eliminate dangerous lawn and garden pesticides from their communities. Elgie argued the case himself as an intervenor and the outcome he elicited — the first invocation of the Precautionary Principle in a legal case anywhere in the world — gave EcoJustice/Sierra Legal the most important environmental victory in world history. The Precautionary Principle has now been invoked in numerous other cases inside and outside of Canada.

We’d like to take this opportunity, along with the people of Vancouver, to say a personal thanks to Stewart Elgie and the lawyers and staff at EcoJustice. In our world, they gave us our Waterloo, a defining legal victory that has propelled and empowered us for a decade. I can’t imagine what I would be doing without the Hudson victory, but I’m virtually certain I would not be full-time environmental advocate. Without Hudson, it’s highly unlikely the rest of Canada would have followed suit in eliminating lawn chemicals. Without Hudson, the movement would not have taken hold in the U.S. Tens of millions of applications of toxic pesticides have not happened thanks to this case, thanks to this organization and thanks to an amazing man.

I’ll never forget the day that Brett Plymale, the director of the film about the Hudson case titled A Chemical Reaction, and I left Stewart Elgie’s modest office at the University of Ottawa. Brett and I, in seven years of working together, have interviewed several hundred people and yet this man clearly stood out.

“I think that’s the most intelligent person we’ve ever talked to,” said Brett. I agreed.

I can only imagine the money someone like Stewart Elgie might have made in his career had he taken a different legal path. We’re all richer because he chose to protect the environment and inspire a team of newly dedicated lawyers at EcoJustice to do the same.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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