Skip to main content

David R. Boyd – Environmental Law in Canada

May 31, 2013

by Todd Wildermuth, School of Law

Drawing from The Environmental Rights Revolution, he discussed the sudden and widespread human rights phenomenon of constitutional provisions to a healthy environmental across the globe. As of 1972, there were no constitutions in the world that incorporated environmental rights. Dr. Boyd’s extensive research demonstrates that today three-quarters of the world’s constitutions include explicit references to environmental rights and/or environmental responsibilities. And this has been a revolution of rights on more than paper alone, he added: Constitutional environmental protection is consistently correlated with superior environmental performance by a variety of metrics.On April 8, scholar, lawyer, and author David R. Boyd visited the University of Washington School of Law as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Center for Canadian Studies. Dr. Boyd presented selections from his two latest books, both published in 2012 by the University of British Columbia Press.

Contrary to the worldwide trend, however, both the United States and Canada are prominent among the countries missing such provisions in their constitutions. Boyd argues with equal parts reason and passion that the time has come for Canada to adopt a constitutional provision ensuring all Canadians a right to a healthy environment – hence the title of his other recent book, The Right to a Healthy Environment in Canada: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution. In this emphasis he joins a long history in Canada of similar efforts – from Pierre Trudeau’s environmental leadership starting in the 1960s, to periodic efforts by Canadian activist lawyers since the 1970s, to a legislative effort in 2011 that resulted in a near-miss for a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights. Yes, Canada’s constitution is notoriously difficult to amend, Boyd admitted, and the debacles of Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord highlight that fact. But the Canadian constitution has been successfully amended at least 11 times since 1982. Constitutional change is distinctly possible, even if challenging.

Canada has – in Boyd’s terms, and right along with the U.S. – turned from an environmental leader to a disappointing environmental laggard. Establishing a constitutional right to a clean environment could turn this around. “By converting our highest ideals into constitutional rights and responsibilities,” he argues, “we can build the Canada we want” and lead once again.

Todd A. Wildermuth is Scholar in Residence at the University of Washington School of Law and recently joined the Canadian Studies Center as an Affiliated Faculty. He teaches courses in land use permitting and land conservation, and coordinates the environmental and natural resource law program of the law school. Todd is currently using the Alberatan oil sands controversies in a case study for a Spring 2013 the U.W. Program on the Environment honors seminar.