Receiving the Law Society Medal

On December 8, 2020, Treasurer Theresa Donnelly, head of the Law Society of Ontario officially awarded me a 2020 Law Society Medal for leadership in environmental law, on behalf of Ontario's 55,000 lawyers and 9000 paralegals. This is what I said in thanks.

medalLaw Society Medal for leadership in environmental law

Thank you, Treasurer.

Like other honourees, I went to law school to make a difference. 

A central Jewish principle is the obligation of each person to help repair the world. We call it Tikun Olam. This obligation falls most heavily on those who have been lucky in life, as I have been. Lucky to be born to loving parents in a safe and prosperous country, at a time when a Jewish woman could go to law school. Lucky to have reasonable health, a supportive partner, fabulous children and grandchildren. And lucky that, after 10 years of trying, I found my way into environmental law.

I love being an environmental lawyer

It’s been an immense privilege to be a pioneer of Canadian environmental law. I have worked with wonderful people on fascinating and important issues. I have raised public consciousness. I have coaxed clients into cleaning up their act. I have supported my family and my staff. I have won cases and made deals, influenced thought and affected public policy. I have inspired and mentored young people. I have been honoured with public trust, and with the recognition of my colleagues, such as this award tonight for leadership in environmental law. I am very grateful for it all.

But climate and environmental crises are worse

I wish I could declare it all a success. But while we have been living lovely lives, huge changes have been happening. Since I graduated from law school in 1974, human destruction has pushed the natural world towards the edge of collapse. The beautiful wild creatures with whom we share this world are disappearing everywhere. The natural systems on which our lives depend are starting to break down. Global heating is turbocharging fires, storms and floods. Human systems are also breaking down, as the wealthy grow more powerful, twisting legal and political systems to their benefit. As inequality grows, social trust and cohesion are weakening. Standing up for truth and for science are being stigmatized as taking sides.

We can see this in many places in the world, and alas Ontario is one of them. Two generations’ worth of hard earned environmental laws have proved easy prey. Just today, the Ford government used a so-called Covid recovery Bill to ram through another attack on conservation authorities and the natural places they protect. As the birds, frogs and fish die, as the floods and droughts worsen, I must ask: how much good has my lifetime of environmental law done? 

Running for office for the Green Party

As a last resort, I am following in my father’s footsteps and going into politics. As of last week, I am now the Green Party candidate in University Rosedale, and the deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario. This is not an easy step. Women are treated badly in politics; Jewish women who speak up for climate action, doubly so. But hopefully it will be a meaningful path to using the law for good and to help repair the world. Why else did we go to law school?

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