Intervenor: Vol. 26, no. 2-3, April - August 2001

Facing International Challenges: Executive Director's Report

Providing a brief description of CELA's programs and activities is often difficult. On the one hand, one can describe at length all of the cases that the clinic is involved with in assisting low income people and disadvantaged communities with their environmental problems. Related to this work are the activities CELA pursues dealing with its law reform and public legal education mandate in attempting to improve the laws and policies that seek to protect the environment.

Besides these casework and law reform activities in Ontario, CELA is also very active at the international level. CELA has taken on a very strategic role in researching the impacts and implications of trade arrangements and indeed, attempting to influence the negotiations of these agreements to ensure that the environment and public health is better protected. The international character of CELA will be enhanced since CELA now houses the IPEN Secretariat. (Read in this issue "International POPs Elimination Network Establishes Office at CELA.")

Further, CELA's international work also involves working with local communities in other countries. For instance, CELA is co-sponsoring a workshop in Peru in the fall in the hope of assisting those communities with the impact of mining enterprises on health and the environment.

At first glance, CELA's work at the grassroots level in Ontario and at the international level may lead to the impression that CELA works in two very different and separate spheres of activity. However, in actual practice they are not very different because:

  • The international work provides the organization with information on the challenges, experiences and opportunities in other jurisdictions;
  • The CELA programs remind us that there is a direct connection between local and international issues; for example, while CELA has been working with local groups for 30 years to protect the Great Lakes, its international expertise, particularly its intimate understanding of the trade implications, played a significant role for CELA as it worked to stop a proposal to export water from Lake Superior to the Far East; and
  • CELA's work in local communities informs and empowers CELA's participation at the international level by allowing the organization to relate local concerns, experiences and aspirations.

Globalization is the issue of the day. It is a complex and troubling one, and one that CELA has attempted to understand and involve itself in on behalf of our constituencies. CELA's various activities at the international level have positioned CELA to well carry out its various mandates.

Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA