In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada made a historic ruling about an Edmonton landmark. In Groat v the City of Edmonton, the Court held that pollution constitutes a nuisance.
That’s interesting if you hear about it in a University of Alberta Faculty of Law class a few kilometres from the place that prompted the suit. It’s mighty memorable if you absorb the information right in the ravine where the city was dumping street waste and ruining the quality of creek water for its property owners.
So each year, Associate Professor Cameron Jefferies tours his Environmental Law class through the North Saskatchewan River valley.
“We contemplate the river’s ecology and historical uses, Edmonton’s colonial and pre-colonial history, the region’s first coal-fired power plant, and contemporary management challenges.”
They end up at Groat Ravine where the city once allowed surface dirt from the streets (mostly horse manure) to wash into the creek, spurring a lawsuit from a member of the Groat family.
“I think there’s more retention because the result is that in test answers later in the year the Groat case always seems to work its way into student answers,” says Jefferies.
The field trip is but one of Jefferies’ teaching techniques that earned him a 2019 Hon. Tevie H. Miller Teaching Excellence Award.
He also impressed the award’s selection committee with new courses he developed and with how he integrates unique exercises into his classes. For International Environmental Law, for instance, he created a mock climate change negotiation in which each student represented a different country. The class then engaged in a three-day negotiation for a post-Paris Agreement accord.
Jefferies says his goal is to connect the substantive and theoretical aspects of the law to practical, real-world applications.
The course he created in Oceans Law & Policy informs many areas of practice that future lawyers may encounter, from commerce and transportation (most of our goods travel to us via oceans) to communications (undersea cables carry the world’s Internet data) to pipeline expansions (delayed, in part, due to concerns over potential oil tanker spills off the west coast).
Even legal decisions concerning climate change require a good grasp of what oceans do, says Jefferies.
“We’re reliant on ecological services from the ocean — 65 to 70 per cent of oxygen comes from oceans. It’s a major climate buffer. You can’t talk about climate change without talking about oceans.”
In order that his students in a landlocked province can talk about oceans knowledgeably, for the past two years Jefferies has offered one-week of study at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island, Canada’s pre-eminent station for ocean biology research and a terminus for cable beneath the Pacific Ocean. Students receive lectures from scientists, conduct basic oceanographic surveys in the field and experiments in the laboratories.
Jefferies has expanded that course to a full term for 2019-2020, and hopes to soon apply some of his other teaching approaches to the class in Oil and Gas Law he also teaches.
Meanwhile, he is honoured to be a recipient of an Hon. H. Tevie Miller award.
“This is a Faculty that has a really strong reputation for teaching,” he says. “I’ve taken classes with a lot of the instructors here and I’ve often tried to craft my own teaching in the style of teachers I admire. It’s incredibly flattering to be recognized among the educators I look up to.”
The Hon. Tevie H. Miller Teaching Excellence Awards will be presented on September 25 at 5 p.m. in CN Alumni Hall.