Our History

It all began in the spring of 1974 when the Faculty Council, under the leadership of then Dean of Law, Ronald St. John Macdonald (LLB’52), designated marine and environmental law as an “area of special interest.”

Professor Douglas M. Johnston, the newly recruited coordinator of the marine and environmental program, proposed a two-year plan for curricular development. This program, offering a total of 12 courses in the two fields, involved full and part-time faculty such as Brian Flemming (LLB’62), Professors Edgar Gold, Hugh Kindred and Paul Emond. Since its inception, the Marine & Environmental Law Program (MELP) has provided LLB and then, later, post-graduate students (LLM and Doctoral) with one of the most extensive academic course offerings in these two fields in the world. Today, with more than 15 full and part-time faculty members currently teaching in the Program, Dalhousie students have a unique opportunity to learn about public and private practice in marine and environmental law taught from domestic and international perspectives. Students that specialize in these fields have the option of working towards a certificate of specialization in either Marine or Environmental Law, or both, while completing the three-year JD degree.

A history of research

Through the years MELP and, indeed, Dalhousie University’s strength in the fields of Ocean Studies—one of the areas of excellence for the university—have not been confined to teaching and course specializations. Research aimed at improving law, policy and management at national and international levels, has been a focus of MELP faculty.

In 1979, Dalhousie University received the “largest single grant” ($1 million) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to support 12 interdisciplinary projects in ocean law, policy and management. The four faculty receiving this then unprecedented grant were: Professor Arthur Hanson, then professor in Biology, later Director of the School for Resource and Environmental Studies, and later Canada’s Ocean Ambassador; Professors Johnston and Gold of MELP; and Sir J. H. Graham Day (LLB’56), then Professor and Director of the newly established Canadian Marine Transportation Centre. The 5-year research project—known as the Dalhousie Ocean Studies Program (DOSP) involved many other Law faculty members such as Professor Emeritus Christian Wiktor, visiting scholars such as law of the sea expert Professor Donat Pharand (LLM’53) among others. It also aimed at training a “new generation of marine specialists”, and attracted a cadre of researchers and LLB and graduate students including many of our current full and part time faculty members as well as leaders in the field in Canada and beyond.  They include Dal alumni and future long time deputy minister Peter Underwood (LLB’81); Ted McDorman (LLM’82), now Professor, University of Victoria, and editor of Ocean Development and International Law; Norman Letalik (LLM’80), partner with Borden Ladner Gervais, LLP, to name but a few.

DOSP was an extraordinary project that supported capacity building in Canada and overseas. Under the auspices of DOSP, our former chief librarian Christian Wiktor developed the Law Library’s acclaimed Marine Affairs Collection and Marine Affairs Bibliography. Research excellence from DOSP gave rise to the development of globally leading expertise. Faculty, such as Professor Dawn Russell (LLB’81), Dean of Law, emerged as experts on topics such as maritime boundary delimitation, fisheries management, maritime law and policy and marine environmental protection.

In the late 1980s, with the ending of the SSHRC grant, DOSP evolved into a non-governmental organization, the Oceans Institute of Canada (OIC) and its successors. Similar research, policy and capacity building projects were carried out by OIC under the direction of people such as former Dalhousie faculty member Judith Swan.

Reaching new levels

Within the Law faculty, MELP’s teaching and research continued and flourished under the guidance of rotating faculty directors such as Linda Duncan (LLM’98), Dawn Russell, Hugh Kindred, Moira McConnell (LLB’84), David VanderZwaag and Aldo Chircop. By 2003, it had become clear that the faculty’s cooperative research under the “Program” would be strengthened by the creation of a new structure—one that would foster more partnerships with programs here on campus and, as well, with other centres across Canada and around the world.

The Dalhousie Board of Governors formally recognized this legacy of research excellence on the part of Dalhousie Law School’s MELP faculty in 2004, with the creation of the Marine & Environmental Law Institute. The Institute, which is housed in facilities on the fourth floor of the Law School, carries out research and consultancy activities and also directs the MELP academic specialization. Its leading researcher is Professor David L. VanderZwaag, Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Ocean, Law and Governance. The Director is Professor Meinhard Doelle and the Associate Director is Professor Moira L. McConnell. Former Professors Gold, Charles, Hanson, Kindred and Wiktor, along with Dal alumnus, Brian Flemming, are the Honorary Fellows of the Institute; MELP’s full and part-time teaching faculty are now the Institute’s Teaching Associates.

Thanks to a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant, secured by Professor VanderZwaag, and other funds raised by Dean Dawn Russell to match the funds from CFI, the Institute begian its life with a generous research facility and space to host the many national and international visitors that come to use Dalhousie’s excellent specialized collection of the Law Library and to work with the expert faculty.

In addition to their teaching and scholarly research and publication activities, faculty associated with the Institute increasingly carry out research projects and are frequently invited to provide advisory services to agencies of the United Nations, such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, as well, international non-governmental organizations such as The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Regional organizations such as the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency have also benefited from the work at the Institute. Many Associates have an involvement with national and local organizations such as Ecojustice, ECELAW, Solar Nova Scotia, and G.P.I. Atlantic, as well as working with federal and provincial governments and agencies.

The Marine & Environmental Law Institute hosted an editorial office for the Journal of Environmental Law and Practice (JELP), and currentlyl hosts the Ocean Yearbook, a major international multi-disciplinary annual of the International Ocean Institute, devoted to ocean affairs. Dalhousie Law students assist with editing the Ocean Yearbook and JELP, and have the chance to gain experience working as research assistants on the Institute’s research projects and workshops.

The Marine & Environment Law Institute continues to work closely with on-campus student groups such as the Environmental Law Students’ Society and frequently collaborates closely with other faculties, interdisciplinary graduate programs and other scholars at Dalhousie University.