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Graduating student's environmental law paper wins CBA essay contest

Posted by Jane Doucet on April 30, 2019 in News, Students, Marine & Environmental Law Institute, Awards
Riley Weyman's work as a tree planter in Alberta spurred the idea for his paper. (Photo: Jane Doucet)
Riley Weyman's work as a tree planter in Alberta spurred the idea for his paper. (Photo: Jane Doucet)

The Schulich School of Law is pleased to announce that third-year student Riley Weyman has won the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) National Environmental, Energy, and Resources Law Section (NEERLS) Student Essay Contest – Gowling WLG – David Estrin Prize for his paper “Environmental Liability?: The Current State of Alberta’s Oil and Gas Well and Oils Sands Mining Liability Regimes.” The CBA will publish Weyman’s paper on its website and fly him to the CBA’s NEERLS Summit in Vancouver on May 2 to accept the prize.

The $1,000 prize was established in honour of David Estrin, a pioneer of environmental law in Canada. It’s presented annually for the best scholarly paper submitted to the CBA’s Environmental, Energy, and Resources Law Section on a subject directly related to environmental, energy, or resources law in Canada. All full-time university students currently enrolled at a Canadian law school at either an undergraduate or graduate level are eligible to enter.

Weyman saw a notice about the competition on the Marine and Environmental Law Program’s bulletin board on the fourth floor of the Weldon Law Building, as well as on MySchulichLaw.ca. “I put a lot of time and effort into my paper, so I’m honoured to win the award and to be recognized by the CBA,” says Weyman, who wrote the 12,000-word paper last fall for Professor Sara Seck’s Business and Environment course. “I want to thank Professor Seck for her help and guidance through the writing process, and for suggesting that I look into getting the paper published.”

I saw the impact of what oil sands mining is—in some places, the land looks a bit like Mars. — Riley Weyman

The paper’s topic was related to the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Redwater Energy Corporation case, which revealed cracks in the Alberta energy regulatory regime and exposed the potential financial consequences of the failing system on the Alberta public and responsible resource companies in that province. It also formed the background for this year’s Willms & Shier Environmental Law Moot, in which Weyman participated.

“Riley’s research makes an important contribution to difficult legal and policy questions that are at the heart of the intersection between environment and business regulation in Canada,” says Seck. “I am thrilled to see his work receive recognition from the CBA NEERLS competition, and especially delighted that he is the recipient of a prize in honour of David Estrin, whose important contributions include recent work for the International Bar Association on climate justice.”

An eye-opening experience

Weyman came to Schulich Law knowing that he wanted to practice environmental law. While here, he completed a certificate of specialization in environmental law at the Marine and Environmental Law Institute. His interest in this area of law was piqued during his undergrad in international development and Canadian studies at McGill, where he chose to focus on urban geography and environmental management.

Riley’s research makes an important contribution to difficult legal and policy questions that are at the heart of the intersection between environment and business regulation in Canada. — Professor Sara Seck

During his final semester at McGill, Weyman did a field study in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, where he took courses in ethnobotany and nutrition, East African ecology and primatology, and environmental management. “It opened my eyes to the need for conservation and the importance of preserving the natural environment,” he says.

To help finance law school, Weyman spent five summers working as a tree planter and crew boss in northern Alberta. For part of that time, he did forestry-reclamation work in Fort McMurray’s oil sands, which is what spurred the idea for his paper. “I saw the impact of what oil sands mining is—in some places, the land looks a bit like Mars,” he says. When a mine is no longer in use, topsoil is brought in and people are hired to plant pine, spruce, birch, alder, and aspen, as well as different varieties of berry shrubs, in order to rejuvenate the land.

Weyman is particularly interested in the intersection between environmental law, energy law, Aboriginal law, and Canada’s North. After he graduates, he’ll begin articling at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP in his home city of Toronto. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to attending the NEERLS Summit. “For someone who’s entering a niche market in this section of the CBA, going to this conference will be a great opportunity to meet other people who are working in this area of law from across Canada,” he says.