Mtre Karine Péloffy

Mtre Karine Péloffy : defending wildlife, plants and the earth for our children
By Johanne Landry
(Article published on December 12, 2017)

Mtre Karine Péloffy, Executive Director of the Quebec Environmental Law Centre/ Centre québécois du Droit de l’environnement (CQDE), was born with an ingrained concern for the environment. As a young girl, after watching the film Free Willy, she saw a message asking people who wanted to help whales to phone in. She wrote down the number and called but to her disappointment, she realized it was for a fund-raising campaign. “In my childhood innocence, I thought that I was going to take a boat to save endangered whales,” she said.

She did, however, play a role in helping endangered beluga whales in 2014, when she raised her hand to accept the request of the CQDE’s co-founder, Michel Bélanger, for volunteers to help him manage major cases, including a motion for an injunction against TransCanada to cease geotechnical drilling in the waters off Cacouna. “We obtained an interlocutory injunction against the work by showing that there was a perceived problem in the government’s authorization and a real risk to belugas, which were using the area as a breeding ground,” she explained. Since then, the company has announced the scrapping of the Energy East Pipeline Project. “I have the impression of coming full circle,” the lawyer told us.

“Mtre Péloffy’s career is inspirational for all those young lawyers in search of meaning, who are seeking to be recognized or appreciated. When intelligence and skills are applied to something you are passionate about and used for a commitment in line with your values, happiness and success grow exponentially,” added Mtre Christine Aubé-Gagnon, who put forward Mtre Karine Péloffy for the Figures de maître feature.

Called to the Bar in 2007, Mtre Péloffy started her career with Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, where an experience as part of a team pleading a case for $52 billion taught her, as she admits, the standards of excellence and the practice of collaboration in large teams. With a multi-disciplinary Master’s degree from the University of Oxford in environmental management from scientific, economic, legal and political perspectives, she worked as a lawyer for local communities near Congo-region forests at ClientEarth, the first European NGO of lawyers committed to environmental law. “It was an innovative approach to use international treaties to assert the rights of local populations to their forests. The experience led to a humiliating defeat but you need that in a career or else you get a swelled head,” she commented.

Once she returned to Canada after being away for five years, joining the CQDE seemed quite natural after having already developed expertise in climate change law. The second case for which Mtre Bélanger sought her help was to defend the Western Chorus Frog endangered by a development project in La Prairie. “This is one of the most studied endangered species and we had scientific proof that this habitat with a number of ponds and a metapopulation of frogs in good health could potentially allow the species to recover. The purpose of our endangered species laws is precisely to help the recovery of the species,” Mtre Péloffy explained. The case ended with the first Emergency Order issued by the Government of Canada to protect an endangered species on private property. There is now a two-sq. km area that will not be developed so that the Western Chorus Frog can continue to serenade us each spring.

What about Mtre Péloffy’s current concerns? Making proposals to the Government of Canada on what the future environmental protection act should contain, and especially a “climate test” to be included in the assessment of major infrastructure projects; the division of constitutional powers between the provincial and federal governments in the area of the environment; and giving citizens tools in the form of accessible legal information so that they can be agents of change.

“Environmental issues are paradoxical in that there is, on the one hand, an urgent need to act, especially in the case of biodiversity and climate changes. Our long-term survival depends on it. On the other hand, talking to each other, arriving at a consensus, consolidating our efforts, and making everyone commit to taking action all require a great deal of time,” said Mtre Péloffy, adding that environmental law has still not sufficiently penetrated other areas of law, such as commercial law, insurance law, real estate law or human rights, which offers an avenue for the future development of the profession.

“I am impressed by the quality of the lawyers who, like Mtre Péloffy, have been included in this column. They are a source of inspiration for our entire association and clearly show that we can change things when we put our minds to it,” concludes Bâtonnier Brian R. Mitchell.