Dalhousie Law Journal


environmental law, environmental reform, Law Reform Commission, core conception, international law


Early in the 1970s, the American legal scholar, David Trubeck, made a far-reaching observation: Law is a practical science. It does not ordinarily dwell on fundamental questions about the social, political and economic functions of the legal order. Satisfied with implicit working assumptions about these matters, legal thought moves rapidly to more tractable questions. But when law's solutions to social problems fail to satisfy, it becomes necessary to examine the basic theory from which they derive. Trubeck expounded this thesis in connection with legal developments in the Third World. Using an idea he termed the "core conception" of law, Trubeck argued that "this conception has misdirected the study of law and development by asserting that one type of law - that found in the West - is essential for economic, political, and social development in the Third World." This paper applies Trubeck's observation to Canadian environmental law reform. It emphasizes two points. First, environmental law is not centered in the environment or in the law; it is centered in a particular society's social, political and economic outlook. Trubeck suggests that law is best considered as only an effect of progressive society, not a cause. As such, law is confined to an instrumental status: it is the means of reform, but not itself the impetus. For this reason, legal reform is not simply a matter of looking elsewhere for interesting approaches and then legislating them into a particular society. Instead, law reform is dependent on appreciating a society's particular composition.