An interview with Harry Wruck, a lawyer with Ecojustice

On April 27th, five days after Earth Day, join Reel Causes as we explore the #ClimateRevolution. We will watch the documentary How to Let Go of the World and Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change from Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox; and learn about environmental issues in British Columbia from our community cause Ecojustice. Following the film there will be a Q&A with Ecojustice lawyer Harry Wruck and local change-makers.

We interviewed Harry Wruck in the lead-up to our event, to give you a taste of what to expect on the 27th.

In the documentary, the filmmaker travels to 12 countries on 6 continents to explore the topic of climate change globally. What are some of the most pressing issues contributing to climate change here in Canada/BC?
The first thing that comes to my mind is Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which faces fierce public opposition in British Columbia and is the subject of an ongoing Ecojustice lawsuit. This is a project that will lead to a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through the critical habitat of endangered orcas (killer whales.) It will also expand Canada’s fossil fuel infrastructure and impede our transition to clean energy technologies at a time in which there is a clear scientific imperative to decarbonize our economy. And of course, many people are concerned about the increased risk of a massive oil spill, especially when we’ve seen how inadequate emergency clean-up efforts are for relatively minor spill incidents like the recent English Bay fiasco.

Coal exports are another issue that is weighing heavily on my mind these days. A few years ago, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority approved a project that could see four million tonnes of American thermal coal shipped through the Lower Mainland each year. This coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world, would then be transferred to ships or barges, and ultimately exported to Asia. As you’ll see in the documentary, this coal is nasty stuff and contributes to the horrifying air pollution problems in China and causes serious health risks, including cancer, heart disease and asthma.

One of the reasons this project was put on the table in the first place is that various ports in California, Oregon and Washington have shut the door on permitting coal exports. So now, American coal companies are trying to go through Canada to get their coal to market as quickly as possible. My colleagues at Ecojustice and I have been working with local residents and community groups for the past three years to take the Port and the builder of the project, Fraser Surrey Docks, to court. This is hard-fought litigation. Lawyers for the Port and Fraser Surrey Docks have pulled out all the stops to prevent this case from ever being heard.  But they have been unsuccessful, and our case will finally be heard in May.

Our clients don’t want to see their communities become conduits for dirty coal. Not only are they concerned about the potential impacts posed to their health; they are also worried about the urgent need for action on climate change. And to be clear, shipping coal to Asia is inconsistent with the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In fact, scientific studies conclude that we need to keep 80{707270f93d4e79913c93e405818234de3d97bbf8a93a2a957154856abb85856e} of the world’s coal in the ground if we are to secure a livable earth for the next generation and limit warming to two-degrees above pre-industrial levels.


In the documentary, the filmmaker asks the questions: what is it that climate change can’t destroy? What is so deep within us that no calamity can take it away? Thoughts?
The challenges we face as a civilization are enormous, but we have no option but to rise to the challenge. I am always amazed at how resourceful and resilient people are. We want to survive, and we will fight hard to survive. The documentary really captures this human will to survive and protect what is most precious to us very well. All over the world, communities are using their knowledge, history, culture and unique skills to mobilize opposition to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and fight back against climate change. They do it because it’s how they can protect their homes, their culture and their way of life. That’s really all there is to it.

All of the impacts of climate change can be overwhelming: deforestation, rising temperatures, oil spills, etc. If someone feels inspired to take action, but overwhelmed with all the issues at hand, how would you recommend they get involved?
The most important thing to recognize is that each us has the power to do something, however big or small. I’ve never thought of myself as an “environmentalist”, but as a lawyer I can use my legal advocacy skills to bring important environmental issues before the courts. The clients I’m working with are terrific community organizers who have put their hearts and souls into protecting their families and their communities. And of course, Ecojustice has many generous supporters across the county. These people volunteer their time and money, and their valuable contributions to ensure that the team at Ecojustice has the resources we need to take on fights like the one against the Fraser Surrey Docks project.

When I see what’s happened with this coal project and how bravely our clients have stood up for their communities, I am motivated to help them fight for what’s right. Cases like these, when you’re challenging the government and industry, are like a David vs. Goliath battle. For many years, I worked for the federal government’s justice department, so more often than not I was the Goliath in those match-ups. Now I’m on the other side, and my focus now is on making sure my clients get their day in court— and that they have a good shot at winning.

At our event, we will have these posters for people to fill out. So we ask you: what are YOU fighting for?
If we continue on the present path I have no doubt that humanity and our planet is at serious risk of extinction. I want to play a small role in helping save our planet for my two kids.

Harry Wruck, Q.C., is a lawyer with Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity. Before joining Ecojustice, Harry served as a senior general counsel with the Department of Justice, where he specialized in complex civil litigation, including environmental prosecutions.

Ecojustice uses the law to protect nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all. Learn more about how Harry and the Ecojustice team are building the case for a better earth by visiting