Executive Summary

Executive Summary

The general topic of this research paper is environmental law enforcement in North America.

Specifically, we are exploring the relationship between the Citizen Submission Process (CSP) administered by the Submission and Enforcement Matters (SEM) unit of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) and the level of environmental law enforcement in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signatory countries. We are investigating this relationship to assess the effectiveness of the CSP in its stated goal of contributing to the overall environmental quality of the North American continent by enhancing environmental law enforcement efforts by the governments of the three countries on their respective environmental laws.

By allowing ordinary citizens to participate in a “ whistle blowing’ function that can trigger an investigative process administered by our client that culminates in the production of a comprehensive document called a factual record, our client is participating in a modest experiment in public participation in international environmental law enforcement, a domain until recently the sole preserve of sovereign states.

For this reason, the effectiveness of the process deserves careful evaluation and study. We designed first a pilot project, and then incorporated the results of this into a methodology that would enable such an evaluation. The pilot project included a literature review, the design and testing of an interview instrument, a media search and a government document search. Certain limitations emerged with most of these methods, which we incorporated into our final methodological design.

These limitations included a certain paucity of literature, as this process is only 6 years old and has had to date only 35 submissions , with only 3 factual records.

There was a similar shortage of interview subjects with direct experience of the process, for the same reasons (a small sample size means a qualitative analysis); and the highly individual and contextual nature of the 35 submissions – remembering that there are three complete sets of environmental laws here, and three jurisdictions, and three states. The short time frame made the availability of interview subjects problematic due to scheduling problems, and the effort of remembering circumstances over a distance of years in some cases made the data somewhat unreliable.

Although the media searches may indicate the public profile of the CSP, the direction of the causal relationship between public opinion and media coverage is a debatable and contentious issue perhaps best confined to the realm of philosophy.

For the government document search, the main challenge is inferring the relevant government opinion, which, in this instance, may or may not be in the public domain.

For our final methodological recommendations, we analyzed and synthesized these limitations into a best possible prescription for pursuing our research goal.

© 2002 McGill School of Environment
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