Elizabeth May

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Environmental lawyer, lobbyist and professor of environmental law Elizabeth May, writer, activist, lawyer and mother, was born in Connecticut in 1954, eventually settling in Cape Breton in 1972. By the mid 1970s, she had become involved in environmental issues as leader of the Cape Breton Landowners Against the Spray who fought the forestry industry's use of insecticides there. This became an issue again in 2005 - see Cape Breton issues.

In 1980 Elizabeth entered the Dalhousie University Law School from which she graduated in 1983, thus fulfilling a desire she had harboured from the age of thirteen to become an environmental lawyer. She is a member of the Bar of Nova Scotia and Ontario.


She became very active in major environmental concerns in Nova Scotia. As a result of a 1983 court case involving chemical spraying that was settled in favour of pulp companies, her family found it necessary to resort to selling a sizable portion of property to pay court-ordered plaintiffs' costs. This bitter experience caused her to become even more dedicated to environmental contentions.

May held the position of Associate General Council at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in 1985, providing legal advice to consumer, poverty and environmental groups. In 1986, she was appointed Senior Policy Advisor to then Federal Environment Minister, Tom McMillan. While she held this post, several national parks were created; as well, new legislation and pollution control measures were drafted.

May was involved in many organizations that are concerned with natural resource management, sustainable development and protecting global ecosystems. Among these are Friends of the Earth Canada, the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund, Cultural Survival Canada, Pollution Probe, the Canadian Environmental Network, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.


Since 1989 May has held the title of Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, an organization dedicated to the development of a diverse, well-trained grassroots network that is devoted to protecting the integrity of global ecosystems.

In 1998, May became Assistant Professor, Elizabeth May Chair in Women's Health and Environment at Dalhousie University. During the announcement of the creation of the Chair on October 13, 1998, May was hailed as "the Rachel Carson of Canada, a reference to the environmentalist whose 1962 bestseller entitled Silent Spring is still regarded as a cornerstone of the new environmentalism.

During the month of May, 2001, May staged a 17-day hunger strike on Parliament Hill which resulted in the government's promising to relocate at-risk families adjacent to the Sydney Tar Ponds. Some accused her of grandstanding, however, claiming she had actually gained weight during this time. The matter remains unresolved.

Mays' honours include the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Sierra Club in 1989, the International Conservation Award from the Friends of Nature, and the United Nations Global 500 Award in 1990. In 1996, she was presented with the award for Outstanding Leadership in Environmental Education by the Ontario Society for Environmental Education. She received the Order of Canada in 2005.

In 2006 rumours began to spread that she was considering running for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada.

controversy over Sea Shepherd

Elizabeth May is on the board of Sea Shepherd, an organization engaged in direct action against ecological damage and "industries" that do such damage.

Regarding controversial comments by Jerry Vlasic, a fellow board member she claimed never to have met nor to have heard of until the controversy arose in April 2006.

As of April 20 she claimed that she will resign Sea Shepherd's board unless Paul Watson removes Vlasic from that same board. She says Vlasic offers "excuses for murder" and claims she "never even heard of him until 24 hours ago."

She advised Watson that "allowing such views to be expressed without expressly condemning them is a very serious mistake."

personal ethics

Also in the same CBC Radio interview she expressed her personal ethics as follows:

"I was deeply shocked and disturbed. There are extremists in any movement, and I think it's essential for leaders" to make clear they don't approve nor sanction such views or "justifications for murder".

"People that hold such extreme positions say that there is any justification for murder and make clear to anyone that could be influenced by it that it's completely unacceptable, immoral, and of course illegal."

"If you look at these statements, there is no way to excuse them. The idea that there is a distinction between idle threats of violence, and active ones..." is invalid and this is how she interprets Paul Watson. She claims that it is impossible to claim that "murder is defensible." This however is claimed in politics all the time. She demands that Watson repudiate any claim that it is valid to "kill someone" to defend animals...

"This is not really an environmental issue. This is an extremist position in an animal rights context... like the abortion movement... a sense of moral purity... a vivisectionist or abortion doctor...life is sacred... there's a moral argument that that's true... we do know that animal rights extremists have bombed laboratories...". However no deaths whatsoever have ever resulted.

Her organization the Sierra Club of Canada "is by its bylaws not able to participate in any action that is illegal. On a personal basis I would say that those actions that are civil disobedience are justified when laws are unjust, civil disobedience has a long and important tradition... nonviolent civil disobedience has a long tradition going back to Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Gandhi."

works by and about, appearances

Elizabeth May is the author of four publications, co-authored many others. She has appeared on CTV and ((CBC TV), and has been heard on CBC Radio on numerous occasions.

  • Carter, Peter. — "Health heroes : environmental activist : Elizabeth May : a breath of fresh air". — Chatelaine. — Vol. 74, no. 7 (July 2000). — P. 75
  • Chatelaine presents Who's who of Canadian women. — 9th ed.,
1999. — Toronto : Who's Who Publications, 1997. — P. 682
  • Claiming the future : the inspiring lives of twelve Canadian women scientists and scholars. — Prepared by Elizabeth May for the Committee for Advancement of Women in Scholarship of the Royal Society of Canada ; editorial advisor, Francess G.Halpenny. — Markham, Ont. : Pembroke Publishers, c1991. — 45 p. - Also published in French under the title: Se bâtir un avenir : la vie fascinante de douze Canadiennes érudites
  • "Elizabeth May to speak at conference". — Soundbone Newsletter online. — Vol. 5, no. 2 (September 2, 1997). — Cited June 22, 2001. — Access:


from collectionscanada.ca

en: wikipedia: Elizabeth May