Remembering Our Founding Riverkeeper: Doug Chapman

Today we celebrate the life of a true water protector, legendary prosecutor of polluters, and dear friend: Doug Chapman, our founding Riverkeeper, born April 8th, 1936.

Doug Chapman dedicated his life to protecting swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. As a young lawyer, he sailed the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He also fished Pacific salmon for a living in the late 1970’s and had been part of the early environmental movement fighting nuclear power, declining fish stocks, and increased pressures from pollution.

Doug was one of Canada’s most experienced environmental prosecutors, with numerous high-profile convictions in Ontario, including the first ever jail-sentence for an environmental criminal in Canada - this groundbreaking case against George Crowe was won in 1992.

He is survived by his loving partner Carol McDonald, who has been a part of Fraser Riverkeeper from the very beginning as our Secretary/Treasurer, and was recently nominated for a YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the field of Environmental Sustainability.

His legacy lives on as people continue to restore and protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable water across Canada.

In honour of Doug on his birthday, and of Fraser Riverkeeper's upcoming 10th Anniversary, we'd like to take a moment to look back on these words, written by Fraser Riverkeeper President Mark Mattson, for our very first newsletter back in October 2007. They serve as a fitting testament to Doug's incredible life and legacy.

As a young lawyer in 1990, I set out to work with Doug because I knew him to be one of the best criminal lawyers in Southern Ontario and the best environmental prosecutor anywhere. His courtroom skill, concern for the underclass and passion for clean water was unmatched. We ended up starting a law practice together where I assisted Doug on his environmental files against some of the biggest corporations in Canada. These were exciting times as we prosecuted polluters, challenged government permits to pollute, conducted environmental assessments into new nuclear power plants and fought for environmental justice on behalf of our clients. By 1994, I had helped Doug convict polluters, force huge clean-ups, stop destructive projects and even send the first person in Canada to jail for an offence under an environmental statute. But this was just the beginning.

In 1996, Doug encouraged me to be even more active as an environmental advocate. Following Doug’s advice, we formed a volunteer based environmental investigation group called the Environmental Bureau of Investigation. The group relied on Doug’s legal skill and his relationships with some of the best environmental experts and investigators in the country. It didn’t take long before we were investigating illegal pollution and taking steps to stop it. We went to court to protect Lake Ontario, the Moira River, Hamilton Harbour, the St. Lawrence River, the Petitcodiac River and others. As volunteer investigators we were following Doug’s lead and acting under his guidance. The cases took time and the challenges were demanding but with each success we were encouraged to do more. At the end of the decade, Doug’s vision for environmental law and justice in Canada had emerged as a big part of the solution for protecting and winning back our environmental rights to safely swim, drink and fish. The challenge was to transform this volunteer-based model into a sustainable force for environmental justice. That is when Robert Kennedy Jr. and the Waterkeeper movement emerged as the next step.

During my time working on environmental cases with Doug, we frequently discussed his sailing and fishing experiences. Doug had sailed the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He had fished Pacific salmon for a living in the late 1970’s and had been part of the early environmental movement fighting nuclear power, declining fish stocks and increased pressures from pollution. Doug’s life on the water and his experience in court reminded me of the Hudson Riverkeeper that I had read so much about. When Waterkeeper Alliance contacted me about starting a full-time Waterkeeper program in Ontario, I felt it was something Doug had already trained me to do.

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper was launched in 2001, as the second Waterkeeper program in Canada. I became its full-time Waterkeeper. Thanks to Doug we were able to purchase a boat with money received from a successful prosecution he conducted against the City of Hamilton for polluting the Redhill Creek. A few years later, after Doug had moved back to British Columbia, I invited him to attend the Waterkeeper Alliance’s annual general meeting in San Diego. It was there that we first talked about starting up a Fraser Riverkeeper program. To do this we needed to find a full-time activist committed to winning back and protecting the Fraser River. We wanted someone committed to using legal tools and representing the grassroots. The more we talked about it the more we knew that Doug had to be the Riverkeeper. With a lot of support, hard work and commitment from Lauren Brown and Carol McDonald, the vision for the Fraser River materialized.

As President of the Fraser Riverkeeper, I am honored to be part of the Riverkeeper program for watershed protection that Doug Chapman is creating here in British Columbia. On behalf of the Fraser Riverkeeper Board of Directors, the Waterkeeper Alliance Board of Directors, the 161 other Waterkeeper programs and the millions of people in Canada who have benefited from Doug’s commitment to environmental justice – thanks. This is a great day for everyone who loves the Fraser River.

Please take a moment to view Doug's Watermark, and once your done, submit your own -

Film by Brett Rogers - Music by Sean James Boyer 

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