Headlines (Campus Updates)
Laurier Institute for Water Science celebrates centenary of Boundary Waters Treaty
Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
Canada and the United States share more than 8,000 kilometres of border. Forty percent of that distance is through the 134 lakes and rivers the two countries share. In 1909, to solve the emerging water border disputes, Canada and the U.S. created the International Joint Commission (IJC) and signed the Boundary Waters Treaty.
To celebrate the 100th year of the treaty, the United Nations Association in Canada recently hosted a model IJC conference for university students in Niagara Falls, New York.
Laurier’s Heidi DeWitt, a third-year business student, played a key role in organizing the model IJC with peers and alumni from universities across North America, including Laurier alumni Jacqueline Martinz (BA '08) and Alice Wan (BA '08). DeWitt, a member of the World Affairs Society at Laurier, had previously organized model United Nations conferences and got the call to help put together the first model IJC. She researched debate ideas and completed background guides for four different committee sessions to replicate real debates that go to the IJC board for resolution.
The four sessions included the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence Task Force, an “emergency session” on bulk water transfer to China, and the historic St. Mary and Milk River dispute between Alberta and Montana. For each session, students represented current members of the IJC board, or one of the historic members in the latter case.
Participating students, who came from across Canada and the U.S., researched the issues, wrote position papers from the viewpoint of the members they were portraying, and then defended and debated their position.
Fourth-year biology students Emily-Jane Costa and Katelin Parkinson participated in the Great Lakes Quality Water Quality Agreement and Bulk Water Transfer sessions. They represented Peter Meerveld of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Chris Korleski of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, respectively.
For excelling in the debate involving their proposals and solutions, both students won “Best Delegate” awards – Parkinson for the Great Lakes debate and Costa for the Bulk Water Transfer debate.
“The best part of these sessions was getting to meet the real-life delegates that we were portraying,” says Costa. “It was also great to work with students from other educational backgrounds. My point of view was from an environmental standpoint, but a student in law school focused on the political aspect and raised questions about whether ideas were possible to actually carry through.”
Laurier Institute for Water Science director and biology professor Jim McGeer also participated in the model IJC by giving a presentation on invasive aquatic species and emerging chemicals of concern that threaten the health of the Great Lakes.
“This was a great opportunity for students to learn first hand about how a very diverse group can work to build consensus on how to address important issues in an international context,” says McGeer. “All of the sessions dealt with current and emerging issues – the same issues the real members of the IJC boards and committees deal with. The student debates evolved and struggled over many of the same points that the real debates do and this indicates how knowledgeable and engaged the participating students are on the issues.”
After the model IJC, students had the opportunity to celebrate the Boundary Waters Treaty’s centenary ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Canon on the Rainbow Bridge.
The model IJC conference was supported in part by Wilfrid Laurier University; McGeer, Costa and Parkinson were sponsored by the Laurier Institute for Water Science.