CASSELS, Jamie




Author Tags: Environment, Essentials 2010, Law

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Academics in B.C. have contributed greatly to society. To alert British Columbians to an under-publicized issue, John Calvert protested the privatization of B.C.’s rivers for power supply purposes in Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia (2008); Paul Tennant received the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for Aboriginal Peoples and Politics: The Indian Land Question in British Columbia, 1849–1989 (1990), the first comprehensive treatment of aboriginal land claims in B.C; sociologist Becki L. Ross shed light on an unexamined subject with Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver (2009).

To pick one worthwhile academic title to represent many, it is hard to overlook Jamie Cassels’ The Uncertain Promise of Law: Lessons from Bhopal (1993), a thorough investigation of the world’s worst industrial accident (with the possible exception of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, for which the long-term effects are still unknown). On December 2, 1984, a massive explosion and discharge of lethal gas from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people in their sleep, blanketing the city for miles.

The Bhopal plant manufactured pesticides and
insecticides, including Sevin. The gas leak lasted for two hours, injuring people up to eight kilometres downwind. As a University of Victoria professor of law, Cassels examined the tragic accident and its complex aftermath. By 1992, the death toll around Bhopal was officially estimated at more than four thousand though victims’ organizations placed that figure higher. Approximately thirty to forty thousand people were maimed or injured. Total claims for damages amounted to approximately 80 times the available funds, and the disaster gave rise to the world’s largest lawsuit. Seven years later, the Government of India and Union Carbide were satisfied; the victims were not. “The only tests that ultimately matter are whether safety has been improved, and whether the innocent victims of industry are treated justly,” Cassels concluded. “On both counts, the story of Bhopal cannot yet be viewed with any satisfaction. Too little has been delivered so far to restore our faith in the uncertain promise of law.”


FULL ENTRY:

On December 2, 1984, a massive explosion and discharge of lethal gas from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India killed thousands of people in their sleep, blanketing the city for miles. The Bhopal plant manufactured pesticides and insecticides, including Sevin. The gas leak lasted for two hours, injuring people within eight kilometres downwind. As a University of Victoria professor of law, Jamie Cassel wrote The Uncertain Promise of Law: Lessons From Bhopal (University of Toronto Press, 1993), an examination of the tragic occurrence and its complex aftermath. The Bhopal explosion and leak of toxic gas was the worst single-accident industrial catastrophe in history with the possible exception of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion (the long term effects of which are still unknown). By 1992 the death toll was officially estimated at more than 4,000. Victims' organizations placed that figure higher. Approximately 30,000 to 40,000 people were maimed or injured. Total claims for damages amounted to approximately 80 times the available funds. The disaster give rise to the world's largest lawsuit. Seven years later, the Government of India and Union Carbide were satisfied; the victims were not. "The only tests that ultimately matter are whether safety has been improved, and whether the innocent victims of industry are treated justly," Cassels concluded. "On both counts, the story of Bhopal cannot yet be viewed with any satisfaction. Too little has been delivered so far to restore our faith in the uncertain promise of law."

Having arrived at UVic to teach law in 1981, Jamie Cassels became Dean of the faculty in 1999. He has been active in the development and implementation of the Akitsiraq Law School Program in Nunavut for Inuit students and he has received the 1999 Canadian Association of Law Teachers Award for outstanding contributions to legal scholarship, the Faculty of Law's Master Teacher Award and the University of Victoria Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award. Cassels co-authored a 480-page instructional text entitled Remedies, The Law of Damages and also wrote The Revival of Tort Theory in Canada.

[BCBW 2010]