National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism Act

An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism

This bill was last introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2021.

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.


Lenore Zann  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Second reading (House), as of Feb. 27, 2020
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of the Environment, in consultation with representatives of provincial and municipal governments, of Indigenous communities and of other affected communities, to develop a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to redress the harm caused by environmental racism. It also provides for reporting requirements in relation to the strategy.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


March 24, 2021 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:30 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

, seconded by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, moved that Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism be read the second time and referred to a committee.

She said: Mr. Speaker, “The land is our Mother, so when we lose value for the land...people lose value for the women.” Thus says Vanessa Gray of Aamjiwnaang first nation in Ontario, and I agree. It is also my firm belief that, like systemic racism, environmental racism is something that has been ignored for far too many years. The time has come for us to act to redress the problems of the past and make sure they do not continue. Surely it should be enshrined as a human right for all Canadians to have clean air, water and earth.

I first became aware of the issue of environmental racism five years ago when I first met Dr. Ingrid Waldron, a professor in the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University, at a coffee shop in Halifax near the provincial legislature where I worked as an MLA. At that time, Dr. Waldron explained what her research and data gathering was proving about the reality of environmental racism in Nova Scotia.

I suggested that creating a legislative bill to address the issue would be of help at that point in time in bringing it to public awareness and to the floor of government in Nova Scotia. Dr. Waldron and I worked together for several weeks on my very first private member's bill, Bill No. 111, the environmental racism prevention act, which I introduced in Province House in 2015.

Later on, Dr. Waldron wrote a book entitled There's Something in the Water, which highlights environmental racism in Black and indigenous communities across Nova Scotia. She recently partnered with Nova Scotian actor Elliot Page to create the 2019 documentary based on that book.

Upon my arrival in Ottawa as an MP a year ago, my first personal order of business was to introduce a similar bill, but this time as a national strategy, in order to address environmental racism across Canada. The scope of Bill C-230 is therefore broader and more comprehensive than my original provincial bill.

Bill C-230 would collect data, including socio-economic circumstances, physical and mental effects of communities affected by environmental racism across this land. These effects are wide-ranging, from skin rashes and upset stomachs to more serious ailments, such as respiratory illness, including asthma; cardiovascular disease; reproductive morbidity, including preterm births and babies born with Down syndrome; as well as cancers that disproportionately impact women. There is evidence that many chronic diseases in indigenous communities, for instance, are not primarily due to genetics or internal factors, but instead, to external factors, such as what is in the air, in the water and in our environment.

I would like to personally thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands at this time for seconding Bill C-230. I suggest this is an example of what Canadians truly want to see in their government, especially in these dangerous times, which is parliamentarians working together.

I would like to thank Dr. David Suzuki and the David Suzuki Foundation, the Blue Dot movement and The ENRICH Project for their endorsement for and support of this vital bill. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Ingrid Waldron for her passion, dedication, research and assiduous study, as well as for sharing her notes with me this evening, because environmental racism and its effects on racialized communities need to be heard by everybody.

As MP for Cumberland—Colchester, I would like to explain what environmental racism is. It refers to the disproportionate location and greater exposure of indigenous, Black and other racialized communities to polluting industries and other environmental hazards. These toxic burdens have been linked to high rates of cancer, as I have said, and other health problems in these communities.

From the decision approximately 60 years ago to off-load pulp mill effluent into Pictou Landing first nation's once pristine boat harbour and toxic landfills and dumps placed in the African Nova Scotian communities of Shelburne, Lincolnville and Africville to mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation, petrochemical facilities in the chemical valley of Ontario and in British Columbia, the legacy of environmental racism can no longer be ignored.

Bill C-230 is asking the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a strategy that must include measures to:

(a) examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk;

(b) collect information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards;

(c) collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism;

(d) assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province; and

(e) address environmental racism including in relation to

(i) possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs,

(ii) the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making,

(iii) compensation for individuals or communities,

(iv) ongoing funding for affected communities, and

(v) access of affected communities to clean air and water.

I would contend that indigenous and Black women have been building grassroots environmental and social justice movements for decades to challenge the legal, political and corporate agendas that sanction and enable environmental racism and other forms of colonial violence in their communities. Colonial gendered violence continues today and includes the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, the displacement of indigenous people from their lands by corporate resource-extraction projects, anti-Black and anti-indigenous police violence and other forms of state-sanctioned violence that make it difficult for indigenous and Black peoples and women to meet their basic needs with respect to employment, income, health care and other resources.

Colonization and genocide are tied to the intersections of indigenous lands and bodies. Women experience violence because they are the ones who are responsible for taking care of the land and holding it for future generations. Therefore, gendered violence that harms women specifically, also harms nations which makes it easier to take possession of the land.

For indigenous women specifically, production and reproduction, land and life, resistance and survival are all intimately connected. There is no separation. Therefore, the indigenous role in fighting against environmental racism by defending their land and territory and protecting their water are acts of resistance against gendered oppression.

What is environmental racism exactly? How do we define it?

Environmental racism is racial discrimination in the disproportionate location and greater exposure of indigenous and racialized communities to contamination and pollution from polluting industries and other environmentally hazardous activities, as I said, but also in in the lack of political power these communities have for resisting the placement of industrial polluters in their communities; in the implementation of policies that sanction the harmful and, in many cases, life-threatening presence of poisons in these communities; in the disproportionate negative impacts of environmental policies that result in differential rates of clean up of environmental contaminants in these communities; and in the history of excluding indigenous and racialized communities from mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commissions and regulatory bodies and in the feminist movement.

Regarding the health effects of environmental racism in Canada, the health risks associated with that include, as I have said, all of these various different types of serious illnesses. Studies provide evidence that health effects of environmental racism are both gendered and racialized and impact indigenous women in specific ways, most notably the impacts on reproductive health. One of the most significant ways that environmental racism impacts indigenous women specifically is through the detrimental health effects of toxic contaminants that include high levels of toxins in breast milk, placenta, placenta cord blood, blood serum and body fat as well as infertility, miscarriages, premature births, premature menopause, reproductive system cancers and an inability to produce healthy children due to compromised endocrine and immune systems while in utero.

This bill, Bill C-230, is important. Why is it important? It would play a significant role in addressing the legacy of environmental racism in Canada and ensure that these communities would have access to clean air and water, to which all Canadians have a right.

It would also help address environmental health inequities in indigenous and Black communities that are outcomes of these communities' proximity to environmental contamination and pollution.

It is up to those with power, and not the people impacted by environmental racism, to address the problem. Those who have the most influence and the strongest voices need to be part of the solution. It is important that all communities have the power to control their environment. Currently, indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, non-white communities, do not have that power. When they do not have a say in what happens in their communities, we all suffer.

Bill C-230 addresses this imbalance of power and benefits everyone. It is good for all of us. It is good for Canada. It would provide an opportunity for the communities most affected by environmental racism to be involved in environmental policy-making.

According to a Lincolnville resident in Nova Scotia, who is mentioned in Dr. Waldron's book There's Something in the Water, community members have experienced worsening health since the first generation landfill was placed in their community in 1974, including increased rates of cancer and diabetes.

This person also says:

“If you look at the health of the community prior to 1974 before the landfill site was located in our community, our community seemed to be healthier. From 1974 on until the present day, we noticed our people's health seems to be going downhill. Our people seem to be passing on at a younger age. They are contracting different types of cancer that we never heard of prior to 1974. Our stomach cancer seems to be on the rise.... Our people end up with tumours in their body. And, we're at a loss of, you know, of what's causing it. The Municipality says that there's no way that the landfill site is affecting us, but if the landfill site located in other areas is having an impact on people's health, then shouldn't the landfill site located next to our community be having an impact on our health too?”

Perhaps no other African-Canadian community has served as a more classic example and symbol of both gentrification and environmental racism than Africville: the former Black community on the shores of the Bedford Basin.

By 1965, the City of Halifax had embarked on an urban renewal campaign resulting in the forcible displacement of Africville's residents, resulting in the area becoming host to a number of environmental and social hazards, such as a fertilizer plant, a slaughterhouse, a tar factory, a stone and coal crushing plant, a cotton factory, a prison, three systems of railway tracks and an open dump.

I ask that all members of the House support this bill. Let us be a first. Let us make this something we can all be proud of, and let us do this for the people of Canada.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I see there is a lot of interest in questions and comments. I am going to ask hon. members to keep their interventions to no more than 45 seconds and the same for the hon. member who is responding.

The hon. member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the member has brought a bill to this place and a debate that she is very passionate about. In this bill, she is actually tasking the Minister of Environment, but many of the issues she has talked about are in regard to indigenous reconciliation.

Why only task the Minister of Environment? Why does the member believe that the minister may criticize many of the failures the government has had in reconciliation? Many of these are also historic wrongs dating back to the last century. I would like to hear what the member has to say in regard to that.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, when I first started down this road and researching it, I thought of it as a provincial issue. A lot of things are provincial and municipal like dumps, waste sites, toxic landfills and things like that. As I started to look into it more, I started to notice that it is stretched right across Canada. In fact, there are many corporate polluters, which is part of the reason why many indigenous communities do not have clean drinking water today, why children have rashes and why they have all kinds of illnesses. That is why our government is now tasked with cleaning that up. I think it will stretch across all kinds of departments, but it lands at the department of environment to begin with—

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Victoria.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this really important bill. I applaud her work on it.

I am curious about reparations. This bill speaks about the impacts on indigenous communities and on racialized communities. We were just debating a bill on Emancipation Day. The conversation around how to compensate communities that have been impacted is an important one.

I am curious how the member sees her bill fitting into a conversation around reparations.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I know the member opposite has also studied environmental racism and actually taught about it in university.

This is an important part of this bill. We are talking about this now in Nova Scotia and in the Black community. It is a very big deal here. The dialogue has just started.

This bill is meant to enable people to make references and tell the government what they think we should do. I would hope that the government would then follow suit, take note of that and follow up with it. It is very important.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward Bill C-230. It is an honour for me to second it.

My home was originally in Nova Scotia, and my first experience in understanding environmental racism was the horror of the Sydney tar ponds in industrial Cape Breton. They are now sort of cleaned up. They are at least buried. I am flagging that what was called the tar ponds was originally an estuary of the Mi'kmaq fishing grounds. The Mi'kmaq were forced off that land and put in Membertou in order to build a steel mill and coke oven, and the only African, Black, community in Cape Breton was between the coke ovens and the steel mill. The population had huge levels of cancer. It was the biggest toxic waste site in Canada.

I wish we had had the bill here in place then. I would ask the hon. member if she has any reflections on that, and thank her again.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:50 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for seconding my bill.

That is a perfect example, and so was Boat Harbour, which was a beautiful, pristine lagoon where first nations communities came to picnic for thousands of years. I went there and saw the degradation, and smelled the stink. I saw what it was doing to the people. Many of the people who I stood in a barricade against the mill with at that time are no longer here. They died of cancer.

It is a bill whose time has come. I think it is up to us to make sure that this happens.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:50 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

We are out of time, but I am going to take some liberties here and take one more question.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:50 p.m.
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Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by thanking the hon. member for her comments, and for her strong leadership and commitment to social justice on this file.

As a Mi'kmaq from Nova Scotia, I learned numerous times during my research where indigenous people were displaced from their traditional lands, often close to their resources in lucrative areas, and centralized onto small reserves in areas that led them to be vulnerable and open to exploitation.

My question is as follows. How does the member see her bill being able to create the important awareness around these injustices? Does she feel education is an important part of this bill, moving forward?

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:50 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has done a lot with treaty education in Nova Scotia, and I believe that is something we need to roll out right across this country.

People do not seem to understand that the first nations people were here for 13,000 years before we ever got here. Sometimes when I hear people say, “Go back to where you came from: pick up your tents and go back to where you came from,” it just breaks my heart. I feel that this kind of bill could start the dialogue and open people's eyes and hearts to what has been going on for far too long. I believe it is up to us to fix it.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 6:50 p.m.
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Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in this place to participate, especially in Private Members' Business. I am certain that I am not alone in my appreciation for the passion and ideas from colleagues of all parties in this place.

Generally speaking, we either oppose a private member's bill or we support it. On rare occasions, from my perspective at least, a private member's bill may come along that I will oppose despite being supportive of the principle being raised. This is one of those of those rare occasions for me, and I would like to share with this place my thoughts on the bill.

First, I would like to commend and recognize the member for Cumberland—Colchester for raising this very important concern. The member refers to this concern as “environmental racism”, and ultimately proposes to create a national strategy to promote efforts across this great country to redress the harms caused by environmental racism.

What does the member for Cumberland—Colchester define as “environmental racism”? One part of the bills reads as follows:

Whereas the establishing of environmentally hazardous sites, including landfills and polluting industries, in areas inhabited primarily by members of those communities could be considered a form of racial discrimination;

I happen to have a few local examples that directly reflect this problem. I will share them with the House to illustrate why I said in my introduction that I support the principle of this bill.

My first local example is Appleton Waste Services, a company that was paid by many Penticton and area residents to pick up and collect garbage and then transport it and dispose of it at the local landfill. The company did not pay its bills to the operator of the landfill, which was another local government, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, or RDOS, as we call it in the region. Because the bills were unpaid, the RDOS had to suspend service to Appleton Waste.

Unfortunately, this did not stop the company from continuing to pick up waste and charge their customers for it. Instead, it made a deal that ultimately resulted in 5,000 tonnes of waste being dumped on Penticton Indian Band lands. The arrangement was that this was going to be a transfer station before the waste was hauled off to somewhere else.

How did it end? Well, the company disappeared, but a massive pile of waste became a serious problem for members of the Penticton Indian Band to deal with, and it was not even their own waste. It came from the citizens of the city of Penticton.

In other words, the Penticton Indian Band ended up with a landfill, and it was, as the bill says,

in areas inhabited primarily by members of those communities

The bill states this could be considered a form of racial discrimination.

This is the first example that, in my view, speaks to the challenge that is referred to in the bill. I will provide a second local example.

Many will know the Okanagan region I come from is famous for its excellent wines, but many years ago, it was for fruit growing. As a result, there is a significant fruit industry infrastructure in many small communities, much of it aging.

In Naramata, there was an old fruit-packing warehouse that was scheduled for demolition and removal. Ultimately, the successful salvage bidder hauled the demolished wood waste away. Where did it end up? It ended up on Penticton Indian Band land, where ultimately it was burned.

In that case, charges were laid against the parties involved under provincial environmental legislation. This case eventually made its way through the courts. The defendants argued that these activities took place on the Penticton Indian Reserve, which does not come under provincial jurisdiction on such environmental matters.

They argued that they had complied with all the requirements of the local government, in this case the Penticton Indian Band.

In the end, an application was made challenging the charges on constitutional grounds. The judge ended up handing down a not guilty verdict and declaring that the application was moot, as there would be no further legal proceedings.

After listening to me explain these two Canadian examples, members will probably understand why I support the challenges addressed in this bill. However, I will now explain why I will be opposing this bill, even though I recognize these challenges.

In both of these situations there was one common denominator, the Penticton Indian Band lands that were adversely environmentally impacted by these situations were what is called “locatee lands”. As many are unaware, on some first nations not all land is band land. Some lands are locatee lands. These lands are very similar to privately held land where locatees can make land use decisions independent of locally elected band chiefs and their respective councils. In both of these cases, local non-indigenous business owners made financial deals with band members who control these locatee lands.

We all know that the federal government, more specifically Indigenous Services Canada, is supposed to safeguard the interests of aboriginal communities to prevent these types of situations from occurring. Here in Ottawa, we seldom hear how some of these situations are actually caused. This also raises a question that has to be asked. Is it the role of Indigenous Services Canada to tell a locatee family what they can or what they cannot do on their lands, or is that up to a locally elected band chief and council?

I have another question. Was the member approached by a local first nation in her riding to introduce this bill, or is this another example of the “Ottawa knows best” attitude, where Ottawa presents another series of studies to come up with a one-size-fits-all strategy, as it has been doing for decades? I do not know the answer to this question.

I see two challenges in this bill. As I mentioned, I would like to be able to support the bill. However, then I would be voting for something that could impact a large number of first nations communities in my region, without having heard how they feel about this bill. I simply cannot in good conscience do that.

I believe it is time to put an end to the era when decisions were made in Ottawa without first sitting down with the chiefs and local councillors to hear from them directly. Environmental factors clearly have repercussions for first nations. Grassy Narrows comes to mind, as well as the Prime Minister's reference to these issues, which was to thank them for their donation.

It is important to study those impacts, but the use of the term “racism” implies that Canadians are racist and responsible for these actions and does not take the Liberal government's failure over the long term into account.

Indeed, just this week the Liberal government confirmed it would not meet its clean drinking water promise, another failure. Canadians are warm and caring people and would support finding ways to better ensure everyone is healthy and thriving. What is not right is implying the fault lies at the feet of a racist country.

Canada is not a racist country and to imply that is just disgraceful. Now, I appreciate that the member for Cumberland—Colchester is well intentioned. However, I have many aboriginal communities in my riding that I must be accountable to. It is for that reason that I cannot support this bill. I do thank the member for raising this concern.

I also would like to thank the members in this place for taking the time to hear my comments today. It is a pleasure serving on behalf of the communities in my region.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 7 p.m.
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Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, before getting into the Bloc Québécois's reasons for not supporting this bill, I want to emphasize a few points.

First, we recognize that problems related to geographical disparities affect people's standard of living and their access to a quality environment. Second, we are concerned about the fact that newcomers and indigenous communities are more directly affected by these disparities. Last, we fully support government measures to rectify inequalities experienced by the entire population vis-à-vis the environment.

However, Bill C-230's provisions create a lot of problems, starting with a direct attack on the environmental sovereignty of Quebec and the provinces. It will therefore come as no surprise that the Bloc Québécois will oppose anything that undermines Quebec legislation and its jurisdiction. Also, it is not at all clear that the federal government would have the constitutional authority to implement the measures proposed in this bill.

That is not all. As my colleague just outlined, there is no definition. As we understand it, there is no definition of environmental racism. When a new concept is introduced into a law, especially when it comes from a very specific theory, it must be clearly defined. In society and in academia, the meaning of concepts may change over time, but the meaning within the law must always be clear, known and recognized.

For instance, Bill C-230 makes extensive use of the word “race”. We understand the hon. member's anti-racist and anti-discriminatory intent, and we are not in any way questioning that intent. However, we do have some concerns. The sociological construction of race from such a perspective is not a process on which there is scientific or social consensus.

This concept, yet another one that comes to us from the United States, is based on the analysis of a relationship between the social, that is, the classes, gender and race, and nature. Some folks might remember the film Erin Brockovich. It was about a woman fighting an industry, but she was talking about financial precariousness. Today her struggle continues in Greece, but she is still talking about poverty.

Ingrid Waldron, a professor and author who has high hopes for Bill C-230, looks at the real and important issue of environmental discrimination through the lens of race and colour. I do not want to contradict Dr. Waldron, but we must recognize that environmental injustice, which disproportionately affects minority communities, is more in line with a fundamentally anti-capitalist ideology.

Furthermore, in her research she addresses the conditions that fuel environmental racism:

The combination of sociopolitical factors that enables environmental racism include poverty, lack of political power and representation, lack of protection and enforcement, and neoliberal policy reform.

She does recognize that there are many vulnerability factors. Why talk about racism, then?

The term “systemic racism” is politically and theoretically charged. If we are to have an open debate, we must not be already attached to restrictive theoretical premises influenced by sociological approaches that are firmly rooted in activism. As my colleagues know, I was a teacher and a union president. I am well versed in activism. I will be the first to say that it is important. However, activism must not be the motivation for introducing a bill in Parliament.

Dr. Waldron cites the inequalities between minority languages, including indigenous languages, of course, and the majority language of English as one of the factors contributing to the environmental burden:

While some provinces and territories have “environmental bills of rights” and legal frameworks for addressing environmental rights, gaps remain in areas related to federal jurisdiction.

Here we are. There certainly are gaps.

Last week, I spoke to Bill C-225 introduced by my colleague from Jonquière. The public engagement I was referring to and the social movements that lead to political battles have the desired impact on government action. These battles are often quite distinct from one another depending on the realities experienced.

However, the legislator faces an entirely different challenge. The legislator's responsibility is to make laws that serve justice, of course, but that must apply to all citizens. A good policy is a universal policy. It serves the common good and applies to the entire population. Moreover, universal public policies also end up dismantling inequality structures and discriminatory practices. Choosing the parameter or the lens of race to look at an intersectional phenomenon such as environmental discrimination seems inappropriate in a legislative context.

Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse has ruled on the matter as follows:

The idea that socio-economic, cultural and political differences between groups of individuals can be based entirely or in part on biological and genetic disparities has been widely rejected by most researchers in the social sciences.

The commission added that, in its view, the relationship between the social sciences and the notion of race is a dangerous one.

Canada needs to do some soul-searching, given the reality of the work described by Dr. Waldron, if only with respect to indigenous peoples and the unacceptable conditions that exist in far too many communities across Canada.

It is hard, very hard in fact, to explain how Bill C-230 can include a provision that puts “the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province” back into the hands of the federal government, when we have clear examples of the federal government demonstrating its indifference to the legislative mechanisms that are already in place in other administrations. That once again brings me back to Bill C-225, which we debated last week, and to the sad reality of the undue precedence federal legislation takes over environmental concerns and provincial laws.

Canadian laws are much more permissive than Quebec's laws when it comes to environmental protection, and yet they take precedence over Quebec's laws. We will not give the federal government another opportunity to have even more precedence over the provinces. It already has too much. Canada needs to examine its priorities when it comes to protecting its population from climate change, pollution-related issues, health impacts and all of the inequality that permeates its environmental action. Yes, the federal government needs to address the gaps that Dr. Waldron referred to.

Like her, I call on members to think about the sad legacy of neo-liberal policies, those that adversely affect the welfare state. We need to be firm in our legislative intentions of looking out for and eliminating discrimination, but we must do so from a perspective of unity, not division. Take, for example, pay equity, gender equality, universal access to life-sustaining resources, such as drinking water in indigenous communities, and access to justice. In short, we must continue to always fight to ensure that we stop the divide from growing.

I want to remind members that the right to live in a healthy environment has been enshrined in a multitude of constitutions and national charters. The member noted it in her introduction. Why could we not consider the same thing in Canada, that is, including the right to a healthy environment alongside other fundamental legal guarantees, regardless of our biology, the community to which we belong, our socio-economic status or where we live?

Would this be another argument for discussing the Constitution? We are ready.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 7:10 p.m.
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Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank, again, the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this important issue in the House.

Environmental racism is a huge, but often ignored, problem. In fact, many people are unfamiliar with the concept. As she mentioned, before becoming an MP, I taught a course that focused on environmental racism, and I had my students read the provincial bill that the member for Cumberland—Colchester put forward when she was a New Democrat member in the provincial legislature. It is such an important topic and such an important bill. I was disappointed that it never passed provincially, but I am hopeful that we can move this forward federally.

Across Canada, toxic dumps, polluting projects, risky pipelines, tainted drinking water and the effects of the climate crisis disproportionately hurt indigenous, Black, and racialized communities. Systemic discrimination has been embedded into environmental policy-making, along with the uneven enforcement of regulations and laws, the targeting of indigenous, Black and racialized communities for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants, and the exclusion of these communities from the decision-making process.

We also need to think about this in the context of the fact that we export our waste to countries, predominantly in the global south, and it is often racialized communities that are experiencing the impacts of this toxic pollution. I support the bill, and I believe we need to take urgent action on environmental justice. I would also like to see the right to a healthy environment enshrined in law through an environmental bill of rights.

Environmental racism in Canada is well documented. It is a direct result of the historic and ongoing impacts of colonization. Many have seen the documentary, There’s Something in the Water, that was referenced. It is based on the report to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO by Dr. Ingrid Waldron. In that documentary, the highlighting of the stories of indigenous and Black communities in Nova Scotia fighting for environmental justice is poignant and powerful.

After visiting Canada in 2019, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes wrote, “I observed a pervasive trend of inaction of the Canadian Government in the face of existing health threats from decades of historical and current environmental injustices”. A report submitted to the Human Rights Council just this September stated that, “Pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the right to life, and a life with dignity,” and that, “the invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

It is so clear that we have a problem of systemic racism that our government is doing little to nothing to address. In the absence of government action or legislation, and often excluded from the leadership of mainstream environmental movements, indigenous and racialized communities and their allies have been demanding environmental justice, demanding their rights and demanding to be heard. They have recently had some success in the halting of environmentally hazardous projects in their communities, through community organizing, petition signing and civil disobedience, but they should not have to fight not to be poisoned by the air they breathe or the water they drink.

Negative health impacts caused by toxic exposures compound other existing inequalities and the challenges that indigenous and other racialized groups face: low income, poverty, underemployment, unemployment, food insecurity and poor access to health care. All of these things, in addition to more direct impacts on human health, impact environmental racism, which destroys natural environments, causing the loss of access to traditional food sources and cultural practices.

This disproportionate exposure to toxic substances also contributes to indigenous and racialized people in Canada being locked into a vicious, intergenerational cycle of poverty. The manifestation of illness due to exposure to heavy metals in turn leads to reduced income and reduced earning potential. Lower incomes and poverty are significant factors for why households from racialized communities are less likely than white households to be able to leave environmentally hazardous communities.

Many of us recognize the names of communities that have been devastated by toxic pollution, but what could have been done to stop it?

In the Chemical Valley, there are 62 large industrial facilities, or about 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry. They operate within a few kilometres of Sarnia and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, exposing community members to a range of harmful pollutants causing increased rates of asthma, reproductive effects, learning disabilities and cancer.

There is Grassy Narrows, where ongoing mercury poisoning, first discovered in 1970, has had devastating health effects and contaminated the water and the fish the community relied on.

There is Boat Harbour, where an effluent treatment facility for the Northern Pulp mill was built and operated by the provincial government near Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia. It turned a quiet estuary and fertile hunting and fishing ground into a highly toxic site.

Let us not forget to mention what is maybe the most famous example of environmental racism: Africville.

This is not just about communities that have become infamous sites of toxic pollution. In urban areas across Canada, 25% of the lowest socio-economic status neighbourhoods, which are disproportionally home to racialized people, are within one kilometre of a major polluting industrial facility, compared with just 7% of the wealthiest neighbourhoods, where white families are more likely to live. This results in elevated risks of hospitalization for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

Climate change is taking a disproportionate toll on indigenous peoples. Canada is warming at twice the global rate and northern Canada at about three times the global rate, depleting traditional food sources, driving up the cost of imported alternatives and contributing to a growing problem of food insecurity and related negative health impacts. However, indigenous communities have been fighting back. They have been resilient in the face of this injustice. Canada is not adequately supporting the efforts of indigenous peoples to adapt to the climate crisis and is failing to do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples needs to be enshrined in law. I am glad to see the government finally tabling a piece of legislation on UNDRIP, but I am concerned its bill is watered down compared with what many indigenous organizers and people across Canada have been fighting for. We need to take into account indigenous science and knowledge in relation to the environment and its protection.

I also want to talk about the right to a healthy environment. The top recommendation of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020 was for Canada to recognize in law the right to a healthy environment. Over 150 countries have legal obligations to protect the human right to a healthy environment. Although there are environmental bills of rights in Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as well as provincial and territorial laws that address environmental rights, there is no federal law that explicitly recognizes the right to a healthy environment in Canada. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, does not include any reference to environmental justice, human rights or vulnerable populations. It is 20 years out of date and badly needs updating.

For many years, my New Democrat colleagues have been advocating for an environmental bill of rights. I want to recognize former NDP MP Linda Duncan, who put forward the bill, and my NDP colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, who introduced Bill C-232, which calls for the recognition of the right of all Canadians to a safe, clean and healthy environment, grounded in a commitment to upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We remain committed to implementing an environmental bill of rights and strengthening CEPA to better protect Canadians from toxic substances.

We broadly support the bill and the need to take urgent action toward environmental justice. We need to address the disproportionate environmental impacts felt by indigenous, Black and racialized communities. The bill stipulates that the strategy must include measures to address environmental racism, including compensation for individuals or communities and ongoing funding for affected communities—