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.)


Report stage (House), as of June 22, 2021
(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 or cooperation with any persons, bodies, organizations or communities who are interested, to develop a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to address 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

March 24th, 2021 / 4:40 p.m.
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Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the last vote was taking place, we were unable to access the site and see each of our colleagues' votes simultaneously. I tried to refresh the page, but it did not work. I think it is important that the system be fully functional so that all votes count in the House.

I would ask you to take note of that and check what happened from a technical standpoint. I do think it is very important that we be able to see how our colleagues are voting as we go.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 5:35 p.m.
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Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Madam Speaker, it is great to see you in the Chair again. I hope to join you in Ottawa very soon.

It is an honour to join the debate today on Bill C-230, which deals with a national strategy to redress environmental racism.

Preserving our natural environment is one of the most important issues of our time as is building a more just society and supporting Canadians of all races and from all walks of life.

The people of the Kenora riding know the importance of our environment quite intimately. In northern Ontario, hunting, fishing and ecotourism more broadly are a part of our way of life and a major driver of our economy. We understand how essential it is for clean air, clean water and a vibrant natural environment now, but also preserved for future generations.

Unfortunately, we have also seen first-hand how legacy failures by various governments have harmed the environment and the health and well-being of racialized people.

After I was elected in 2019, I used my first intervention in the chamber to raise the issue of mercury poisoning in the Grassy Narrows First Nation. Members of this nation as well as those of Whitedog in my riding have been suffering the effects of mercury poisoning, such as muscle weakness, cognitive impairments, reduced vision, hearing and speech, for decades. It was not until last year that the government finally signed an agreement for a treatment facility in these communities.

In both communities, the water systems were contaminated when toxic waste was dumped into the English and Wabigoon river systems in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2016, it was reported that the fish in Grassy Narrows, specifically, still had the highest levels of mercury contamination in the province of Ontario. This is perhaps the greatest example of environmental racism in Canada and the government allowed it to continue for five years under its watch without action.

Of course, we also remember the Prime Minister's smug and condescending comments toward protestors of this injustice at a Liberal fundraiser in 2019. He thanked these individuals for their donations without even attempting to address the real and urgent issues they were hoping to bring to his attention.

Contaminated or otherwise unsafe water is an unfortunate and unimaginable reality, yet it is the reality for many first nations across the country.

On March 1, the Globe and Mail reported that 39 first nations were under long-term boil water advisories. Several have gone without clean water for more than a decade. Last month, the Neskantaga First Nation, also in my riding, marked 26 years under a boil water advisory. Of course, members may recall that last year the residents of this community actually had to evacuate entirely because there was a breakdown of their water system.

The Liberal government promised that all long-term boil water advisories would be ended by March of this year. Of course, it is now March and we know that it is not close to reaching that goal and has not even set a new date for when it hopes to achieve that. It has blamed its lack of progress on the file on the pandemic, but that excuse frankly does not add up. We know it was on track to miss its timeline long before COVID‑19 ever hit. We also know that many indigenous communities have been incredibly diligent about fighting COVID‑19 have nonetheless been finding ways to get essential work done on reserve, while protecting the health and safety of their residents.

Many indigenous people across the country and indeed all Canadians see this delay for what it is, and that is the government once again putting their needs on the backburner.

I truly worry about how continuing with the failures of the past will prevent us from securing a more prosperous future. If the government is serious about addressing environmental racism, I suggest it place much more urgency on the issues of clean water in first nations across the country.

We also know that many indigenous people, particularly in remote and northern communities, like those in my riding, will be disproportionately impacted by climate change, and ridings like mine will bear the brunt of many of the challenges. Remote communities face unique circumstances. Some of these challenges are related to their geography of course, but many are exacerbated by chronic underfunding, discriminatory legislation and environmental neglect.

In the past few years, residents of communities such as Bearskin Lake and Fort Hope in the riding of Kenora have been forced to evacuate because of floods and fires, respectively. These extreme events are expected in my region; however, they have been increasing in frequency and severity in recent years.

I frequently hear concerns from residents of remote communities in Kenora who rely on ice roads as a major transportation route for essential items. Shorter and milder winter seasons, as we experienced this past year, are limiting many people's ability to use these road systems, and this is cutting off many northern communities from vital resources. Residents of these communities are resilient, but their opportunities are often limited by insufficient infrastructure.

Housing shortages, lack of transportation and limited access to goods and services all have negative impacts on health, nutrition, financial security and the emergency response in the north. These issues will only get worse as the climate changes and weather patterns become even more erratic.

Indigenous communities have been raising concerns about this for years, and since being elected, I have been fighting for real support in these areas. However, the lack of action from the government has been disheartening. Barely anything has been done to address the current challenges that remote communities face, let alone to prepare them for the consequences of climate change.

I do appreciate the very real and important issues the member for Cumberland—Colchester is aiming to address with this proposal. However, there are many questions we still need answers to. How will we prepare remote communities to respond to natural disasters if they continue to increase in frequency? How will we support hunters and anglers in maintaining their traditional ways of life as ice thins and wildlife behaviour changes? How will we ensure that communities relying on ice roads will not be cut off from the rest of the country when temperatures rise and winter seasons shorten? How will we ensure that houses and other facilities in these regions can withstand severe weather when the buildings they currently have are in an advanced state of disrepair?

These questions must be answered. Frankly, time is of the essence.

We can and must work to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. We can invest in new technologies and work with industry to reduce emissions. We can support Canadians who want to practice sustainability in their daily lives. We can take transformational actions, just as former prime minister Brian Mulroney did with regard to acid rain, to combat the environmental crises of our time.

We also need to do right by the people who are already feeling the effects of environmental degradation. I do not believe we as Canadians can trust the current Liberal government to do that, because right now the Liberal track record on these issues has been all talk and very little action. The Prime Minister committed to preserving our environment, reducing emissions and bringing clean water to first nations communities, but under his leadership, emissions have risen, critical habitat has been lost and indigenous communities are still underserved.

How can anyone take the government at its word when its environmental record remains one of failure to back up its big promises with action? The government has had over five years to address these issues with meaningful legislation and tangible actions, but it has completely failed to do so. Its inaction has increased inequality, food insecurity and negative health outcomes for indigenous communities. We need to do better, and that is why Canada's Conservatives will continue to raise the voices of those who have been disproportionately impacted by these legacy government failures.

I will end my remarks there. It has been a pleasure to join the discussion today.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 5:45 p.m.
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Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, particularly to talk about the environment.

I want to begin by thanking my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester for her work and for introducing this bill. I want her to know that the Bloc Québécois has big ambitions when it comes to the environment. We welcome bills that address this issue.

Her bill touches on a particularly worthwhile issue, a concept that has not been very well known until now, and that is environmental racism. I myself had to read up on this concept before I spoke about it, and I have to say that I learned a lot. I think it is important to talk about what this concept means.

Environmental racism is a grassroots concept, but that does not make it any less real. It is a concept that exists in the broader context of the environmental justice movement, which originated in the United States. It is based on the connection between nature and social factors, such as class, gender and race.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation defines environmental racism as follows:

A systemic form of racism in which toxic wastes are introduced into or near marginalized communities. People of colour, indigenous peoples, working class, and poor communities suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards and the location of dangerous, toxic facilities such as incinerators and toxic waste dumps. Pollution of lands, air and waterways, often causes chronic illness to the inhabitants and change in their lifestyle.

According to this definition, the concept of environmental racism is intrinsically linked to that of systemic racism. At the same time, it is not exclusively linked to minorities because it includes more varied vulnerability criteria, so is calling it exclusively a form of racism justified?

There is without a doubt good reason to add environmental factors to the social determinants of health. Essentially, the definition of the concept of environmental racism seems vague. Without a clear definition of this concept, I think it is difficult to develop a public policy.

More pragmatically, the fact that this concept is linked to a wide range of social phenomena poses a real challenge in terms of public policy development. In this specific vision of environmental justice, policies have to adapt continuously to the variety of situations encountered.

The concept of environmental racism was popularized in Canada by Dr. Ingrid Waldron, a professor at Dalhousie University. According to her, every community experiences these issues in its own unique way, which makes it challenging to take concerted action for social, economic, political and environmental justice.

It is one thing for social movements to adapt their political battles to the realities on the ground. Just look at the opposition to pipeline projects like Energy East or the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.

The challenge is quite different for lawmakers who have to draft legislation that serves justice and has to apply to all citizens. A good policy is a universal policy that serves the common good and applies to the entire population. Universal public policies dismantle unequal structures and discriminatory practices. That seems to be the purpose of Bill C‑230, but that will not be the result.

Whether in Quebec, France or elsewhere, the social policies that have best served the advancement of rights, social protections and reduced inequalities are universal policies that apply to everyone. I would like to remind the House that the Bloc Québécois strongly believes in the principle of universality, which involves promoting the economic and social well-being of all members of society.

The best way for the government to avoid discriminating based on differences is to blind itself to differences. If we institute new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a clean environment, everyone should have them. If the policy is well thought out, those who suffer the most from injustice will receive help and support from the government. If the rights and the eligibility criteria for government protection and support are universal, then the policy will eliminate inequalities based on differences. Unfortunately, Bill C-230 does not meet these criteria of universality.

The second problem with this bill is that it is a direct infringement on Quebec's environmental sovereignty. One striking example is the following clause: “assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province”. In other words, the federal government would no longer respect Quebec's environmental legislation. It would give itself the right to assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in Quebec and every province. I am sorry to say that the Bloc Québécois cannot agree to such a clause. Quebec's territory belongs to Quebec, and it is up to the Government of Quebec to protect it.

Bill C‑230 puts the Minister of the Environment in charge of the national strategy. The choice of the minister is not bad in itself, but we need to first consider the intersectionality of environmental racism, which requires a horizontal approach involving multiple departments. For example, the environment is a shared jurisdiction, and social policy is not a federal responsibility.

Next, who is to say that the federal government has the constitutional jurisdiction to implement the measures in this bill?

The fact that the federal government wants to consult other levels of government is not sufficient, in the context of Canadian federalism, to justify that same government's intrusion in areas that are the jurisdiction of Quebec and the other provinces. The federal government can legislate on environmental matters, but only in areas under its jurisdiction.

Bill C-230 does not concern fisheries or navigation and shipping and does not apply solely to federal public property. The bill makes no reference to any criminal matters, nor does it establish an obligation to adopt environmental mechanisms in conjunction with provincial governments.

Need I remind members that the clause about assessing the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in Quebec is unacceptable to us?

The federal government has a long way to go if it wants to respect Quebec's environmental sovereignty at long last. It should start by taking care of its environmental responsibilities, such as the management of dangerous goods. The federal government's practices with regard to the management of radioactive waste are particularly questionable.

Under the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal Parliament exercised its declaratory power to assert jurisdiction over nuclear energy. The federal government therefore needs to accept responsibility for its decision and live up to its responsibilities by ensuring that no human being in Quebec or Canada is exposed to the hazards of nuclear waste. As for the rest, as I said at the beginning, Quebec's territory belongs to Quebec, and it is up to the Government of Quebec to protect it.

If the current government really wants to fight climate change and social inequality, it does not need Bill C‑230 to do so. It does not need to bring up environmental racism.

There is already scientific evidence to show that it is the most vulnerable people, the most disadvantaged, the ones living in the poorest neighbourhoods, who experience the most direct harm from the environmental crisis. Yes, cultural minorities and immigrants are overrepresented in those neighbourhoods. Yes, indigenous people are among the hardest hit. The data is there. What we need now is political will.

We have known for more than 30 years that climate change affects our physical and mental health. Natural disasters, heat waves, floods, poorer water quality, reduced food quality and quantity, and the emergence or development of new diseases are all factors that affect human health. Not only are these phenomena getting worse, but they can also appear simultaneously. What happens then? Health risks skyrocket, and vulnerable people's lives are in jeopardy.

We can tell ourselves that the impact of climate change on health is felt elsewhere, far from home, but that is like burying our heads in the sand. Quebec and Canada are already feeling the impact of climate change.

Remember the 2018 heat waves. In and around Montreal, that heat wave killed 66 people. Mapping where those deaths occurred reminds us of the influence of social inequality on health, because the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had the most deaths.

Other local examples include increasingly poor sanitation in indigenous communities. Rising waters and changing seasons are leading to a whole new set of mental health problems and food shortages.

The problems do not end there.

If we keep fuelling climate change with our polluting emissions, everyone's health will be compromised. Canada is already being hit with climate change events such as heat waves, forest fires and floods. They will certainly become more frequent in the coming years. The health risks of climate change include heat-related illnesses, lower air quality due to pollution, contaminated water sources, and diseases spread by insects, ticks and rodents.

The literature makes it quite clear that the least fortunate members of our society, which includes a huge proportion of indigenous peoples, racialized individuals and immigrants, will also bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change.

It is up to us as policy-makers to be aware of this and stop dithering over the need to immediately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If we do not, we will be contributing to jeopardizing the health of the public now and in the future.

That is why the Bloc Québécois position is not motivated by opposition to the will expressed in Bill C‑230 to resolve a real social problem, but by whether the bill could change anything. The Bloc Québécois is concerned about quality of life and access to a healthy environment for all Quebeckers.

Over and above Bill C‑230, the appalling living conditions in some of our communities, which have no access to a healthy environment, are unacceptable, and governments must live up to their responsibilities in that regard.

Environment-based human rights need to be developed. These rights, and the policies that stem from them, will have to be universal. Everyone must have them, regardless of their differences. Only then will we have powerful legal tools to address the inequities and discrimination caused by unequal environmental factors, such as exposure to pollution or lack of access to clean drinking water.

Unfortunately, Bill C‑230 cannot fulfill this vision.

The Bloc Québécois is working hard and pushing for an independent Quebec, one based on mutual recognition with indigenous nations, in which all citizens are equal and enjoy the benefits of social and environmental justice.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
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Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this important bill to address environmental racism. The bill tabled by the member requires the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to redress the harm caused by environmental racism. I certainly hope that the government will support this bill and take meaningful action to really redress environmental racism.

As we know, 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. We need look no further to see the impacts of Canada’s colonial history on indigenous people. However, even as successive governments say they recognize these historical injustices, so far we are only seeing tiny, incremental measures to right such wrongs.

According to the government’s own website, currently there are 58 long-term drinking water advisories in first nations communities. There are two in British Columbia, six in Saskatchewan, four in Manitoba and 44 in Ontario. I should note that many of these communities have had such conditions for years, and in some cases for decades. The First Nations Health Authority’s Environmental Public Health Services indicate that there are both “do not use” and “do not consume” water advisories in our first nation communities.

“Do not consume” advisories are issued when a community's water system contains a contaminant, such as a chemical, that cannot be removed from the water by boiling. The water should not be used for drinking, brushing teeth, cooking, washing fruits and vegetables, making infant formula or other drinks, soups or ice cubes, for bathing infants and toddlers, or for pets.

“Do not use” advisories are issued when the water system contains contamination that cannot be removed by boiling and consumption of the water poses a health risk. Exposure to the water when bathing could cause skin, eye or nose irritation. In what universe is this okay?

Behind every community are the faces of the people: children, elders and people with disabilities. They are the faces of all of us. Water is life, yet they cannot access basic clean drinking water, which is essential to sustaining life.

This is happening in indigenous communities right now. This is what environmental racism looks like. As an ally of indigenous people, I have attended countless protests and rallies led by indigenous people: the first people, the protectors of mother earth, of water and land. They have demanded accountability. We have protested Canada’s ongoing active engagement in land dispossession and resource exploitation in their territories.

Look at what is happening with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Prime Minister ignored the voices of the indigenous people, elders and protectors of land. He ignored the science on the climate emergency, brought the Trans Mountain pipeline in and pushed ahead on the expansion.

The Prime Minister is completely oblivious to his own hypocrisy. He cannot call himself an environmentalist and buy a pipeline. Thousands of people have come out as allies to indigenous communities who are opposed to the expansion. Some have been arrested for fighting to protect the environment. Watch houses have been set up to monitor the situation, and people are there in the rain and snow. Land defenders continue to take to the streets to protest the TMX expansion. We must stop throwing away billions of dollars on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and fossil fuel subsidies.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has analyzed the Trans Mountain pipeline and shown that, in all the scenarios it has modelled, there is almost no chance that the pipeline would be profitable. That undercuts the Liberals' claim that the pipeline is needed to pay for green energy investments.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation conducted an independent assessment of the project and found that there was a 79% to 87% chance of a spill in its waters over the next 50 years if the project is built. In the worst-case scenario, it projected there is a 29% chance of a spill of over 100,000 barrels. The risks are real. The question is not whether there will be a spill; it is when there will be a spill. These risks are exactly the reason the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and other first nations have not given their free, prior and informed consent to the project.

The Prime Minister is buying the TMX pipeline and pushing ahead on its expansion, and this is a clear violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So much for the Prime Minister's most important relationship. This is no joke. The day the government announced it was buying the TMX pipeline, there were new environmental violations for the project.

The truth is that systemic discrimination has been embedded in our environmental policy-making. Enforcement of environmental regulations and laws is often lax. In fact, most recently, it was found that there have been repeat violations of COVID-19 protocols on the site. According to Burnaby Now, a report by the Canada Energy Regulator found there was “systemic non-compliances” of COVID-19 rules at the TMX expansion project.

Canada’s environmental decision-making process excludes indigenous, Black and racialized communities. Make no mistake about it: This is environmental injustice.

There are other examples of environmental racism in Canada, including the horrific mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. In addition to the frightening health effects of mercury poising and cancer from toxic waste, the high levels of contamination forced the community to stop commercial and tourist fishing, one of its last avenues for traditional economic living, while the Ontario government continued to insist the poisoned fish were safe to eat.

In urban areas, 25% of the neighbourhoods with the lowest socio-economic status are within a kilometre of a major polluting industrial facility, compared with just 7% of the wealthiest neighbourhoods. This results in an elevated risk of hospitalization for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

In Vancouver East, our East Village neighbourhood has campaigned for years, fighting against odours coming from the poultry plant in the community. The community has learned that West Coast Reduction is looking at increasing emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxides. Rightfully, my constituents are concerned about this.

I have brought this up with Metro Vancouver, which regulates air quality for our region. Councillor Adriane Carr is the chair of the Metro Vancouver committee that oversees air quality, and she has advised that it will consider input from concerned parties right up to when the permit decision is made.

In another part of my riding, community members are concerned about the activities of the port. They have been raising concerns about the well-being of a bird marsh at Crab Park. They are concerned that the Port of Vancouver's security fence, which has been put around the four-acre empty parking lot beside Crab Park, will negatively impact the birds there, and they note there are 26 species of waterfowl in Burrard Inlet.

Crab Park is a sacred space for the people of the Downtown Eastside. They fought hard for it and of course they want to ensure that it is protected. They also want to see a healing lodge at Crab Park to support people in our community so they are able access a safe place, a place of healing, especially in the face of so much stress and trauma from the homelessness crisis, the opioid crisis and now the pandemic.

In 2019, Baskut Tuncak, 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 and the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures by indigenous peoples.

In September 2020, a report entitled “Visit to Canada—Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes” was submitted to the Human Rights Council. It states, “Pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the right to life, and a life with dignity”. It also says, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.” Canadians have the right to a healthy environment.

Both Liberals and Conservatives have failed to put words into action and, in 2019, they voted against NDP Bill C-438, an act to enact the Canadian environmental bill of rights, which was tabled by former NDP MP Linda Duncan.

In this Parliament, they also failed to show up for NDP Bill C-232, an act respecting a climate emergency action framework, 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 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is a bill that was tabled by my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 6:05 p.m.
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Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois does not support Bill C-230 because, although the Bloc Québécois believes in a cleaner and fairer world, this bill is unfortunately a direct attack on Quebec's environmental sovereignty.

The Bloc Québécois is fully aware that there are disparities in living standards in Quebec and Canada. We are very concerned about that and have been for a long time. Our political agendas are already full of proposals that seek to make Quebec a cleaner and fairer nation.

It gives me great pleasure to say that, when it comes to environmental and social policies, Quebec sets an example for the whole world in the way it protects its land and its plant and animal life and the way it fights social inequality.

Although the Bloc Québécois does not support Bill C-230, we do support government efforts to work in concert with indigenous nations, the Government of Quebec and the other governments of Canada to counter the inequities experienced by our minority communities in their relationship with the environment.

We know that an important part of reconciliation with indigenous peoples involves joint initiatives to make Quebec and Canada cleaner and more just. Living conditions for some people and in some communities in Quebec and Canada with respect to the environment are unacceptable, and governments must uphold their responsibilities in this regard. Access to drinking water comes to mind.

Top of mind are our first nations, Métis and Inuit friends. The shame of the profound and indescribable harm done to them by the federal government's laws and decisions dating back to 1867 endures to this day. The federal government's misdeeds haunt us painfully and unremittingly.

It is difficult for indigenous peoples of Quebec and Canada to heal the wounds that the Government of Canada inflicted on them and, incomprehensibly, continues to inflict on them. Unbelievably, the Indian Act is still with us.

Nevertheless, there is hope, because we are all working on a relationship based on recognition, respect and co-operation. There is hope because the Bloc Québécois is working and fighting to make Quebec a country founded on mutual recognition with indigenous nations, a country in which all citizens are equal and everyone reaps the benefits of social and environmental justice.

While there are increasingly well substantiated links between rising pollution levels and various diseases and developmental disabilities, I would still like to take this opportunity to highlight the longer-term implications of environmental inequities, particularly for the different regions of Quebec. These repercussions are very real. One need only compare the populations of the two sides, west and east, of Montreal Island. Life expectancy on the east side, which is more francophone and very multicultural, is 10 years lower than that on the West Island. That is a sad reality.

Putting people's quality of life and health at risk puts the development and sustainability of our communities at risk. If we want to avoid environmentally risky industrial projects, we must create mechanisms that ensure the safety and health of citizens. We also need to be mindful of the support that must be provided to organizations that combat some of the negative effects of industrial projects. These elements have been increasingly well documented, and we know that the quality of the environment affects the physical and cognitive development of individuals. For example, there are statistics pointing to a higher incidence of pervasive development disorders.

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the painstaking and ground-breaking work of Mohamed Ghoul and his team. I have a huge amount of respect for Mohamed and Lucie Beauregard and the organization they run. They work very hard to help people with autism integrate into society, primarily through music. APPROSH is a clinical psychosocial intervention program developed by Mr. Ghoul for young people and adults who have neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.

Mr. Ghoul has been developing his training program for years and running the Maison-école des artistes autistes & le monde, a place for people with autism to come together and learn. Mr. Ghoul has been recognized around the world for his work, but his programs have been left out of Canada's federal programs. I am mentioning him today because it is important to think big and think about the potential impacts on the well-being of Quebeckers.

Let us come back to Bill C‑230. In order to establish a national strategy to repair the harm caused by what our colleague from Cumberland—Colchester calls environmental racism, this bill provides that the Minister of the Environment consult with representatives from provincial governments, municipal governments, indigenous communities and other communities affected, as well as any other person or entity affected. The purpose would be to gather information and statistics on the location of environmental hazards and the health problems in the most affected communities.

The Bloc Québécois has no problem with everything to that point. However, Bill C‑230 is problematic in that it stipulates that the Government of Canada will assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in Quebec. We categorically oppose that because when it comes to the environment, the laws and regulations of the municipalities of Quebec and the Government of Quebec have to apply in Quebec, even though the environment is a shared responsibility. That is indisputable.

What is more, the Bloc Québécois, through my colleague the hon. member for Jonquière, introduced Bill C‑225, an act to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act and other acts with regard to the application of provincial law. We wanted the Government of Quebec to have priority, even total sovereignty, on matters of environmental protection on our national territory, but the other political parties opposed us.

We also introduced another bill, and it too was rejected by a majority of the members of this Parliament. It was in response to another bill that lacked scope and restrictions introduced by the Liberals who, in theory, want us to try to achieve their greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. We introduced Bill C‑215, an act respecting Canada’s fulfillment of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligations, sponsored by my hon. colleague for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia. This bill wanted to provide the means and some teeth to ensure that the Liberal government met its own commitments on fighting climate change, but it was rejected.

The House of Commons is in no position to lecture Quebeckers about the environment because the parliamentarians of the other political parties are incapable of turning their words into coherent action while respecting provincial jurisdictions. Why is Ottawa again attempting to impose its will to the detriment of the state of Quebec? Furthermore, I would venture to say that for some time Canada has sullied Quebec's exemplary environmental reputation. Therefore, we are saying no to Bill C‑230 primarily because Quebec's social policies are not within the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Furthermore, Quebec does not need any lessons from the Canadian government on social policies. A quick look at the history of Quebec and Canada shows how Quebec has long had forward-thinking and high quality social policies that have even been copied by the governments of other Canadian provinces and territories. This is a credit to Quebec, and we are always proud to see our Canadian friends open up to our way of doing things and our way of building a more just society.

In closing, there is no doubt in the minds of Bloc Québécois members that Bill C‑230, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism, is nothing more than another attempt at federal interference, much like the ones we in the Bloc are accustomed to opposing day after day in most of the legislation introduced in the House of Commons. With Bill C‑230, the federal government would no longer be content with disrespecting Quebec's environmental laws. It would assume the right to assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province. The idea of joint consultations with indigenous nations, Quebec City and Ottawa is certainly a good intention, but it must end with just consultations.

The Bloc Québécois will not allow the federal government to infringe on areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and its municipalities. I would like to remind all members of this Parliament that Quebec's territory belongs to Quebec, and it is up to the Government of Quebec and Quebeckers to protect it as they see fit. Once again, Bill C-230 clearly proves that a federal government that seeks to centralize authority has no respect for Quebec's sovereignty and jurisdictions. It is important to remind members of that. It bears repeating over and over because the federal government does not seem to want to hear it: it is up to the Government of Quebec to enforce its own laws, period.

I will close with brief editorial note. A survey was presented this morning that clearly illustrates how the federal government wants to impose an energy corridor that would run through Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Gazoduq project. The government wanted to move western Canadian oil through Quebec with energy east, but that project was rejected. It is now trying to move the project somewhere else, where it would affect a population that is perhaps more vulnerable and less involved, the population in northern Quebec, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, in my riding. However, the people of Quebec do not support that project, and I would like the House to take note of that.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 6:15 p.m.
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Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, over the course of our nation's history, polluting projects have disproportionately been situated in areas adjacent to indigenous and racialized populations, which has led to increased impacts to human health in those communities. This is a reality that we need to confront, as Canadians, to become a more equitable society. I thank my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester for tabling Bill C-230, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism, which follows similar acts she advocated for as an MLA in Nova Scotia.

Environmental racism is characterized by the disproportionate exposure of communities of colour to pollution and its associated effects on health and the environment, as well as the unequal environmental protection and environmental quality provided through laws, regulations, governmental programs, enforcement and policies.

Recently, the issue of environmental racism in Canada was emphasized by the United Nations special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, who visited Canada in 2019 to report on the prevalence of environmental and health discrimination faced by indigenous and marginalized groups.

Ultimately, he concluded that a pattern exists in Canada in which marginalized groups, and indigenous people in particular, find themselves on the wrong side of a toxic divide and subject to conditions that would not be acceptable elsewhere in Canada. This is the crux of the problem that we face.

In Canada, this environmental injustice for indigenous and racialized peoples stems in part from our history of colonialism: the lack of diverse representation in decision-making roles, the marginalization of racialized voices, income inequality and the general blind eye that our system over our history turned to negative externalities such as pollution.

Communities of colour, particularly poor communities, have been seen as attractive sites for industrial facilities and other developments that impact the proximate populace because they were seen as cost-effective and efficient. For example, when a decision is made to situate a landfill in a particular location, the surrounding population that has the ability to move, does. However, those who are already at a disadvantage in society, and who do not have the capacity to oppose such projects, are forced to live alongside pollutants that may impact their health and their surrounding environment.

Environmental inequality is not relegated to decisions of where to site projects alone. Consequences for environmental violations are not uniform. In my home province of British Columbia, the maximum penalties for dumping garbage or waste on Crown land currently have upper limits of $2,000 or $1 million, while the maximum penalty for dumping garbage or waste on Indian reserves is only $100.

In my community, the North Shore Sewage Treatment Plant has sat on the Squamish Nation's Capilano Reserve for the last 55 years. Known for emitting fumes, especially on hot summer days, the plant is situated metres away from the Squamish Nation community despite waste management facilities generating emissions that may be hazardous to human health.

Now, with the help of federal and provincial funding, construction of the new Lions Gate Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant is under way. It will be relocated from the Squamish Nation Reserve to a location in the District of North Vancouver owned by Metro Vancouver. The new treatment plant is being constructed with 100% odour containment, and the old facility's land will be returned to the Squamish Nation for it to redevelop as it sees fit.

The reconstruction of the waste water treatment plant will not only relieve residents of foul odours, but will also provide the north shore with cleaner water and a healthier ecosystem because, while the current plant only removes 50% of organic matter and 70% of suspended solids, the upgraded plant will ensure the elimination of 90% of all waste prior to the sewage entering the sea.

The neighbouring Tsleil-Waututh Nation is hopeful that the upgraded plant will help reduce contamination in shellfish harvesting areas both in Burrard Inlet and in Indian Arm. The North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant serves not only as an excellent example of what redressing environmental harm can look like, but also as an example of how varied and extensive the impacts of toxic exposure can be for indigenous and racialized communities, with a sewage plant directly impacting the air of one nation and the food supply of another.

Elsewhere in Canada, approximately 90% of Grassy Narrows residents currently suffer from mercury poisoning as a result of Dryden Chemicals dumping mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system between 1962 and 1970. As a result of the dumping, all commercial fishing in the river system has been banned: the fish were shown to contain mercury levels 10 to 50 times higher than in other areas. As such, the Grassy Narrows Nation was not only subjected to severe mercury poisoning, but also to the elimination of the community's main source of income. Despite this clear environmental injustice, it took 50 years for the government to provide the people of Grassy Narrows with an effective remedy.

Another compounding issue is that despite greater exposure levels to hazardous substances, indigenous and racialized peoples have been shown to face further discrimination in health care. As an example, 62% of Grassy Narrows First Nation members living on reserve report barriers to health care. While in many examples we have a painful legacy of environmental racism, our legal frameworks are evolving over time to mitigate the risk of future such examples occurring.

For instance, the Impact Assessment Act, which became law in 2019 and replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, greatly increased the standard of public participation and transparency in environmental assessment. It became easier for the public to formally participate in assessments. It introduced a pre-assessment planning phase in which the public could participate to address clear issues such as project siting before the assessment in full began. It greatly enhances the consultation and accommodation process with affected first nations by requiring that this begin in the planning phase. It also incorporates traditional knowledge and creates the conditions for indigenous-led assessments.

In addition, with the introduction of Bill C-15, which if passed would implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal law, we would take further holistic action on reconciliation. Notably, this would also address environmental racism, as UNDRIP affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to conservation and protection of the environment.

Most importantly, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA, is the main piece of legislation we have in Canada to ensure that we protect the environment and human health. However, this legislation has not been substantially updated in over two decades. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development studied CEPA and delivered a comprehensive report. Among the recommendations were that the government should recognize the right to a healthy environment. It mentioned the importance of considering vulnerable populations and risk assessments, and of developing legally binding and enforceable national standards for drinking water in consultation with provinces, territories, indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public.

I look forward to the introduction of a reformed CEPA in due course. If we follow through on these and other suggestions made by the committee, we would go a long way toward addressing future environmental racism in Canada, but there will surely be gaps that remain after all this is done, which is why the bill that we are discussing today is so important in further studying and uncovering where these gaps may lie. The bill would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to collect information about the locations of environmental hazards and information about the negative health outcomes in affected communities, ensuring that the public and the government are informed and aware of the dangers associated with hazardous sites.

The minister would also be required to examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk, thus examining how race and socio-economic status expose indigenous and other racialized communities to contamination and pollution.

Furthermore, Environment and Climate Change Canada would be required to develop a strategy to address environmental racism and to provide regular reports to Parliament on its progress. Bill C-230 would ensure that there is a routine assessment of the extent to which environmental laws are administered and enforced in each province and would promote efforts to amend federal laws, policies and programs in order to address environmental racism.

To conclude, I believe that this bill will make progress on issues of both environment and equity. I will be voting in favour of sending it to be studied further at committee. At this stage, we can involve the voices of provinces, territories, rights holders and stakeholders from right across the country in its deliberation and to further strengthen it. I invite my colleagues from across this House to do the same.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 6:30 p.m.
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Winnipeg South Manitoba


Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Western Economic Diversification Canada) and to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Canada Water Agency)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about the bill by the member for Cumberland—Colchester, Bill C-230, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism.

Bill C-230 proposes to develop a national strategy to address the harm caused by environmental racism, in consultation with provincial and municipal governments and indigenous and other affected communities, persons and bodies. Given the important objectives of the bill, the government supports sending the bill to committee for further study. This would enable a broad discussion to take place on the environmental risks faced by marginalized communities and historically disadvantaged groups, and examine options to develop a strategy that is both practical and appropriate for the federal government. The activities proposed by the bill could help identify and fill knowledge gaps, providing different levels of government with the information needed to work toward addressing issues raised by the bill.

This would build upon the government's commitment to evidence-based decision-making that takes into consideration the impact of policies on all Canadians. The bill is timely and commendable. However, there are three sets of issues that the government is looking forward to discussing and studying at committee, and which the government would seek amendments to address.

First, a national strategy could serve to promote environmental justice, which is a concept that is already recognized in the bill, as a goal to strive to achieve through a coordinated national strategy. Environmental justice seeks to avoid disproportionate impacts of environmental harm on certain communities, for example, minorities, and includes other grounds of discrimination in addition to race, such as low-income communities and remote communities. Potential amendments would seek to further incorporate principles of environmental justice into the bill.

Second, there are some measures proposed in the bill that are more appropriately taken by provinces. We recognize that jurisdiction over the protection of the environment is shared among different levels of government in Canada and we would seek amendments to address the impacts on provincial jurisdiction.

Third, while the bill contains some important mandatory requirements, a flexible framework for developing a national strategy would be required. Amendments would aim to avoid pre-empting or prejudging the issues and findings of environmental racism that may be identified in the process of developing a national strategy. As I said, the bill deserves our attention and represents the beginning of a conversation that can build upon and complement efforts that our government is undertaking to strengthen environmental protections and to combat systemic racism. As a result, we look forward to careful study at committee and discussions on possible ways to reinforce the bill and its purpose.

Finally, once again I would thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing this bill forward, for her advocacy and her environmental passion, which are very important in this particular case. I hope that all members will join the government in supporting sending this legislation to committee for further study.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

March 23rd, 2021 / 6:30 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge that I stand on the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq here in Nova Scotia and thank them for sharing their land with us. Wela'lioq.

To everything there is a season, a time and a purpose, and Bill C-230 is a bill whose time has come, for we are at a tipping point or, hopefully, a turning point in Canada's history and indeed that of our planet.

For years, grassroots activists across Canada have been fighting for social and environmental justice for indigenous, black and other racialized communities. We stand on the shoulders of community leaders like Chief Dan George, Dr. David Suzuki in B.C., to Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Chief Andrea Paul, Louise Deslisle, Doreen Bernard and Drs. Lynn and Rocky Jones right here in Truro, Nova Scotia.

One year ago I introduced Bill C-230, a national strategy to redress environmental racism, in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Then recently, in January of this year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to develop programs and policies to “address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities” in the United States. Surely this gives even more credence to the need for Canada to address this issue within our own borders. Therefore, let us do the right thing and acknowledge the injustices of the past by addressing the issues of systemic environmental racism with respect to the pollution of the land, air and water affecting a disproportionate number of indigenous, black and other racialized communities; acknowledging the equal and inherent right of all to clean air and water; meaningfully consulting affected communities; collecting vital data; recommending further action and redress; and embracing environmental justice by honouring, celebrating and protecting the natural environment.

Research shows that racialized people have higher rates of chronic disease and are more vulnerable to both climate change and new diseases like COVID‑19 due to the long-standing structural inequities that have caused poverty, leading to unstable housing and food insecurity. Environmental racism is a major contributor to these inequities, since a disproportionate number of racialized communities are located in areas that have been exposed to major polluters emitting toxins associated with cancer, respiratory illness and birth defects.

We have much to learn from indigenous people around the globe, particularly women, as it is often the women who bear the brunt of inequity and are faced with the fallout of environmental racism. It is with this in mind that I honour all grassroots grandmothers and sacred water protectors, the women whose blood, sweat and tears has been spilled endlessly in the spiral of creation, fighting for their lives, their rights, those of their children and, I would add, for Mother Earth. If we are to survive as a species, the way we perceive, value and treat our fellow humans, natural environment and every living thing must change. I would like to believe it is changing with each new generation, as the obvious results of our human flaws and past mistakes become impossible to deny.

One of the biggest mistakes colonial society has made is the belief that some races and genders are more important or valuable than others and therefore that some peoples and communities are less deserving of a healthy environment than others. Not only is this premise false, but we also seem to have forgotten that we are in fact part of nature ourselves and are all connected to each other and to the natural realm. We are all born with the innate right to clean air and water. These simple elements are vital for our survival. Let us be honest, we have taken both for granted to our own detriment.

My parents taught me long ago that every child is born equal and deserves to be treated with mutual respect. My 97-year-old grandmother, Elizabeth, taught me that without hope we have nothing. The eyes of our children and grandchildren are upon us. Let us give them a reason not only to hope, but to believe.

The time to act is upon us. If not us, who? If not now, when? I humbly ask members to support Bill C-230.

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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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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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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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.
See context


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.
See context


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—

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActPrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2020 / 7:20 p.m.
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Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec


Peter Schiefke LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to be able to speak to Bill C-230, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism, which was introduced by the member for Cumberland—Colchester.

The objective of this bill is to promote efforts across Canada to prevent and redress situations where indigenous and racialized communities must disproportionately contend with pollution, environmental degradation and other forms of environmental damage.

This is a valid concern that resonates particularly in the current context of COVID-19, where impacts of the pandemic have been disproportionately borne by disadvantaged groups. Numerous Statistics Canada studies point to the unequal impacts of the pandemic on various groups. One study, for example, found that immigrants and visible minorities form a larger proportion of front-line workers, including nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates. This suggests that some groups of Canadians likely have been at a greater risk of exposure to the virus than others.

Additional evidence from Public Health Ontario suggests that people living in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods have been more likely to get sick from the virus than other Canadians. Various analysis has also shown that particular groups, such as indigenous Canadians, are much more vulnerable. This is a signal that we have to take action.

This bill comes at a time when many Canadians are giving careful thought to all aspects of racism, including its environmental aspect. The public is very concerned about the systemic racism experienced by Blacks, indigenous people and people of colour as a result of institutional policies and practices.

In the throne speech, our government promised to make a concerted and tangible effort to continue the fight against racism. Significant action has already been taken with the release of Canada's anti-racism strategy for 2019-2022, which includes a $45-million investment to take immediate steps in combatting racism and discrimination.

Through the anti-racism action program, the Government of Canada is investing $15 million to fund 85 anti-racism projects that aim to remove systemic barriers faced by racialized communities, religious minorities and indigenous Canadians. We have committed to also furthering transformative change by taking action on online hate; going further on economic empowerment for specific communities; implementing an action plan to increase representation in hiring, appointments and leadership development within the public service; and taking new steps to support the artistic and economic contributions of Black Canadians, culture and heritage.

We know the bill highlights that the efforts to combat systemic racism can intersect with environmental and health concerns. We are taking action in this regard as well.

The Government of Canada is also committed to continuously improving how vulnerable populations are considered in the assessment and management of chemicals and other substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and other federal statutes. Chemicals are an integral part of everyday life, essential to our health and well-being, the economy, our communities and our homes. While chemical substances may provide benefits, some may also have harmful effects on human health. Some Canadians may be more vulnerable than others to those harmful effects.

Where there is information available, departments consider this both in conducting risk assessments and in designing risk management measures. This includes consideration of individuals living in the vicinity of industrial commercial facilities and first nation and Inuit populations.

To build on our commitments to address the unequal burden of exposure of certain groups to harmful substances, in late 2018 and early 2019, the government undertook consultations on defining vulnerable populations. It was a first step toward a policy framework on vulnerable populations. Feedback received through this consultation process is helping to inform the activities related to chemical assessment and management, including the development of a policy framework to address vulnerable populations under the CEBA.

Also of note, work under the federal air quality program is exploring how to address air pollution in specific areas that are particularly stressed: so-called hot spots. This work is important, as vulnerable populations can be disproportionately impacted by the pollution in those areas

The government has committed to tackling systemic racism and we promised to base our approach on the lived experiences of racialized communities and indigenous peoples. It must be a co-operative and collaborative effort.

The first step will be to listen as much as possible to those whose experiences will guide our approach. Bill C-230 is the start of a conversation that we are pleased to have in order to address this important issue.

In closing, I would like to once again thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for introducing this bill.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism ActRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2020 / 3:40 p.m.
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Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

seconded by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, moved for leave to introduce Bill C-230, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism.

She said: Mr. Speaker, Wela’lin Al-Su-Sid.

An act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism could also be called, in short, a national strategy to redress environmental racism act.

Environmental racism can be defined as the disproportionate number of environmentally hazardous sites established in areas inhabited primarily by members of indigenous and other racialized communities.

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

I introduced a bill similar to this in Nova Scotia several years ago. It reached second reading and we debated it on the floor of the House, at which point people in Nova Scotia started to understand what exactly environmental racism was. Since then there has been a book written about it, called There's Something in the Water, by Dr. Ingrid Waldron, which has now been made into a documentary by Ellen Page that will soon be available on Netflix.

I look forward to hearing debate in the House, and I hope all parties will support this important bill going forward.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)