National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act

An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice

Sponsor

Elizabeth May  Green

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

Status

Report stage (House), as of Nov. 14, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-226.

Summary

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 interested persons, bodies, organizations or communities, 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.

Elsewhere

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.

Votes

June 22, 2022 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-226, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

moved that Bill C-226, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues who are here this evening because this is a very important private member's bill.

I am very honoured to stand here to present Bill C-226 in the first hour of second reading. I want to begin with a very heartfelt meegwetch and a recognition that we stand on the territory of the Algonquin nation. It is their land.

I want to take a moment to describe how we got to where we are today, because it is rare for a private member's bill entering its first hour of second reading to have already had any parliamentary history at all, and this has a lot of parliamentary history.

I will start by saying that this bill received wide support under a different mover in the last Parliament, as Bill C-230. It was moved by the magnificent former member of Parliament for Cumberland—Colchester, Lenore Zann. Lenore was elected as a Liberal member of Parliament here, but she is quite a non-partisan individual. She also served with distinction in the legislature of Nova Scotia as a New Democrat MLA and has carried with her a concern for environmental racism for a long time. She did me the great honour of making this a non-partisan bill, and I am very honoured to have the hon. chair of the environment committee as the seconder of this bill now. We wanted to make this a non-partisan effort from its very inception as Bill C-230.

Bill C-230, with the same title, was an act to address and assess environmental racism and move forward to environmental justice. It received support at second reading and actually got to committee. Amendments were made at the environment committee, and I adopted those amendments in Bill C-226 at first reading. What we have in front of us therefore represents work already done by Parliament.

It is my deep hope and desire that all of us here, regardless of party, will find it in our hearts sometime in the near future to give this bill unanimous consent so that it can skip through stages that were already done and be sent to the other place. It would then become law, and we can start working proactively to advance environmental justice. That is the hope with which I speak to members tonight.

I am grateful for the non-partisan support the bill already has, and members will hear that in the speeches that are coming up. We also know from a question that I put to the Prime Minister in question period that the government's position is to support this bill. We feel optimistic that it will become law, but we would rather it was sooner than later.

I will now turn to the history. This is not a recent issue, and we are late to act. However, before I start on that, I need to dedicate this bill to the memory of a friend of mine: Clotilda Coward Douglas Yakimchuk. She was a magnificent woman and a hero in the community. Her parents came from Barbados in the earlier part of the last century to work in the Sydney steel mill.

Clotilda was a proud Black woman. She was the first community activist with whom I ever worked on the issue of environmental racism. Clotilda Yakimchuk died just about a year ago on April 15, 2021. She died of COVID. She was the first Black person to receive a nursing degree at nursing school in Nova Scotia. She was the first Black woman to be the president of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Nova Scotia. She was aware of and fought against the pollution of the coke ovens of the Sydney steel mill and the steel mill itself, which led to high cancer rates in the community of Whitney Pier. When this bill becomes law, I hope people will remember that it is dedicated to the memory of Clotilda Yakimchuk.

One of the things I know from cleaning up the Sydney tar ponds with Clotilda is that we can recognize as a reality that toxic chemicals do not discriminate. They do not pay attention to the colour of our skin when they lodge in our body, when they pass through placenta to children, when they cause cancer and when they cause birth defects. They do not care about the colour of our skin. However, the public policy that puts indigenous peoples and communities of colour far more frequently at risk of being exposed to toxic chemicals does notice skin colour. It does notice whether we are marginalized or not. It does notice whether we have money or not.

Therefore, this is absolutely the case in this country, with all of the evidence that we have of racism that cannot be denied. I know this bill makes people uncomfortable. Is there racism in Canada? Yes, there is. We just had a report today about the racism that repulses people as new recruits out of our military. Every institution in our country experiences racism. Environmental racism is not something new.

Let me go through some of the history we have of that in this country. I am going to turn to books for a moment. The first book that really focused on this problem was in 1977, by one of Canada's great journalists, Warner Troyer. The book is No Safe Place, and it is the story of the contamination by the Dryden paper mill of the indigenous community at Grassy Narrows. We are still dealing with that mercury contamination.

Another book on the same topic of the mercury contamination of Grassy Narrows is A Poison Stronger than Love: The Destruction of an Ojibwa Community, by Anastasia Shkilnyk. She was one of my constituents and, also in her memory, I bring this bill forward today.

In 2000, actually, I co-authored with Maude Barlow, who was then the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, the book Frederick Street: Life and death on Canada's Love Canal, dealing with the issue that I mentioned, and I referenced it. That is where Clotilda Yakimchuk and I first became friends. The contamination of the Sydney tar ponds led to the highest cancer rates in Canada. They were in industrial Cape Breton. The place that became the tar ponds was an estuary where the Mi’kmaq community had traditionally had summer fishing camps. The land was stolen, of course, and then became the worst pollution zone in Canada with the pollution from the coke ovens and the steel mill.

In between was a community called Whitney Pier, which was virtually entirely immigrant Canadians, including a lot of people from Ukraine. I mentioned Clotilda's last name was Yakimchuk. Her husband, Dan Yakimchuk, was a steelworker from Ukraine. Whitney Pier is a melting-pot community. It is a fantastic place, but the cancer rates are through the roof. The land was stolen from the Mi’kmaq. They got the contamination too. So did the only Black community in Cape Breton. As Clotilda described it to me, and I recorded it in the book, it was impossible to find housing anywhere but in that community, so the racism was enforced. We did not have Jim Crow laws in Nova Scotia in the 1970s, but we might as well have, because an experienced nurse who was Black, having moved back from Grenada with her children after her first husband passed away, could not get housing anywhere except in the most contaminated neighbourhoods. That is called environmental racism. That is what it is.

Therefore, we have a history here.

Looking at books, the most important, without a doubt, is the 2018 publication of Dr. Ingrid Waldron's book There’s Something In The Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities. It has changed the conversation in Canada. That was fortified a year later, when Dr. Waldron co-produced the film, with the brilliant Nova Scotia actor Elliot Page. They introduced people to this concept. That is part of the history.

Let us look at where else people have done anything on environmental racism. I have been a bit shocked and perturbed, as has been my friend Lenore Zann, by some of the social media reaction to us tabling this legislation, as if we are kind of weird lefties and we made it up because we just want to make racism a thing. No, this is empirically established. We know this is true.

In 1994, the U.S. government took action because it was clear on the evidence that if people lived in a community of colour or an indigenous community, they were far more likely to be exposed to levels of toxic contamination that imperilled their health and the health of their children, their family, their neighbourhood, their community and also other people who were not of colour but who were marginalized. Therefore, it has to do with a bunch of different issues. If people have power and money and they live in Shaughnessy or in Westmount, nobody opens a toxic waste dump in their backyard. That is the reality. In Canada, as in the U.S., if people are marginalized, without economic power, if they are people of colour or indigenous, they might be much more likely to be exposed to toxic contamination. The U.S. recognized this and, since 1994, the U.S. government, through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has had a program that is well resourced for environmental justice.

What does that justice look like? It looks like putting tools in the hands of marginalized people to fight for their own health, making sure there are resources for epidemiologists, making sure there are resources for toxicologists and making sure that governments spend the money to clean up the mess.

We are late in Canada. The U.S. took action. Again, I ask that members hear me: the U.S. took action 28 years ago. This is not a new issue. We are late, so we need to get this bill passed. We need to see environmental justice being championed in this country with a well-resourced program in environmental justice where we take our blinders off and say, yes, there is a thing called environmental racism. We are not going to water it down and ignore it, because it is still happening. It is happening today when they try to reopen the Pictou mill and reopen the contamination that has so affected the people of Pictou Landing.

By the way, I see the minister of immigration in the room, so I am just going to give a shout-out to him for being the first federal member of Parliament from that area, Central Nova, who was prepared to say that this mill should close because the jobs were not worth the damage that had been done to Boat Harbour, the indigenous community of Pictou Landing and the neighbourhoods in Pictou. For him just to say that was brave. They are still trying to open it again.

It is seen in Kanesatake, where there is still illegal dumping of toxic chemicals in and around that Mohawk community. That should not be allowed. It would not happen in other communities.

We are looking still at Grassy Narrows and Sarnia, at the first nation of Aamjiwnaang. I invite colleagues from any party to go to Sarnia and visit the enclaves surrounded by petrochemical plants, where the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Cemetery is. They are completely surrounded, and the industry just got a two-year extension to clean up the sulphur dioxide from that refinery. That affects settler-culture Canadians too, but in that community those toxic contaminants completely encircle Aamjiwnaang's centre.

Look at the Lubicon, and the oil sands that have contaminated the communities of Lubicon first nation now for long enough that we wrote about it in 2000, in Frederick Street: Life and Death on Canada's Love Canal.

We do not need to look far. We do not need to look back at deep history, but we do need to be honest about the fact that this is a pressing issue and requires action. I am sorry to say this: Liberal colleagues are supporting this bill, so I say it without malice, but it is a terrible shame that the election was called when it was because this bill, having gotten a lot of support, died on the Order Paper, so we are starting again.

I, and my friend Lenore Zann, who is here in Ottawa today as a former member of Parliament and the original sponsor of the bill, would really love to see the bill go to second reading for the second time. We would really love it. I am sure other members of every party in this place would appreciate that we do not need to take it to committee again and study it again. We cannot make the same amendments, because this bill includes the amendments the committee made last time.

Let us do something for environmental justice. Let us stand up and say there is a better way to deal with a right to a healthy environment that we actually do not have in this country. There is a way to make it real to have the right to a healthy environment for every citizen, regardless of the colour of their skin or their economic status. In the case of indigenous peoples, there is the double horror of having their land stolen and then filled with toxic chemicals. This is not something that any parliamentarian should feel comfortable allowing to continue, so I really beg this of all my colleagues, regardless of party.

I understand that this is an especially difficult issue because it is about racism and inequality, and it is a matter of words. I urge everyone to support this private member's bill.

I have, I think, 35 seconds left, so I just want to say again that this bill will be from all of us. This is not Green Party legislation. I mean, I am completely supported by my colleague for Kitchener Centre, but we do not want to own this. Collectively, all of our hands are on this baby. This bill will matter. It matters for environmental justice. It matters for our future. It matters for who we are.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:15 p.m.
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Laurier—Sainte-Marie Québec

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault LiberalMinister of Environment and Climate Change

Madam Speaker, my thanks to my hon. colleague for Saanich—Gulf Islands for retabling this bill. She is right: The government supports this bill. I also want to thank her for her many years and decades of activism on environmental racism because it is a thing, despite what some people, unfortunately even in the House, think.

My question to the member is this. She touched on it, but can she elaborate a little bit on the science supporting the very fact and the very existence of environmental racism?

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:15 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the Minister of Environment, for his decades of activism. I pray they are not over. I do genuinely appreciate his support on this bill and on many things.

The science is clear, but we do not have enough science. That was one of the reasons there was an amendment made at committee that I completely supported. It was an NDP amendment that said let us make sure we are gathering the data. Let us assess. We do not save data as often as we should that breaks down, by discriminatory category, who is most exposed to toxic chemicals. We know who is most exposed to toxic chemicals: people of colour, indigenous people and people who are without economic clout from settler cultures. We know that.

The science is very clear, and a lot of it was put together empirically. Dr. Ingrid Waldron is the pre-eminent Canadian expert right now on mapping where we find high levels of toxic waste. If we map that out, lo and behold, we find that people of colour and indigenous communities are, out of any normal statistical variation, far more prevalent in the categories of people exposed to too many toxic chemicals.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for her speech.

The Bloc Québécois thinks it is better to talk about environmental justice for all. Take, for example, the Mercier–Hochelaga‑Maisonneuve neighbourhood next to where I live, where 77% of people are non-immigrants. They are currently living on a much lower income. A Ray‑Mont Logistiques development project is set to begin, bringing with noise and dust with it, and part of the neighbourhood will be destroyed.

The population is 77% non-immigrant. If we are talking about difference, these are not people who came here through immigration. These are people who were born in Canada. The problem of environmental justice affects everyone, regardless of the colour of our skin or the country in which we were born.

What does my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands think of that?

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Repentigny for her question.

I agree with some of what she was saying. As I said, it is clear that it is not just people of colour or indigenous people who are exposed to toxic chemicals. I very much appreciate my colleague's work on climate change and other important issues. She works hard for the environment. However, with respect to the bill, I disagree with the idea that it is not important to say the words. Environmental racism is now a threat.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for putting forward this bill. The member briefly mentioned what the U.S. is doing, and I am wondering if she could speak a bit more about the models the U.S. has for tackling environmental racism and environmental justice and what we can learn from them.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I was remiss in not publicly thanking the hon. member for Victoria for working with me on this bill. I am very grateful for it. I drew a really good number. There is a lottery for private member's bills. Many viewers may not know that. I got a good number and that is why I am up early in this session of Parliament. We are going to get this bill passed, and I thank the hon. member for Victoria for her help.

In the U.S., at the EPA, they call it the EJ program. Everyone knows what it is. People go to the EJ program and get funding. They get support. It is a very robust, professional, scientific program within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and it has operated for almost 30 years.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I, too, would like to acknowledge that we are here today on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

I am honoured to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-226. The bill is being sponsored today by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, but it was first introduced in the 43rd Parliament by Lenore Zann, the then member for Cumberland—Colchester. It was quite a visionary bill, because the concept was not talked about at the time. I hope she will be back in the House soon.

In a way, it is indeed a new concept. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands mentioned that environmental racism has been recognized as a problem for quite a long time in the United States, but it is still a fairly new concept.

I think Bill C-226 comes at a good time for our society, as that society is questioning the very systems it created. When we talk about discrimination and racism, whether it is environmental or otherwise, we recognize that it is not just a matter of personal prejudice, but that it exists, perhaps impersonally, in the very systems that we have built and that reflect a certain way of thinking and of ranking priorities.

This bill makes us think about that idea, which was not really well known until Lenore Zann introduced her bill. I am very grateful that she took the time back then to talk virtually about her bill to the Lac-Saint-Louis youth council, whose members were also unaware of this notion of environmental racism in the context of the concept of environmental justice.

I would like to talk a little bit about what Bill C-226 proposes.

The bill outlines the components that would be included in a national strategy, such as a study that would include an examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk. It also sets out a non-exhaustive list of measures that may be taken to advance environmental justice. These measures would assess, prevent and address environmental racism, including possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs; compensation for individuals or communities; and the collection of information and statistics related to health outcomes in communities located in proximity to environmental hazards.

This is what it is all about at the end of the day. We want to make sure no one's health is compromised and no one's quality of life is compromised because of who they are and which group they happen to be living in proximity to. It is about quality of life and dignity for all peoples, regardless of background.

The bill would require the minister to table a report setting out the national strategy within two years of the bill receiving royal assent, publish that report on the departmental website, and prepare and table a report on the effectiveness of the strategy every five years. The bill aligns with this government's plan to develop an environmental justice strategy and to examine the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.

We look forward to working with others toward not only getting this bill passed but also supporting its quick passage through the House of Commons. Supporting quick passage through Parliament is important, as the bill comes at a time of heightened awareness of systemic racism and growing concern for environmental justice among Canadians and around the world. It has become increasingly apparent that environmental benefits and harms are not shared equally among different members of society.

Certain groups and communities, namely indigenous and racialized communities and those with lower socio-economic status, often bear a disproportionate share of environmental burdens, such as environmental pollution and degradation. I think it was mentioned by the member for Repentigny that in some cases those who are disadvantaged by a government decision, at whatever level of government, are not necessarily part of racial group per se, but are actually defined by a lower socio-economic status.

I was reading the other day about an area of Montreal called Goose Village. It no longer exists. It was basically wiped off the map around the time of Expo 67. Goose Village was close to Griffintown in Montreal. It was a poor neighbourhood, but the people had their dignity and their properties were well kept. At the time it was felt by the mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, and his administration that this area, which was close to the site for Expo 67, was a bit of an eyesore for those who would be visiting the city for the world's fair. This was before environmental assessments and before the kind of activism that we see today.

It was decided that this area should be razed, and they said it was because of unhealthy conditions and because public health was not good there. What I read is that when they looked at the report from the public health department of Montreal, it said that it was a well-kept community. It was of low socio-economic status, but it was very well kept. People took pride in their homes and their surroundings. Again, this was not racially motivated. It was using the power of government to suppress the rights of a lower socio-economic group.

That led me to think of the construction of the Ville-Marie Expressway in Montreal. It was not built through the highest-income area, and in this case it did displace a racialized community. It displaced a good portion of the African-Canadian community of Little Burgundy. Today, Little Burgundy is not as whole as it used to be. There is an expressway running through it, and it is at bottom of a hill in Montreal, not at the top of a hill.

This is a very historic community. Oscar Peterson came from that community. The Union United Church is in that community. Jackie Robinson, when he played for the Montreal Royals, went to the Union Church. It has a deep history. There is film footage of housing being torn down to build the expressway. It was not an exclusively Black neighbourhood, but it was a poor neighbourhood.

This makes us think that we need an approach to looking at how we make decisions that makes sure we do not have these implicit biases in the kinds of decisions that governments make. Environmental justice is a step forward for our society. It means that we are getting better at recognizing people's interests, dignity and quality of life, regardless of their background, socio-economic status or race, and that decisions need to be proper.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Kyle Seeback Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to join in the debate for this bill. I want to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for putting forward this legislation. I know she is a passionate defender of the environment and always has good intentions when she puts forward a piece of legislation.

I share her concern with bills dying on the Order Paper as a result of an unnecessary and costly election that was brought forward by the Liberal government. Bill C-206, to exempt farm fields from the carbon tax, also died on the Order Paper. I hope members of the House, including the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, will try and help with speedy passage of new Bill C-234.

With respect to this exact piece of legislation, I certainly have some concerns. First of all, I start off with my concern in general with national strategies. The current government has had difficulty dealing with existing pieces of legislation that it is trying to bring forward with respect to the environment. We had five reports today from the environment commissioner, and the government got zero for five on all five reports. As a batting average when playing baseball, that is a terrible day. When it is the government, it is a tragedy for our country.

When we talk about developing a new national strategy for something, we have to look at the capacity of the government to actually carry out this ambitious project. My concern is that there is not this capacity. We can look at, for example, the motion that was unanimously passed in the House with respect to the suicide prevention line, the 988. We heard about that just recently. It has been 500 days since this was passed unanimously in the House. Absolutely nothing has been done, and Canadians are still waiting for some progress.

The approach of trying to deal with this through a national strategy is not the right one. There could perhaps be ways of looking at making amendments to existing pieces of legislation. For example, the member talked about enshrining the right to a healthy environment. That is actually in the update to CEPA that is in the Senate right now. Something like that has already been dealt with in a piece of legislation.

We already have a complicated regulatory environment when we are developing projects in this country. I am unsure about this national strategy, what it will do and how it will add to the complication of these kinds of processes. When I look at the legislation and what it talks about, possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs, that is a very broad power that is being granted here as part of this legislation. We do not know exactly where that is going to lead. Whether it will lead to more uncertainty in other things, I am not 100% sure.

On compensation for individuals or communities, there are no parameters around this statement as to what that is going to look like, how it is going to be developed and what it is going to mean. I generally do not like open-ended or blank cheques that are given to any government, and in particular the current government. Right now, we certainly have concerns with this piece of legislation, because we do not know 100% what it is going to mean.

We do, of course, as Conservatives, want to support a healthy environment. We absolutely want to combat racism. However, I do not believe this piece of legislation is going to accomplish any of those goals, for the reasons that I have been setting out. I just do not think the government is actually going to get it done, and the proper way to deal with things like this is to look at existing legislation like the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. If we want, for example, to collect information and statistics for incomes, we could look at modifying an existing piece of legislation to deal with that. If we are trying to look at information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards, I also think these are things that could be looked at within existing legislation if we want to add some additional protections for Canadians.

I do not think that the way to do this is to wait two years for the government to set up a national strategy. It would then be debated endlessly, and whether anything would actually be implemented, I do not know.

I appreciate the member's earnest hard work on this piece of legislation, but as this piece of legislation stands, we will not be in a position to support it.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I too would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for sparking the discourse, the controversy and discussion. I would say that we in the Bloc Québécois have taken this very seriously. We discussed it for over an hour. However, we may not agree on everything.

There is no doubt in our minds that the federal government has a responsibility to certain populations in Canada, people who face inequalities in their relationship with the the environment. The state and quality of the environment has had serious repercussions on our lives over the past two years. We know that this is of paramount importance to everyone.

The Bloc Québécois supports the intention expressed in the title and preamble of Bill C-226 when it comes to environmental justice. If Parliament is to pass such a law, we believe that the concept of environmental justice must be the be the main subject and central concept.

The living conditions that some individuals and communities in Canada find themselves in—and I am thinking here of drinking water, for one—are inconceivable and unacceptable in a supposedly wealthy G7 nation.

That is why we think the House is justified in expressing its desire to act against environmental inequality and discrimination, to study these phenomena in greater depth, to understand the mechanisms and to explore possible solutions. That is all fine.

The existence of geographical differences in standard of living and access to a quality environment is a concern. We should worry about the fact that citizens who are immigrants, who belong to visible minority groups and indigenous communities or who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are directly affected by these differences.

That is why the Bloc Québécois supports government action to address environmental inequality affecting all communities. However, we are not convinced that implementing this from coast to coast to coast across the federation is the right approach if we want to protect the rights of all people to health and access to a quality environment.

Any action the Government of Canada takes must take into account the prerogatives of Quebec and the provinces because environmental protection, health and social services are under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. The government must therefore acknowledge Quebec's expertise in this area.

In any case, we are convinced that it would be inconsistent to claim to fight for environmental justice at the federal level while failing to advocate for the defence of Quebec's environmental sovereignty.

Some federal infrastructure is not covered by our protection laws. I will talk about a very specific case, that of the Limoilou area, which is next to the Port of Québec. Quebec's environmental laws, which are much more stringent than the federal ones, do not apply there because ports fall under federal jurisdiction. Consequently, everyone living in Limoilou, whether they are immigrants or not, are seeing the quality of their environment and their health deteriorate as a result of dust from ore transshipment. Everyone in the Limoilou neighbourhood is suffering. This is known as a low-income neighbourhood.

Nevertheless, the House rejected the solution proposed by the Bloc Québécois several times by voting against our bill on Quebec's environmental sovereignty. This is in stark contrast to the unanimous will of the National Assembly of Quebec expressed on April 13, 2022, which members will agree is fairly recent, to support the primacy of Quebec's environmental jurisdiction. Members were unanimous in opposing any federal environmental action on Quebec's territory.

In Quebec, the right to live in a healthy environment that respects biodiversity has been included in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms since 2006.

The House of Commons will have an opportunity to follow our lead because Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act, is currently being studied in the Senate. It must come back to the House, and we can only agree with introducing this right into Canadian legislation.

Environment-based human rights need to be developed. The best protection against inequality is Quebec's social safety net and the defence of our collective choices.

I remind the House that there is a consensus that socio-economic disparity, limited access to decision-making bodies, and a lack of political power and representation are all at the heart of this quest for environmental justice. When we talk about environmental justice, we are talking about all of this.

The factors I just mentioned cannot be ignored if we want to pursue justice. This is no small feat. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Quebec has chosen solidarity. Quebec has the best record in North America when ti comes to the distribution of wealth. This can be measured. Pan-Canadian standards and strategies often run counter to our collective choices. There are a number of examples of this in the most recent budget, which we have been debating. The federal governments' interference in social affairs is harmful and does not reflect Quebec's reality.

The Bloc Québécois works and advocates for Quebec to be its own country, a country founded on mutual recognition among indigenous nations, a country in which all citizens, no matter the colour of their skin or where they were born, are equal and entitled to equal enjoyment of the benefits of social and environmental justice.

A good policy is obviously a policy whose measures are characterized by a reasonable degree of flexibility. There are certainly extreme situations, such as unacceptable living conditions, that require an appropriate public response. However, let us remember that good policy is universal. It serves the common good and applies to everyone.

Universal public policies—and I must emphasize this—also dismantle unequal structures and discriminatory practices. Be it in Quebec, France or elsewhere, social policies that have done the most to advance rights, develop the social safety net and eliminate inequality—or, in other words, develop the welfare state—are, as I said, universal policies intended for everyone.

The Bloc Québécois wishes to emphasize its commitment to the principle of universality, which enables all members of society to pursue economic and social well-being.

If we institute new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a clean environment, everyone, without exception, should have them. If the policy is well thought out and the measures implemented have a real impact on these inequalities, those who suffer the most from injustice will receive help and support, or reparation for the harm done, from the government.

If the rights and the eligibility criteria for government protection and support are universal and their principles are applied to everyone, without discrimination, then the policy will eliminate inequalities based on differences.

I want to share some lines from a song by Gilles Vigneault, a great Quebec poet who sang Mon pays, which has been adopted as a Quebec anthem. This song evokes the warmth and universality of the Quebec people.

About my solitary country
I cry out before I am silenced
To everyone on earth
My house is your house
Inside my four walls of ice
I take my time and my space
To prepare the fire, the place
For the people of the horizon
And the people are of my race

The Bloc Québécois believes that these rights, and the policies that stem from them, will have to be universal. Everyone must have them, regardless of their differences.

Then we will have powerful legal tools to address inequities and discrimination, including on the basis of origin, language or cultural background, which are induced by unequal environmental factors such as exposure to pollution or lack of access to clean water or life-sustaining resources.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I am thrilled to support this bill. Environmental racism is a pressing issue in Canada and addressing environmental injustice is one of the reasons I got into politics. This is a priority for me and for my New Democrat colleagues.

I want to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for bringing this bill forward and for bringing this important issue back to the House. I have followed the progress of efforts to pass a bill on environmental racism for years, starting with the provincial bill that our former colleague Lenore Zann had worked on with Dr. Ingrid Waldron and put forward when she was a New Democrat member of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Before being elected to represent Victoria, I was teaching at the University of Victoria. I taught a course that focused on environmental racism, and I got my students to read that provincial bill, which was the first of its kind in North America.

Sadly, despite several attempts, it never passed in Nova Scotia. I was so excited to see Lenore introduce a new, federal version of her bill in the last Parliament, and was deeply disappointed to see it die on the Order Paper with the last election, even though it had passed through the environment committee with support from all parties.

Environmental racism is a huge problem, but it is often ignored or, worse, denied by those who do not wish to acknowledge systemic racism in Canada. Across Canada, we know that 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 in environmental policy-making.

There is uneven enforcement of regulations and laws, and indigenous, Black and racialized communities are targeted for toxic waste facilities, and the presence of life-threatening poisons and pollutants is officially sanctioned. The communities that are so disproportionately impacted are too often excluded from environmental decision-making.

This bill has strong support from civil society and environmental groups, including the support of Dr. Waldron, who has spent so many years advocating for change on this issue; the ENRICH Project; and the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice. I am hopeful that other members in this place will support this critically important bill and help move it forward quickly to the stage it reached in the last Parliament. I am hopeful that this time we can pass it. We need to take urgent action toward environmental justice, and this bill is an important step.

In addition to a national strategy to address environmental racism, I would also like to see the right to a healthy environment enshrined in law. I would like to see the establishment of an office of environmental justice, which could help oversee the strategy on environmental racism that this bill proposes. This kind of office could improve our understanding of the burden of preventable environmental health hazards faced by indigenous, Black and racialized communities for which data is sorely lacking. It could assess possible interventions to address those hazards and ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to enjoy the same level of protection from environmental health hazards. It could also help with capacity and help coordinate the integration of environmental equity across governments.

Addressing environmental racism and environmental justice is a big task. Canada currently lacks that coordinated capacity to ensure racialized and marginalized communities have the same level of protection as other Canadians. Increasing evidence confirms that Black, indigenous, racialized and marginalized communities bear the disproportionate burden from the effects of the climate crisis and from preventable environmental health hazards, such as pollution, toxic substances, and environmental degradation.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, significant health inequities exist among Canadians living on low incomes, indigenous people, racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, and people living with physical or mental impairments.

While the climate crisis will impact everyone, federal government reports repeatedly confirm that it will exacerbate these existing inequities. Government programs, policies and regulations that address environmental hazards rarely address these inequities. A federal office of environmental justice could champion efforts to advance environmental justice.

It has already been talked a bit about how the United States has models that we can look to. The U.S. has the Office of Environmental Justice. They have had it since the early 1990s, and it could act as a model. The U.S. Office of Environmental Justice is mandated to protect and promote environmental and public health in minority, low-income, tribal, and other vulnerable communities. In 1994, a complementary executive order in a high-level inter-agency working group on environmental justice was put forward and required every federal agency to make achieving environmental justice part of its mission.

The Green Budget Coalition recommended that the government fund a Canadian office of environmental justice and equity to support a whole-of-government approach, mirroring the governance structure in the U.S. and working actively to coordinate with other departments. This was one of its top five budget requests. Unfortunately, it was not taken up by the government and included in this budget.

I was proud to see the establishment of an office of environmental justice as part of the NDP's platform. It is something that I will continue to push the government to adopt as a way to support the work of tackling environmental racism in Canada.

Canada has a lot of work to do to address environmental racism. The systemic inequities that exist are a direct result of historic and ongoing colonization, and this is well document.

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 UN Human Rights Council stated, “Pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the right to life, and a life with dignity”. It also said, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.” Many of us recognize the names of communities that have a toxic mess dumped on them and are abandoned by the government to deal with the devastating consequences. Chemical Valley, Grassy Narrows, Boat Harbour and Africville are just a few examples.

We know that the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting indigenous peoples. Canada is warming at more than twice the global rate, and northern Canada is 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. 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. Canada is not adequately taking into account indigenous science and indigenous knowledge in relation to the environment and its protection. It is clear that we have a problem of systemic racism that our government is doing almost 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.

I also want to mention the right to a healthy environment. Over 150 countries already have legal obligations to protect the right to a healthy environment. However, there is still no federal law that recognizes the right to a healthy environment in Canada. This is something the NDP has long advocated for. Former NDP MP Linda Duncan put forward a bill to establish a Canadian environmental bill of rights, a bill that has been reintroduced in this Parliament by my NDP colleague, the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act does not currently include any reference to environmental justice or human rights and is 20 years out of date. While I welcome Bill S-5, currently in the Senate, there are troubling limitations being proposed by the government. I look forward to debating that bill, strengthening it and ensuring that Canadians have the right to a healthy environment.

I want to end by once again thanking the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and expressing my strong support for this bill. I also want to once again congratulate Dr. Ingrid Waldron for her tireless work to bring attention to environmental racism. We need to take urgent action to address the disproportionate environmental impacts felt by indigenous, Black and racialized communities and to advance environmental justice in Canada.

I look forward to supporting this bill and continuing to work with colleagues to tackle environmental racism, but also to establish an office of environmental justice and ensure the right to a healthy environment for all Canadians.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Ya'ara Saks LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Madam Speaker, I cannot express how happy I am to talk about this bill.

I would like to congratulate Ms. Zann, because her leadership on environmental racism and justice is exemplary. She started the fight as a provincial member and continued her advocacy so fiercely and so strongly, and I had the honour and the pleasure, along with my colleague over there who spoke earlier, to learn from her and Dr. Waldron how pressing an issue environmental racism and environmental justice is in this country for Black, indigenous and racialized communities.

We should congratulate all of those who have advocated and fought for this. We are, in this moment, able to bring this back to the table, where it belongs. We need to celebrate that leadership and honour the importance this moment holds with this legislation, because systemic racism is a fact in Canada and around the world.

One of my Conservative colleagues questioned earlier the ability of the government to even do this and whether it would be able to act and respond to this. I will dig a little into my Jewish roots. We have a beautiful expression in Hebrew that I will share:

[Member spoke in Hebrew]

[English]

“It is not upon you to finish building the kingdom, but you are not allowed to step away from the opportunity to start the work.”

[Member spoke in Hebrew]

[English]

“You are not free to release yourself from beginning this work.”

This work has been waiting for over 70 years. For 70 years, communities across this country have suffered. Their socio-economic status and health and well-being have been impacted in ways that we do not even begin to understand unless we pass legislation such as this and until we begin to dig into the science and the data to truly understand the harms that have been done.

I am so happy to support this legislation as it comes into the House and the work that needs to be done, because I worked on it already. I want to thank again Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Ms. Zann and all of those champions. We have so much to learn and we also have so much to fix and heal. We need the understanding, the data, the knowledge, the legislation and the framework in place so we can learn, ask the questions and be challenged on those answers to know how to move forward.

The tide rises, but it is not equal for everyone. That is what we know about environmental justice and environmental racism. Not everyone is in the same boat and not everyone has had the same experience, and we have an obligation to make sure all Canadians in this country have a healthy and safe environment to live, to grow, to thrive and to succeed in. Unless we ask those tough questions in a framework such as this national strategy, we are not able to give them the answers they deserve.

I would challenge my colleagues who question our ability to do this not to question the ability to do it, but just to do it. We do not need to ask why, maybe, if or if it is possible. It is possible, because we choose to make it possible. For the sake of marginalized and racialized communities, we absolutely have the obligation to do it.

To each and every one of us in the House who has fought for the principles of climate change, such as my colleague from the Bloc, whom I sat at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development with, and so many others who understand that this is the moment, we need to move forward with asking these questions and putting these types of bills forward to make sure we get the right answers for all Canadians.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

April 26th, 2022 / 7 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-226, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

June 17th, 2022 / 1:20 p.m.
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Green

Mike Morrice Green Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-226, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice, put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

It is far past time we addressed environmental racism and the disproportionate siting of polluting industries in Black communities, indigenous and racialized communities and those of the working poor. These are communities that typically lack an economic and political base to fight back. It is impossible to ignore the reality that governments have consistently put harmful industries and dumpsites dangerously close to some of the most marginalized communities across the country. This is a systemic issue that not only negatively impacts those residents' physical health and wellness through abnormal instances of cancers and other diseases, but also discourages others from moving into that area, deterring growth and new opportunities for those within it.

These decisions also impact the environment around those who live there, affecting drinking water and food sources for indigenous communities in particular. All of this has a negative impact on the mental health of these residents, compounded by gaslighting, with the onus routinely placed on those impacted most to prove the situation is leading to these adverse effects and that change is required. I would like to share a few examples.

Africville was a Black community in Nova Scotia established in the 1850s on the outskirts of Halifax. The community was pushed to the margins and did not receive the same services or infrastructure as others in the nearby city. Over the decades, undesirable developments were built in or near the community, including an infectious disease hospital, a dump and a prison. Africville's water and land were contaminated. Eventually the city relocated residents in 1964 without meaningful consultation or compensation.

Another is the toxic dumping in Kanesatake, Quebec, a community that is suffering ongoing health impacts because of the toxic waste from a recycling facility which has not been cleaned up despite repeated calls.

We can take the example of when a pipe at a pulp mill ruptures, spilling untreated effluent into a Pictou Landing First Nation wetland and it takes six years to solve the issue.

Closer to my community, in Ontario, there is the mercury-poisoning crisis in Grassy Narrows First Nation and neighbouring White Dog Independent Nation, one of Canada's worst environmental disasters that is still ongoing. A recent CBC investigation found that 90% of the population of Grassy Narrows experienced the symptoms of mercury poisoning, which include neurological problems, seizures and cognitive delays. Many homes do not have safe drinking water in an area with very limited health services and no on-reserve mental health care. The community has been fighting to have this contamination cleaned up for over 50 years without result.

These are just a few of the many examples of how Black, indigenous and racialized communities have been disproportionally impacted by neglect and the siting of environmentally harmful industries.

We can also see environmental racism and injustice showing up in other ways, like when racialized neighbourhoods do not have the same access to green spaces, public trails and playgrounds, or even street trees in their area.

Personally, I have learned so much on this topic from the incredible work of Dr. Ingrid Waldron and the ENRICH Project, a collaborative, community-based project investigating the cause and effect of toxic industries situated near Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities. It is a project that Dr. Waldron started and has led since 2012.

Dr. Waldron literally wrote the book on environmental racism. It is called There's Something in the Water, which was turned into a 2019 documentary of the same name, co-produced with Elliot Page and Julia Sanderson.

Dr. Waldron says it best, “In Canada, your postal code determines your health.” She went on to say, “Environmental racism is about a pattern and it is historical. It is rooted and embedded in historical inequities and it is about the lack of response by government to act on the citing of these industries and communities of colour and indigenous communities.”

Dr. Waldron went on to lay out two ways we can meaningfully address environmental racism. One is to develop legislation across the country and the other is to provide education on the subject in schools.

Collectively as parliamentarians in the House of Commons we can take action on the first. In Canada we need to be honest. We are way behind. As an example, in the United States, the office of environmental justice was formed as part of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992. That is more than 28 years ago.

Dr. Waldron has been making incredible progress over the last number of years. Dr. Waldron worked with then MLA Lenore Zann on what was Bill 111, an environmental racism protection act in the Nova Scotia legislature in 2015. The bill was defeated at second reading.

When elected as an MP representing Cumberland--Colchester, then MP Lenore Zann in the previous Parliament brought forward Bill C-230, which forms the basis of this piece of legislation before the House today. While Bill C-230 had widespread support, it died on the Order Paper when the election was called.

It is part of why I am so glad that my colleague, the MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, has now brought back Lenore's private member's bill, as Bill C-226. I am also glad that as it has been brought back, it includes all of the work that has already been done to this point. It has already been to committee, for example. It has had an amendment adopted. The only difference between the current bill and the one in the previous Parliament is that the amendments that had been proposed are now included in the specifics of the strategy that would be developed should the bill be passed.

The bill has all of the benefit of the cross-party support that the previous version of the bill already had. It is for this reason that I am hopeful that Bill C-226 will continue to have the widespread support across party lines, recognizing that there is nothing partisan about ensuring that we take immediate steps to address environmental racism and environmental justice in this country. It is my hope that parliamentarians from all parties will choose to fast-track this legislation, recognizing it has already been studied, so that we can send it to the Senate as quickly as possible and ideally have it passed into law.

In conclusion, we know that for decades environmental racism has been neglected by all levels of government and to some extent the environmental movement itself. We must take action now to ensure that no community suffers the same harms as Africville, Grassy Narrows and so many others have. It is far past time to develop a national strategy to redress the harm of environmental racism and lead us into a just climate future for all.