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.