Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act

An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, to make related amendments to the Food and Drugs Act and to repeal the Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Virtual Elimination Act

Status

In committee (Senate), as of April 7, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill S-5.

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.

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 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

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.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

February 11th, 2022 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Liberal

Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Surrey Centre for his environmental advocacy.

Bill S-5 would modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act for the first time in 20 years and has support from both industry and environmental organizations. CEPA will recognize, for the first time, that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment. This legal right will lead to stronger environmental protections in tune with evolving science, especially for vulnerable communities exposed to harmful levels of pollution.