Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House to support a historic federal bill, Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights. The bill would give Canadians the legal right to a healthy environment.
National governments across the globe are stepping forward to recognize the right to a healthy environment in their national constitutions. International bodies, regional authorities and local municipalities all over the planet are declaring rights to clean air, clean water and uncontaminated land. Environmental rights are enjoyed in over half the countries of the world, either through international agreement or by provisions of national constitutions.
Despite this global trend, environmental rights remain largely unconfirmed in Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not address environmental protection or environmental health. In light of the momentous vote in favour of Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act last night, now is the time for Canada to step up to the plate.
Environmental rights are recognized by only four provincial and territorial laws: Quebec, Ontario, Northwest Territories and Yukon. I would like to congratulate these provinces and territories for being ahead of the federal government on this issue. In fact, Quebec's environmental quality act has been in place since 1978. The act recognizes the right to a healthy environment and to effective environmental protection. It allows for Quebec residents to seek an injunction or to stop unauthorized activity that is harming the environment.
The bill would create a federal and therefore national-wide framework to recognize and seek to protect the quality and health of the environment essential to human life and dignity. The bill recognizes that it is simply not enough to tell people that the government will protect the environment on their behalf. Instead, it would compel the government to protect the environment and it would give Canadians the ability to hold the government to account, not only at election time but whenever environmental offences occur.
Specifically, Bill C-469 would require the federal government to take action to protect the right of all Canadians to a healthy environment. It would ensure access to environmental information and grant the right for all Canadians to participate in environment-related decisions. It would compel the government to investigate and prosecute environmental offences. It would give all citizens the ability to take the government to court if it failed to enforce environmental laws. It would provide whistleblower protection to employees who reported environmental offences. These rights and duties are already found in the laws of over 130 other countries.
Let me provide the House and Canadians watching some examples. The constitution of Argentina recognizes that all inhabitants enjoy the right to a healthy, balanced environment which is fit for human development so that productive activity satisfy current needs without compromising those of future generations, and have the duty to preserve the environment. Damaging the environment generates the obligation to repair it as a priority in the manner that is established by law.
In 2005 France amended its constitution to include a charter for the environment that recognizes, among other things, a person's right to live in a balanced environment that shows due respect for health.
Most recently Ecuador passed a new constitution that recognizes the individual and community right to a healthy environment as well as direct rights for nature.
Recognizing environmental rights in Canada gives a voice and power to those most vulnerable to the harmful effects of environmental degradation.
For example, the Argentinian court ordered the government to provide drinking water to poor families living along the Suquia River after years of ongoing pollution from a malfunctioning sewage treatment plant. A court in the Philippines has ordered the cleanup of the highly-polluted Manila Harbour based on the constitutional right to a balanced and healthy environment.
There is support from the other opposition parties on this bill, in addition to prominent members of the environmental community who helped author this bill: Ecojustice, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. Let us review what these environmental champions have to say about this legislation.
Margot Venton, an Ecojustice lawyer who played an instrumental role in this legislation, stated:
We are calling on our political leaders to rise above the gridlock of a minority government to embrace this transformative piece of legislation. Passing the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights is both a rare and urgent opportunity for all parties to show political leadership at a time when it is sorely needed.
Jean Langlois, the national campaigns director of the Sierra Club of Canada, stated:
This is a historic opportunity for Parliament. The interests of individual Canadians are compromised when decisions run roughshod over our common natural legacy. Our legal system currently provides limited and costly opportunities for the public to address such injustices. The CEBR [this bill] would finally give all Canadians the tools necessary to protect their environmental rights.
Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, stated:
It’s time that Canada caught up with the rest of the world in recognizing the rights of citizens to a healthy environment. Canadians, everywhere in this country, deserve protection against environmental destruction and its negative impacts on their health.
We must listen and we must show leadership. It is time we caught up with the rest of the world in recognizing the rights of Canadians to a healthy environment.
By voting against Bill C-311 last night, the government again showed its complete disregard for the environment. The government has already weakened the environmental assessment process, silenced scientists who disagree with it and failed to act to protect species at risk. Yesterday, parliamentarians showed they can act when the government will not.
It is vital that we, as representatives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, work together to act to protect the environment and pass this bill for the future of all Canadians.