, seconded by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, moved that Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, “The land is our Mother, so when we lose value for the land...people lose value for the women.” Thus says Vanessa Gray of Aamjiwnaang first nation in Ontario, and I agree. It is also my firm belief that, like systemic racism, environmental racism is something that has been ignored for far too many years. The time has come for us to act to redress the problems of the past and make sure they do not continue. Surely it should be enshrined as a human right for all Canadians to have clean air, water and earth.
I first became aware of the issue of environmental racism five years ago when I first met Dr. Ingrid Waldron, a professor in the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University, at a coffee shop in Halifax near the provincial legislature where I worked as an MLA. At that time, Dr. Waldron explained what her research and data gathering was proving about the reality of environmental racism in Nova Scotia.
I suggested that creating a legislative bill to address the issue would be of help at that point in time in bringing it to public awareness and to the floor of government in Nova Scotia. Dr. Waldron and I worked together for several weeks on my very first private member's bill, Bill No. 111, the environmental racism prevention act, which I introduced in Province House in 2015.
Later on, Dr. Waldron wrote a book entitled There's Something in the Water, which highlights environmental racism in Black and indigenous communities across Nova Scotia. She recently partnered with Nova Scotian actor Elliot Page to create the 2019 documentary based on that book.
Upon my arrival in Ottawa as an MP a year ago, my first personal order of business was to introduce a similar bill, but this time as a national strategy, in order to address environmental racism across Canada. The scope of Bill C-230 is therefore broader and more comprehensive than my original provincial bill.
Bill C-230 would collect data, including socio-economic circumstances, physical and mental effects of communities affected by environmental racism across this land. These effects are wide-ranging, from skin rashes and upset stomachs to more serious ailments, such as respiratory illness, including asthma; cardiovascular disease; reproductive morbidity, including preterm births and babies born with Down syndrome; as well as cancers that disproportionately impact women. There is evidence that many chronic diseases in indigenous communities, for instance, are not primarily due to genetics or internal factors, but instead, to external factors, such as what is in the air, in the water and in our environment.
I would like to personally thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands at this time for seconding Bill C-230. I suggest this is an example of what Canadians truly want to see in their government, especially in these dangerous times, which is parliamentarians working together.
I would like to thank Dr. David Suzuki and the David Suzuki Foundation, the Blue Dot movement and The ENRICH Project for their endorsement for and support of this vital bill. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Ingrid Waldron for her passion, dedication, research and assiduous study, as well as for sharing her notes with me this evening, because environmental racism and its effects on racialized communities need to be heard by everybody.
As MP for Cumberland—Colchester, I would like to explain what environmental racism is. It refers to the disproportionate location and greater exposure of indigenous, Black and other racialized communities to polluting industries and other environmental hazards. These toxic burdens have been linked to high rates of cancer, as I have said, and other health problems in these communities.
From the decision approximately 60 years ago to off-load pulp mill effluent into Pictou Landing first nation's once pristine boat harbour and toxic landfills and dumps placed in the African Nova Scotian communities of Shelburne, Lincolnville and Africville to mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation, petrochemical facilities in the chemical valley of Ontario and in British Columbia, the legacy of environmental racism can no longer be ignored.
Bill C-230 is asking the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a strategy that must include measures to:
(a) examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk;
(b) collect information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards;
(c) collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism;
(d) assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province; and
(e) address environmental racism including in relation to
(i) possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs,
(ii) the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making,
(iii) compensation for individuals or communities,
(iv) ongoing funding for affected communities, and
(v) access of affected communities to clean air and water.
I would contend that indigenous and Black women have been building grassroots environmental and social justice movements for decades to challenge the legal, political and corporate agendas that sanction and enable environmental racism and other forms of colonial violence in their communities. Colonial gendered violence continues today and includes the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, the displacement of indigenous people from their lands by corporate resource-extraction projects, anti-Black and anti-indigenous police violence and other forms of state-sanctioned violence that make it difficult for indigenous and Black peoples and women to meet their basic needs with respect to employment, income, health care and other resources.
Colonization and genocide are tied to the intersections of indigenous lands and bodies. Women experience violence because they are the ones who are responsible for taking care of the land and holding it for future generations. Therefore, gendered violence that harms women specifically, also harms nations which makes it easier to take possession of the land.
For indigenous women specifically, production and reproduction, land and life, resistance and survival are all intimately connected. There is no separation. Therefore, the indigenous role in fighting against environmental racism by defending their land and territory and protecting their water are acts of resistance against gendered oppression.
What is environmental racism exactly? How do we define it?
Environmental racism is racial discrimination in the disproportionate location and greater exposure of indigenous and racialized communities to contamination and pollution from polluting industries and other environmentally hazardous activities, as I said, but also in in the lack of political power these communities have for resisting the placement of industrial polluters in their communities; in the implementation of policies that sanction the harmful and, in many cases, life-threatening presence of poisons in these communities; in the disproportionate negative impacts of environmental policies that result in differential rates of clean up of environmental contaminants in these communities; and in the history of excluding indigenous and racialized communities from mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commissions and regulatory bodies and in the feminist movement.
Regarding the health effects of environmental racism in Canada, the health risks associated with that include, as I have said, all of these various different types of serious illnesses. Studies provide evidence that health effects of environmental racism are both gendered and racialized and impact indigenous women in specific ways, most notably the impacts on reproductive health. One of the most significant ways that environmental racism impacts indigenous women specifically is through the detrimental health effects of toxic contaminants that include high levels of toxins in breast milk, placenta, placenta cord blood, blood serum and body fat as well as infertility, miscarriages, premature births, premature menopause, reproductive system cancers and an inability to produce healthy children due to compromised endocrine and immune systems while in utero.
This bill, Bill C-230, is important. Why is it important? It would play a significant role in addressing the legacy of environmental racism in Canada and ensure that these communities would have access to clean air and water, to which all Canadians have a right.
It would also help address environmental health inequities in indigenous and Black communities that are outcomes of these communities' proximity to environmental contamination and pollution.
It is up to those with power, and not the people impacted by environmental racism, to address the problem. Those who have the most influence and the strongest voices need to be part of the solution. It is important that all communities have the power to control their environment. Currently, indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, non-white communities, do not have that power. When they do not have a say in what happens in their communities, we all suffer.
Bill C-230 addresses this imbalance of power and benefits everyone. It is good for all of us. It is good for Canada. It would provide an opportunity for the communities most affected by environmental racism to be involved in environmental policy-making.
According to a Lincolnville resident in Nova Scotia, who is mentioned in Dr. Waldron's book There's Something in the Water, community members have experienced worsening health since the first generation landfill was placed in their community in 1974, including increased rates of cancer and diabetes.
This person also says:
“If you look at the health of the community prior to 1974 before the landfill site was located in our community, our community seemed to be healthier. From 1974 on until the present day, we noticed our people's health seems to be going downhill. Our people seem to be passing on at a younger age. They are contracting different types of cancer that we never heard of prior to 1974. Our stomach cancer seems to be on the rise.... Our people end up with tumours in their body. And, we're at a loss of, you know, of what's causing it. The Municipality says that there's no way that the landfill site is affecting us, but if the landfill site located in other areas is having an impact on people's health, then shouldn't the landfill site located next to our community be having an impact on our health too?”
Perhaps no other African-Canadian community has served as a more classic example and symbol of both gentrification and environmental racism than Africville: the former Black community on the shores of the Bedford Basin.
By 1965, the City of Halifax had embarked on an urban renewal campaign resulting in the forcible displacement of Africville's residents, resulting in the area becoming host to a number of environmental and social hazards, such as a fertilizer plant, a slaughterhouse, a tar factory, a stone and coal crushing plant, a cotton factory, a prison, three systems of railway tracks and an open dump.
I ask that all members of the House support this bill. Let us be a first. Let us make this something we can all be proud of, and let us do this for the people of Canada.