Madam Speaker, over the course of our nation's history, polluting projects have disproportionately been situated in areas adjacent to indigenous and racialized populations, which has led to increased impacts to human health in those communities. This is a reality that we need to confront, as Canadians, to become a more equitable society. I thank my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester for tabling Bill C-230, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism, which follows similar acts she advocated for as an MLA in Nova Scotia.
Environmental racism is characterized by the disproportionate exposure of communities of colour to pollution and its associated effects on health and the environment, as well as the unequal environmental protection and environmental quality provided through laws, regulations, governmental programs, enforcement and policies.
Recently, the issue of environmental racism in Canada was emphasized by the United Nations special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, who visited Canada in 2019 to report on the prevalence of environmental and health discrimination faced by indigenous and marginalized groups.
Ultimately, he concluded that a pattern exists in Canada in which marginalized groups, and indigenous people in particular, find themselves on the wrong side of a toxic divide and subject to conditions that would not be acceptable elsewhere in Canada. This is the crux of the problem that we face.
In Canada, this environmental injustice for indigenous and racialized peoples stems in part from our history of colonialism: the lack of diverse representation in decision-making roles, the marginalization of racialized voices, income inequality and the general blind eye that our system over our history turned to negative externalities such as pollution.
Communities of colour, particularly poor communities, have been seen as attractive sites for industrial facilities and other developments that impact the proximate populace because they were seen as cost-effective and efficient. For example, when a decision is made to situate a landfill in a particular location, the surrounding population that has the ability to move, does. However, those who are already at a disadvantage in society, and who do not have the capacity to oppose such projects, are forced to live alongside pollutants that may impact their health and their surrounding environment.
Environmental inequality is not relegated to decisions of where to site projects alone. Consequences for environmental violations are not uniform. In my home province of British Columbia, the maximum penalties for dumping garbage or waste on Crown land currently have upper limits of $2,000 or $1 million, while the maximum penalty for dumping garbage or waste on Indian reserves is only $100.
In my community, the North Shore Sewage Treatment Plant has sat on the Squamish Nation's Capilano Reserve for the last 55 years. Known for emitting fumes, especially on hot summer days, the plant is situated metres away from the Squamish Nation community despite waste management facilities generating emissions that may be hazardous to human health.
Now, with the help of federal and provincial funding, construction of the new Lions Gate Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant is under way. It will be relocated from the Squamish Nation Reserve to a location in the District of North Vancouver owned by Metro Vancouver. The new treatment plant is being constructed with 100% odour containment, and the old facility's land will be returned to the Squamish Nation for it to redevelop as it sees fit.
The reconstruction of the waste water treatment plant will not only relieve residents of foul odours, but will also provide the north shore with cleaner water and a healthier ecosystem because, while the current plant only removes 50% of organic matter and 70% of suspended solids, the upgraded plant will ensure the elimination of 90% of all waste prior to the sewage entering the sea.
The neighbouring Tsleil-Waututh Nation is hopeful that the upgraded plant will help reduce contamination in shellfish harvesting areas both in Burrard Inlet and in Indian Arm. The North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant serves not only as an excellent example of what redressing environmental harm can look like, but also as an example of how varied and extensive the impacts of toxic exposure can be for indigenous and racialized communities, with a sewage plant directly impacting the air of one nation and the food supply of another.
Elsewhere in Canada, approximately 90% of Grassy Narrows residents currently suffer from mercury poisoning as a result of Dryden Chemicals dumping mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system between 1962 and 1970. As a result of the dumping, all commercial fishing in the river system has been banned: the fish were shown to contain mercury levels 10 to 50 times higher than in other areas. As such, the Grassy Narrows Nation was not only subjected to severe mercury poisoning, but also to the elimination of the community's main source of income. Despite this clear environmental injustice, it took 50 years for the government to provide the people of Grassy Narrows with an effective remedy.
Another compounding issue is that despite greater exposure levels to hazardous substances, indigenous and racialized peoples have been shown to face further discrimination in health care. As an example, 62% of Grassy Narrows First Nation members living on reserve report barriers to health care. While in many examples we have a painful legacy of environmental racism, our legal frameworks are evolving over time to mitigate the risk of future such examples occurring.
For instance, the Impact Assessment Act, which became law in 2019 and replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, greatly increased the standard of public participation and transparency in environmental assessment. It became easier for the public to formally participate in assessments. It introduced a pre-assessment planning phase in which the public could participate to address clear issues such as project siting before the assessment in full began. It greatly enhances the consultation and accommodation process with affected first nations by requiring that this begin in the planning phase. It also incorporates traditional knowledge and creates the conditions for indigenous-led assessments.
In addition, with the introduction of Bill C-15, which if passed would implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal law, we would take further holistic action on reconciliation. Notably, this would also address environmental racism, as UNDRIP affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to conservation and protection of the environment.
Most importantly, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA, is the main piece of legislation we have in Canada to ensure that we protect the environment and human health. However, this legislation has not been substantially updated in over two decades. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development studied CEPA and delivered a comprehensive report. Among the recommendations were that the government should recognize the right to a healthy environment. It mentioned the importance of considering vulnerable populations and risk assessments, and of developing legally binding and enforceable national standards for drinking water in consultation with provinces, territories, indigenous peoples, stakeholders and the public.
I look forward to the introduction of a reformed CEPA in due course. If we follow through on these and other suggestions made by the committee, we would go a long way toward addressing future environmental racism in Canada, but there will surely be gaps that remain after all this is done, which is why the bill that we are discussing today is so important in further studying and uncovering where these gaps may lie. The bill would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to collect information about the locations of environmental hazards and information about the negative health outcomes in affected communities, ensuring that the public and the government are informed and aware of the dangers associated with hazardous sites.
The minister would also be required to examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk, thus examining how race and socio-economic status expose indigenous and other racialized communities to contamination and pollution.
Furthermore, Environment and Climate Change Canada would be required to develop a strategy to address environmental racism and to provide regular reports to Parliament on its progress. Bill C-230 would ensure that there is a routine assessment of the extent to which environmental laws are administered and enforced in each province and would promote efforts to amend federal laws, policies and programs in order to address environmental racism.
To conclude, I believe that this bill will make progress on issues of both environment and equity. I will be voting in favour of sending it to be studied further at committee. At this stage, we can involve the voices of provinces, territories, rights holders and stakeholders from right across the country in its deliberation and to further strengthen it. I invite my colleagues from across this House to do the same.