House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-11.


The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-226, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.


Mike Morrice Green Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-226, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice, put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

It is far past time we addressed environmental racism and the disproportionate siting of polluting industries in Black communities, indigenous and racialized communities and those of the working poor. These are communities that typically lack an economic and political base to fight back. It is impossible to ignore the reality that governments have consistently put harmful industries and dumpsites dangerously close to some of the most marginalized communities across the country. This is a systemic issue that not only negatively impacts those residents' physical health and wellness through abnormal instances of cancers and other diseases, but also discourages others from moving into that area, deterring growth and new opportunities for those within it.

These decisions also impact the environment around those who live there, affecting drinking water and food sources for indigenous communities in particular. All of this has a negative impact on the mental health of these residents, compounded by gaslighting, with the onus routinely placed on those impacted most to prove the situation is leading to these adverse effects and that change is required. I would like to share a few examples.

Africville was a Black community in Nova Scotia established in the 1850s on the outskirts of Halifax. The community was pushed to the margins and did not receive the same services or infrastructure as others in the nearby city. Over the decades, undesirable developments were built in or near the community, including an infectious disease hospital, a dump and a prison. Africville's water and land were contaminated. Eventually the city relocated residents in 1964 without meaningful consultation or compensation.

Another is the toxic dumping in Kanesatake, Quebec, a community that is suffering ongoing health impacts because of the toxic waste from a recycling facility which has not been cleaned up despite repeated calls.

We can take the example of when a pipe at a pulp mill ruptures, spilling untreated effluent into a Pictou Landing First Nation wetland and it takes six years to solve the issue.

Closer to my community, in Ontario, there is the mercury-poisoning crisis in Grassy Narrows First Nation and neighbouring White Dog Independent Nation, one of Canada's worst environmental disasters that is still ongoing. A recent CBC investigation found that 90% of the population of Grassy Narrows experienced the symptoms of mercury poisoning, which include neurological problems, seizures and cognitive delays. Many homes do not have safe drinking water in an area with very limited health services and no on-reserve mental health care. The community has been fighting to have this contamination cleaned up for over 50 years without result.

These are just a few of the many examples of how Black, indigenous and racialized communities have been disproportionally impacted by neglect and the siting of environmentally harmful industries.

We can also see environmental racism and injustice showing up in other ways, like when racialized neighbourhoods do not have the same access to green spaces, public trails and playgrounds, or even street trees in their area.

Personally, I have learned so much on this topic from the incredible work of Dr. Ingrid Waldron and the ENRICH Project, a collaborative, community-based project investigating the cause and effect of toxic industries situated near Mi'kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities. It is a project that Dr. Waldron started and has led since 2012.

Dr. Waldron literally wrote the book on environmental racism. It is called There's Something in the Water, which was turned into a 2019 documentary of the same name, co-produced with Elliot Page and Julia Sanderson.

Dr. Waldron says it best, “In Canada, your postal code determines your health.” She went on to say, “Environmental racism is about a pattern and it is historical. It is rooted and embedded in historical inequities and it is about the lack of response by government to act on the citing of these industries and communities of colour and indigenous communities.”

Dr. Waldron went on to lay out two ways we can meaningfully address environmental racism. One is to develop legislation across the country and the other is to provide education on the subject in schools.

Collectively as parliamentarians in the House of Commons we can take action on the first. In Canada we need to be honest. We are way behind. As an example, in the United States, the office of environmental justice was formed as part of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992. That is more than 28 years ago.

Dr. Waldron has been making incredible progress over the last number of years. Dr. Waldron worked with then MLA Lenore Zann on what was Bill 111, an environmental racism protection act in the Nova Scotia legislature in 2015. The bill was defeated at second reading.

When elected as an MP representing Cumberland--Colchester, then MP Lenore Zann in the previous Parliament brought forward Bill C-230, which forms the basis of this piece of legislation before the House today. While Bill C-230 had widespread support, it died on the Order Paper when the election was called.

It is part of why I am so glad that my colleague, the MP for Saanich—Gulf Islands, has now brought back Lenore's private member's bill, as Bill C-226. I am also glad that as it has been brought back, it includes all of the work that has already been done to this point. It has already been to committee, for example. It has had an amendment adopted. The only difference between the current bill and the one in the previous Parliament is that the amendments that had been proposed are now included in the specifics of the strategy that would be developed should the bill be passed.

The bill has all of the benefit of the cross-party support that the previous version of the bill already had. It is for this reason that I am hopeful that Bill C-226 will continue to have the widespread support across party lines, recognizing that there is nothing partisan about ensuring that we take immediate steps to address environmental racism and environmental justice in this country. It is my hope that parliamentarians from all parties will choose to fast-track this legislation, recognizing it has already been studied, so that we can send it to the Senate as quickly as possible and ideally have it passed into law.

In conclusion, we know that for decades environmental racism has been neglected by all levels of government and to some extent the environmental movement itself. We must take action now to ensure that no community suffers the same harms as Africville, Grassy Narrows and so many others have. It is far past time to develop a national strategy to redress the harm of environmental racism and lead us into a just climate future for all.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.


Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, it is the last Friday of this session in the House. If I may, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge everyone who has supported our work throughout this past parliamentary session. This includes the interpreters, the pages, the Sergeant-at-Arms and his team, maintenance staff, cafeteria employees, IT support staff, law clerks, analysts, and so on. Not only do these people help us represent our constituents to the best of our ability, but they also make our job so much more enjoyable simply because they are so incredibly nice.

Madam Speaker, as everyone knows, Fridays can be a little colourful in the House compared to most other days. We are often treated to all kinds of surprises, including new faces in the chair you are now occupying. I want to congratulate everyone who has taken a surprise turn in the chair over the past few weeks. Everyone did a great job. Let me single out my colleague from Joliette, as well as the member who spoke right before me, my colleague from Kitchener Centre.

As I said, Fridays are full of surprises, and parliamentarians' schedules are sometimes turned upside down. I would therefore like to say a quick hello to Marie‑Andrée Cardinal's special education class at École Marguerite‑Bourgeoys. I was supposed to meet with them this morning, but unfortunately had to reschedule. I look forward to meeting them, and I know that it will happen another time. In the meantime, I wish them a great end of the school year and above all a good summer vacation.

I will come back to our current subject, Bill C‑226. This is not the first time that a bill on environmental justice has been tabled in the House. In the previous Parliament, the then member for Cumberland—Colchester, Lenore Zann, introduced Bill C‑230, whose objectives were fairly similar to those of the current Bill C‑226.

When the vote was held at second reading, the Bloc Québécois did not support the bill. Specifically, we raised questions about interference in Quebec's jurisdictions, because, as drafted, it contained provisions that directly attacked Quebec's environmental sovereignty. I will come back to this point later.

The bill did make it to second reading and the committee was able to correct these and other aspects, which made it possible for the Bloc Québécois to finally support it. What happened next is history. The bill died on the Order Paper when the government called an election in the summer.

Discussions about bills similar to Bill C-226 are not just a thing of the past. The other chamber is currently holding a similar debate on Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act. We can see that people want something to be done about environmental human rights, and the Bloc Québécois thinks that is a good thing. Since Bill S-5 is broader in scope when it comes to addressing environmental injustices, one has to wonder whether, if it passes before Bill C-226, Bill C-226 will then become obsolete. We will see.

In short, Bill C-226 is no doubt inspired by a very noble desire to advance environmental justice. However, what starts out as a good intention unfortunately does not always lead to a good end result, or the implementation of a good policy, and we believe that Bill C‑226 has some shortcomings. I mainly want to focus on two of them today.

As has already been mentioned, Bill C‑226, like the first version of Bill C‑230, would create a Canada-wide strategy, which, in a federative context, might not be the right approach. Any action by the Canadian government must take into account that Quebec and the provinces have jurisdiction over environmental protections and health and social services. More specifically, it should recognize that the Government of Quebec has authority over these matters. We therefore believe that it would be inconsistent to claim to be fighting for environmental justice at the federal level without, at the time time, defending the environmental sovereignty of Quebec.

Parts of the federal infrastructure, such as wharves, ports, airports, telecommunications infrastructure, federal property and so on, are not subject to our environmental protection laws or municipal bylaws. Quebec's environmental protection and land-use planning laws must apply to all Quebec territory and must not be overridden by federal laws.

This reflects the unanimous will of the Quebec National Assembly, which, on April 13, 2022, voted in favour of the primacy of Quebec's jurisdiction in matters of the environment and opposed any intervention by the federal government in matters of the environment on Quebec territory.

I want to add that, in Quebec, the right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved has been enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a quasi-constitutional statute, since 2006. I mentioned Bill S‑5 earlier, and I want to point out that one of the objectives of this bill is to enshrine this type of right in Canadian legislation.

Because this happened last time, the Bloc wants to remind the House that respect for Quebec's environmental sovereignty cannot be sidestepped during the study of this bill.

The other concern I want to raise about Bill C‑226 is that it should focus on environmental justice rather than environmental racism. Not only are there issues with the definitions, but also the notion of environmental racism might not be universal enough. Many people may slip through the cracks, even though we should be tackling the environmental inequality they experience too.

My colleague from Repentigny did a great job of summarizing the situation when she spoke to the former Bill C‑230:

My thought is this. If we introduce new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a healthy environment, everyone should benefit from it. Furthermore, if the policy is well thought out and targeted, it will correct unequal situations. Those who suffer the greatest injustices will then receive help and support from the government, and even reparation for the harm done. That's my understanding. The rights and the criteria for receiving state protection and support are universal. If the principles are truly applied to everyone, without discrimination, then the policy will have the effect of reducing inequalities based on differences.

Leaving aside issue of interference for now, here is my question: If the only inequalities covered by Bill C‑226 are race-related, are we leaving out other people who also deserve protection?

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec also addressed the issue of the systematic correlation between certain social inequalities and the notion of race.

...the idea that socio-economic, cultural and political differences between groups of individuals can be based entirely or in part on biological and genetic disparities has been widely rejected by most researchers in the social sciences.

Here is a concrete example. If the population of eastern Montreal, which is diverse and has its historical roots in the working class, were affected by air pollution, which we know it is, would it be subject to or excluded from the strategy? Furthermore, we must question the criteria used.

Similarly, would the municipality of Rouyn-Noranda, which is grappling with serious problems of air quality and overexposure to arsenic, be covered by the bill? This matter does raise issues of environmental justice, because, like David against Goliath, citizens whose life expectancy has been cut by five years are fighting Glencore and its $4-billion profits. Would Rouyn-Noranda, on the sole basis of environmental racism, enjoy protection under the law?

In short, this seems to be a matter of universality. We know that a policy is good when its measures are reasonably flexible. Throughout history, the social policies that have best served the advancement of rights and social protections and reduced inequalities, in other words, the development of a welfare state, have been universal policies. The best way for the government to avoid discriminating based on differences is to blind itself to differences.

If our institutions implement new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a clean environment, everyone should have them. If the policy is well-thought-out, if the implementation measures manage to remedy inequitable situations, then those who suffer the most from injustice will receive help and support from the government, as well as reparation for any harm done. If the rights and the eligibility criteria for government protection and support are universal and if those principles are applied to everyone without discrimination, then the policy will also eliminate inequalities based on differences, all differences.

These are two things that we should think about in order to improve the bill. I will end there.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, my dad completed suicide when I was very young, but I was very fortunate to have several different father figures with several different families throughout Nunavut. I would love to wish them a happy Father's Day. I also wish a special one to my husband Allan. As a blended family, we were able to raise nine children together, so happy Father's Day to Allan.

I am privileged to stand here as we celebrate and acknowledge that this is National Indigenous History Month, especially since next week, on June 21, many people across Canada will be celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day. Having said this, I want to call attention to education by insisting that all governments and educational institutions in Canada implement the TRC's calls to action 6 through 12 and 63 to 66, which focus on education.

I also want to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for introducing this bill. Its predecessor, Bill C-230, died on the Order Paper.

I will outline briefly how opportunities for environmental racism have been perpetuated by Canada and implemented in Canada’s constitutional and legal framework for dealing with lands in Canada.

The violation of the indigenous inherent right to lands is the strongest form of colonialism. This practice by Canada has negatively impacted indigenous peoples. This colonialism has happened for hundreds of years, from the time of first settlers to present-day Canada. This is evident with case law leading to the current landmark case on the land title of Haida Nation. We cannot deny that there is conflict between colonial Canada and many of the first nations that have had to go through the courts to have their rights and title recognized.

Before settlers arrived in what is now known as Canada, indigenous peoples thrived. They managed the environment and the wildlife, ensuring a pristine and balanced environment. Since the arrival of settlers that led up to the Constitution Act in 1867, indigenous peoples have been robbed of their lands. However, indigenous peoples can reclaim lands in one of four ways. Rather than explaining the Constitution Act, I will simply state that sections 91(24), 92 and 35 create the opportunities for environmental racism to be perpetuated.

There are many cases dealing with rights and title, including Calder, R. v. Sparrow, Delgamuukw, R. v. Marshall, the Tsilhqot'in case, Clyde River, Haida Nation and Carrier Sekani. These cases lead to opportunities for environmental racism to be perpetuated. While these important cases have advanced indigenous rights and title to lands, the courts have ensured that these rights are limited and incremental.

Another instrument is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted in the United Nations in 2007. Canada was one of four countries that voted against it. It was not until 2016 that Canada finally endorsed UNDRIP. It was finally in the last Parliament that legislation related to UNDRIP received royal assent here in Canada. I will specifically and quickly say that article 32 states:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories

I am going to give a quick example of the impacts of environmental racism.

When environmental racism seemed to reach its peak in Nunavut, in February 2021, a group of hunters from Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet marked a shift in how Inuit voice their concerns. While this group was hunting, it happened to be at the same time the Nunavut Impact Review Board was holding one of its technical hearings on the proposal by the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation to expand its current mine.

During this time, Inuit who attended the hearings felt unheard. The questions they posed to Baffinland were not being answered, and the Nunavut Impact Review Board was continually limiting the number of questions the Inuit could ask throughout the proceedings. The hunters, having heard reports about the suppression of Inuit voices, took the drastic action of impeding access at two points of the mine. Baffinland, rather than working with Inuit, chose to close the mine and impose a court-ordered injunction.

Because of the courage of what is now known as the Nuluujaat Land Guardians and that of hunters and trappers organizations such as the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents the regional interests of the Inuit, the Inuit changed their position. They went from being willing to support phase two to outright rejecting the phase two proposal in its form at the time. Inuit, indeed, have been willing to work with Baffinland to ensure Inuit employment and ensure proper environmental protection, adaptation and mitigation. They just were not heard to the extent they should have been.

On March 13 of this year, the Nunavut Impact Review Board, within its statutory mandate, recommended to the Minister of Northern Affairs that Baffinland's proposal to expand its current mine in phase two should not proceed. It said, “These potential significant adverse effects cannot be adequately prevented, mitigated, or adaptive managed under proposed mitigation, adaptive management and monitoring programs and/or revisions (to the project certificate).” The Minister of Northern Affairs has 90 days from March 13 to decide whether he will accept the Nunavut Impact Review Board's recommendation. While I very much appreciate the work of my forefathers, the fact that the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement ended up with a provision that allows the federal government to have the final say is more than environmental racism.

Since the Nunavut Impact Review Board's decision, Baffinland has requested an emergency decision by the Minister of Northern Affairs to expand the current project beyond its scope. Now Baffinland has issued notices that it will lay off its workers, choosing profits over labourers. While the price of iron ore has dipped, it is projected to continue to rise and remain stable.

There is another aspect to this. The fact that four ministers have been invited to hear directly from the most impacted community and have refused is more than environmental racism. The fact that the Minister of Northern Affairs will decide the fate of the lands, impacting directly the environment and the Inuit who have lived there since time immemorial, necessitates the passing of this bill.

While this bill will be another form of chipping away at the current system, it will still ensure that indigenous peoples are engaged in the development of a national strategy. That is why the NDP supports the passing of this bill. Finally, passing this legislation will ensure that Canada complies with article 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is such an important international instrument that Canada has an opportunity to show leadership on.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Toronto—Danforth Ontario


Julie Dabrusin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about the bill brought forward by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Bill C-226, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice.

Before I speak about the bill, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Lenore Zann, the former member for Cumberland—Colchester, because it was her important work on this bill in the previous Parliament that really kick-started this process. I am really happy that we get to stand today and continue the work that she started on it.

I would also like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for carrying forward that important work and reintroducing this bill.

Returning to Bill C-226, the bill proposes to develop a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and advance environmental justice in consultation with any interested persons, bodies, organizations or communities, including representatives of governments in Canada and indigenous peoples.

The minister would be required to develop a strategy within two years of the bill receiving royal assent and to report on its effectiveness every five years.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is mandated to develop an environmental justice strategy and examine the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.

Given the important objectives of this bill and its clear alignment with the government's commitment as declared by the Prime Minister, we support this bill.

It is important to also recognize that, while the development of our environmental justice strategy reflects a new approach, it is well aligned with a broader range of Government of Canada policies and initiatives. In fact, there are a number of complementary efforts under way that will support environmental justice for all Canadians and inform the strategy developed under Bill C-226. For example, the government introduced Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act, in the Senate on February 9. Bill S-5 aims to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, commonly referred to as CEPA, with a particular focus on recognizing a right to a healthy environment as provided under that act and strengthening Canada's chemical management regime.

If it is passed, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Health will be required to develop an implementation framework to set out how the right to a healthy environment would be considered in the administration of CEPA. Among other things, the implementation framework would elaborate on principles to be considered in the administration of CEPA, such as environmental justice, which includes avoidance of adverse effects that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. The framework would also elaborate on non-regression, which generally refers to continuous improvement in environmental protection. Canadians would have an opportunity to participate in the development of the implementation framework.

In addition, the ministers will be required to conduct research studies or monitoring activities to support the government in protecting the right to a healthy environment. This requirement could provide valuable information as the government moves forward on environmental justice issues. For example, it could include the collection and analysis of data to identify and monitor populations and communities that are particularly vulnerable to environmental and health risks as a result of greater susceptibility or greater exposure.

Additional amendments proposed in Bill S-5 would recognize in the preamble the importance of considering vulnerable populations when assessing risks related to chemical substances, as well as the importance of minimizing the risks of exposure to toxic substances and the cumulative effects of toxic substances.

The amendments would also set out requirements for a number of new elements, including requiring that the Minister of Health conduct biomonitoring surveys that may relate to vulnerable populations, ensuring that vulnerable populations and cumulative effects are taken into account when developing and implementing the new plan for chemical management priorities, and requiring that the ministers consider available information on vulnerable populations and cumulative effects when conducting and interpreting risk assessments.

The proposed bill reflects the need to better understand the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk. This government has prioritized science and evidence-based decision-making, and this is a key component in setting a course for environmental justice.

In short, good information is crucial for providing the evidence-based foundation needed to enable informed policy actions. Ensuring that our policy actions are based on facts, science and evidence will strengthen our capacity to achieve the outcomes we strive for.

For example, it is important that science and how we manage risks from chemical substances systematically account for potential adverse impacts on vulnerable populations. The government will continue to consider available information on vulnerable populations when assessing risks related to chemical substances under CEPA, a practice that would be codified with Bill S-5.

In addition, in this context, biomonitoring data are an important source of information on levels of exposure for vulnerable populations, as well as on combined exposures to multiple chemicals. For example, the maternal-infant research on environmental chemicals research platform has been used to collect data on pregnant people and children. Furthermore, the issue of cumulative effects of toxins may be especially problematic for indigenous peoples.

In support of world-class scientific research and monitoring, the government provides funding for the northern contaminants program. It aims to reduce and, where possible, eliminate contaminants from the Arctic environment while providing information to northerners about contaminants in traditional country foods to allow them to make informed decisions about their food use.

Further, I would also like to make note of the recently released 2030 emissions reduction plan that sets the stage for continued emissions reductions and highlights the importance of cutting emissions as a means to fight inequality in communities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This plan also reflects the importance of engaging with indigenous peoples, and pursuing equality and justice in economic and sectoral transitions that will support emissions reductions.

In addition to these efforts, our existing legislation and policies continue to assist in advancing environmental justice. In August 2019, the Impact Assessment Act came into force and put in place better rules for federal assessment of major resource projects. The Impact Assessment Act reflects values that are important to Canadians, including early, inclusive and meaningful public engagement, partnerships with indigenous peoples, timely decisions based on the best available evidence and indigenous knowledge, and fostering sustainability for present and future generations.

The Impact Assessment Act provides more and earlier opportunities for participation by indigenous peoples, historically marginalized communities and all Canadians. Public participation provisions across the act would help to ensure the participation was meaningful and that in particular indigenous peoples have the information, tools and capacity they need to contribute their perspectives and expertise to project reviews.

For example, the planning phase would ensure early discussions and dialogue with indigenous groups and the broader public. Canadians want to know that industrial and resource development activities are appropriately planned and properly regulated in ways that account for the full range of impacts on Canadians, including on communities that are experiencing marginalization. The Impact Assessment Act would ensure robust oversight and thorough impact assessments that take into account both positive and negative environmental, economic, health and social effects of a project, including potential cumulative effects.

To understand how projects may impact diverse groups of people differently, the act requires that a gender-based analysis plus, GBA+, be applied to the assessment of project effects. The act also expressly requires that decision-making processes recognize and respect indigenous rights and knowledge. The act ensures that the effects within federal jurisdiction of projects are reviewed fairly and thoroughly in order to protect the environment and support economic growth. Budget 2022 contained impact summaries for each new budget measure in terms of gender, diversity and other factors as part of our continued commitment to GBA+.

In conclusion, we see the bill and the activities proposed by the bill as another way to advance and make progress in equality and diversity, which are fundamental to creating a thriving, successful and inclusive country. I want to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for bringing forth this important bill, and I am very pleased to say that we will be supporting it.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

In resuming debate with the hon. member for Red Deer—Mountain View, we are not able to see your screen at this moment. If we are having difficulties, I can go to the next speaker and get you up afterward.

We will wait one minute and see if we can get this rectified. Otherwise it is eating into other people's time.

I will have to go to the next speaker.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Vancouver East.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

June 17th, 2022 / 2 p.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, environmental racism runs deep in Canada and is a direct result of Canada’s historic and ongoing colonization. Environmental racism causes severe harm to people’s health, threatens culture and destroys the natural environment. Discrimination and systemic racism in Canada’s laws and policies, in addition to uneven enforcement of regulations and laws, have created patterns where marginalized communities are bearing the brunt of the worst environmental impacts from Canada’s economic activities while receiving little of the benefits.

Indigenous, racialized and low-income communities are also the most heavily impacted by the effects of climate change. Last summer, a record-breaking heat dome killed hundreds of people in B.C. During the heat dome, analysis of surface temperature data from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite found a connection between income and surface temperature in census tracts across the Lower Mainland. The average ground temperature varied by as much as 23°C between metro’s coolest and hottest census tracts.

Throughout Canada, lower-income neighbourhoods also tend to be neighbourhoods with higher percentages of racialized populations, and these neighbourhoods suffer disproportionately from the effects of extreme heat. Researchers indicate that residents of low-income neighbourhoods, like the Downtown Eastside in my riding, face a “double threat”, as many of the neighbourhoods' residents suffer from chronic health conditions, which leaves them more sensitive to the effects of extreme heat. Other neighbourhoods in my riding struggle similarly with higher ground temperatures associated with the reduced green spaces in comparison with wealthier neighbourhoods.

While the impact of climate change has become more severe in recent years, indigenous communities in particular have had a long history of bearing the negative impacts of Canada’s environmental racism, a phenomenon that is well documented. In 2019, Baskut Tuncak, UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous wastes, wrote, “During my visit, 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 and the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures by indigenous peoples”.

A 2020 report by the Human Rights Council entitled “Visit to Canada - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes” states, “Pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the right to life and a life with dignity,” and it continues on to say, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by indigenous peoples in Canada.”

Examples of environmental racism against indigenous communities across Canada abound. It is evident in the high number of drinking water advisories still active in indigenous communities, in the prevalence of health conditions linked to environmental pollution in indigenous communities such as Grassy Narrows, and in the destruction of traditional knowledge and traditional ways of life through pollution, climate change and displacement.

In B.C., the Liberal government continues to push a pipeline that it bought in the middle of a climate emergency, despite the lack of free, prior and informed consent from indigenous communities and in direct violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Members will recall the violence faced by Mi’kmaq fishers on the east coast as they tried to earn a living by carrying out their indigenous rights to fish, while the government looked on.

Reconciliation and implementing UNDRIP are not possible without tackling environmental racism and fully and meaningfully including indigenous communities in the shaping of Canada’s environmental policies. Canada is very late to act on environmental racism.

As we debate this bill to assess environmental racism, in the United States the office of environmental justice, mandated to protect and promote environmental and public health in minority, low-income, tribal and other vulnerable communities, has existed since the early 1990s.

There is no reason to delay the passing of the bill that is before us. A similar bill, Bill C-230, was introduced during the last Parliament and passed second reading. It was studied at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and amendments from multiple parties addressing various concerns were passed. Sadly, Bill C-230 died on the Order Paper when the Liberal government called an election that nobody wanted.

Given the state of play with the climate crisis, I call on the government to expedite the passing of this bill so we can start taking the urgent action required to achieve environmental justice for indigenous and racialized communities. Environmental justice is social justice.

I am also calling for the establishment of an office of environmental justice, not only to support the development of a sound strategy to tackle environmental racism, but also to ensure accountability with regular reports. We must also enshrine in law the rights of Canadians to a healthy environment.

Former MP Linda Duncan introduced the environmental bill of rights. We should make that into law. Recent analysis of temperature data in B.C. projected that in 30 years B.C. could experience three to four times more hospitalizations and deaths from high temperature days than there are now.

In Canada’s northern communities with first nations, Métis and Inuit populations, temperatures are rising as much as three times as the rest of the world. This is a matter that cannot wait. We must move forward on action tackling climate change and environmental racism now.

I want to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for tabling this bill and fighting this fight. This is not just for us in this generation. It is also for future generations. We owe it to them. It is incumbent on us to take action now, for if we do not, it will be too late.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has five minutes for her right of reply.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to start of course by acknowledging we are here on the territory of the Algonquin nation, and to it we say meegwetch.

I also want to acknowledge the hon. member for Red Deer—Mountain View had intended to speak to this bill. It is unfortunate that technical glitches interfered with that, and I am sure he was about to support it wholeheartedly. In any case, we do not get the benefit of his speech, and I regret that.

I want to thank some of the members who took part in this debate during the first hour and today during the second hour.

Many thanks to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to my colleague and friend, the member for Repentigny, to another very close friend, the member for Victoria, to my friend, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, to the members for Dufferin—Caledon and York-Centre and, for today, my dear friend the member for Kitchener-Centre, who is also a member of the Green Party. I thank the Conservatives because they are the ones who gave him the opportunity to deliver a speech today. I also thank the members for Saint-Jean and Nunavut, the parliamentary secretary and member for Toronto—Danforth, and the member for Vancouver East.

These were rich speeches, and they gave us a lot.

I particularly want to thank my friend, the member of Parliament for Nunavut, for her reflections on the bravery of Inuit hunters who were forced, due to the lack of environmental rights, to go out and take their places in civil disobedience on a runway to blockade a mine site because their rights were being violated. We can hardly imagine what that was like in February in Nunavut. It was not warm.

With only five minutes, I certainly cannot get into the full details on that effort, but I stand in solidarity with my friend, the member of Parliament for Nunavut, and the communities that have succeeded in persuading the Nunavut Impact Review Board to say no to a doubling of the iron ore mine on Baffin Island. I hope the Minister of Northern Affairs will act as he should and accept that advice.

There is so much to say about the bill and why we are here and where we are.

The purpose of this bill is to prevent environmental racism, but it is also very important to point out that it will help advance environmental justice.

As a feminist commentating, I just went back to make sure I had that right in French. I had not realized before that “le racisme” is masculine but “la justice” is feminine.

I should not digress from my digressions when I have a five-minute speech.

This is a critically important issue that we make progress—

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am going to stop the member for a moment. Apparently, there is no interpretation.

We will allow the member to continue.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, the importance of the bill and what I wanted to underscore is that it is operative.

Earlier today, of all coincidences, I was speaking at a conference marking the 40th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms at the University of Ottawa law school with many brilliant people. I was not one of the brilliant people, but I was invited anyway. We were reflecting on 40 years of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and what was missing: What do we need going forward? There were perspectives on the need for socio-economic rights, that we address the enormous income inequality that is growing in Canada and globally, that we address the needs that we express in terms of human rights, but also the rights that were missing from the charter. We spoke of the importance of addressing this gap through environmental rights.

I will note parenthetically that Bill C-226, while being complementary to this right that we should have but do not yet have, we will not have this right if Bill S-5 passes and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act amendments do not create environmental rights as they should, but perhaps we can fix that through amendments.

What are rights without tools to enforce them? The environmental justice program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has, since 1994, created tools that can be used by communities, indigenous communities, people of colour communities, Black communities and low-income communities, who have been historically, and are to this day, deprived of a healthy environment, because they do not have the clout of white, wealthy neighbours. The tools are to hire a toxicologist, to hire an epidemiologist, and are so abbreviated and so well known in the U.S., the EJ program of the U.S. EPA. Environmental justice: that is what we are here for.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The question is on the motion.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes to request a recorded division or that the motion be adopted on division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I would ask for a recorded division.

National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to an order made on Thursday, November 25, 2021, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 22, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

It being 2:14 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:14 p.m.)