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.