, seconded by the member for York Centre, moved 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 third time and passed.
She said: Mr. Speaker, there are not really words to describe the joy, pleasure and deep sense of gratitude when a private member's bill gets to third reading, and the member who has proposed it gets to stand before colleagues, to both ask for further support and express gratitude for the support the bill has received.
I want to begin by acknowledging that we are here on the territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. To them, I express a deep meegwetch every single day that we stand on their territory. Part and parcel of what we are addressing in the piece of legislation today is the impacts of the history of settler culture on Turtle Island and the impacts of policies of exploitation, of amassing fortunes, of capital raised and capital in bank accounts based on taking natural capital, taking it from what is alive to what is dead, at which point we see profit.
We also see a disproportionate impact for those people who are racialized, low-income or indigenous and the distance between those people and the large profits that are amassed quite far from where they have been exploited.
The concept of environmental racism may be new to some people in this House, but it certainly was not a new concept to the first member to bring this bill forward. Although Bill C-226 came to this House what feels like a long time ago, in terms of Private Members' Business it was not that long ago. This bill came to this Parliament on February 2, 2022 at first reading.
However, that was not its first incarnation. Its first incarnation was as Bill C-230. It was a private member's bill of a Liberal member of Parliament, who was at that time the member for Cumberland—Colchester. I can say her name out loud here. That is one of the sad things about this. When one of our friends and colleagues is not re-elected, their name is speakable. I thank Lenore Zann, who brought this bill forward. She is still rooting for it. We are still working together. In the previous Parliament, she did me the honour of asking me, a Green Party member of Parliament, to be her official seconder, even though she is a Liberal. It is quite unusual to ask someone from another party to second a bill, and I was honoured to do so.
We worked together on this, and it got all the way through second reading and all the way through the environment committee. It had amendments made to it in the last Parliament, and then, as we all know, there was an election that intervened, and the bill died on the Order Paper.
Since that time, in bringing it back, I have had so much support from so many members whose names I cannot say here because they are still members and working hard to help. I want to start, of course, by thanking the Minister of Environment, who, as minister, has this in the mandate letter, but in discussions that were enormously collaborative he decided that perhaps it might advance more quickly as my private member's bill.
We really have a sense of urgency about getting the bill passed. As we know, the House calendar can get clogged with government bills. This one was ready to go, and I drew a low number in the lottery, so we moved forward.
From the very beginning, I had the support of my friend, the member for Victoria, who also laid hands on this bill. One could describe this bill as having many midwives. This is a process and we are not done yet. There is the hon. member for Nunavut and the hon. member for York Centre, who is seconding the bill here tonight. We had hon. members from many parties, including the hon. member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, the hon. parliamentary secretary from Winnipeg South and the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth. I know I am going to leave people out if I keep going.
I have many friends in the other parties, and I wish I had been able to convince my Bloc Québécois friends to support Bill C-226.
Unfortunately, right now, they are not on my side when it comes to this private member's bill, but perhaps they will change their minds before the final vote. I hope so. Right now, the Conservatives are opposing this environmental justice effort.
I would have loved to have every member of Parliament in this place support the legislation, but thank heaven, and thank all the members who have seen it in their hearts to support the bill, we have the votes for third reading support, please. Today is the last moment of debate at third reading.
I have another 10 minutes, and I do want to speak to the issues that this bill addresses.
We can name the places and think of them, and they conjure much longer stories, such as Grassy Narrows. What does environmental racism mean when we would allow Reed Paper to contaminate the community of Grassy Narrows with mercury, decade after decade?
The Sydney tar ponds are now cleaned up. However, for decades it was a racialized community with a Black population who came from the Caribbean to work in the steel mill. The land where the steel mill and the tar ponds were located was a toxic mess of carcinogenic toxic waste. It was the fishing grounds of the Mi'kmaq First Nation.
Pictou Landing, more recently, is still at threat from Paper Excellence, which bought the mill that was shuttered.
There is the illegal dumping of toxic waste in the Kanesatake First Nation, there is the Wet'suwet'en territory, and we can add Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, where Imperial Oil's Kearl mine leaked toxic waste for nine months. Not the regulator, not the province and not the company ever thought to warn the community.
In those cases, if members wonder what environmental racism is, they can just ask themselves this question: Can they imagine that happening in Westmount, the south end of Halifax, or any of the settler-culture neighbourhoods, which are the wealthy neighbourhoods, the white neighbourhoods? Would Imperial Oil have dared to poison a neighbourhood of their wealthy shareholders with the toxic waste seeping from the tar, from the tailings, from bitumen production in the oil sands? The answer that presents itself is obviously no. That is the difference.
There is a lot of academic work that has been done on this, so I do want to start by giving an enormous vote of thanks to Dr. Ingrid Waldron, who is the champion of environmental racism and promotion of environmental justice in Canada. Her book There's Something in the Water was turned into a film documentary. If members want more information on this, they can find it on Netflix. On Netflix, there is a film documentary made by Canadian actor Elliot Page. He based the documentary on Dr. Waldron's book.
Dr. Waldron founded the ENRICH project, which stands for environmental noxiousness, racial inequities and community health project.
Dr. Waldron's work has been central to this. Dr. Waldron worked in a collaborative fashion with Lenore Zann in developing this bill in the first place.
What does it look like? What kind of definitions does one bring to bear? Dr. Waldron's definition is more, but it includes this: “the disproportionate location or siting of polluting industries in communities of colour, indigenous communities, Black communities and the working poor.” It is pretty comprehensive. We know what that means.
However, it is more than that. Dr. Waldron has also said it is “how racist environmental policies...have enabled the cultural genocide of Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples”.
Having looked at environmental racism, the question is this: What is it that Bill C-226 would do about it? It would demand of government to develop a strategy to promote environmental justice.
What does environmental justice look like? We do not have to look too far. Tomorrow, in this place, U.S. President Joe Biden will be speaking to us.
I hate comparisons where Canada does not look good compared to the United States of America, as I like the smugness of knowing that we set a good example, but unfortunately, we do not look good on environmental racism or climate. In 1994, the U.S. President acknowledged and created a program, by executive order, in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promote environmental justice.
The environmental justice program and the U.S. EPA this year will spend $100 million on programs at the community level to assist communities to have the tools they need to fight the polluters back; get cleanups; prove that the cleanups are needed; prove the health information; get access to epidemiologists, toxicologists and lawyers; and get the chance to beat back the polluters. The polluters will always say, “There is not enough here to poison anyone. That would be quite far-fetched.” Environmental justice programs make the difference by empowering communities so that the polluters do not get away with murder, and I do not mean that purely rhetorically.
The U.S. EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, culture, national origin, income, and educational levels with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of protective environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
We have a long way to go in this country, but we are not without a road map. We know what can be done. If we get this bill through third reading today and send it to the other place, it will then need to have the support from the government of the day and the support of the finance minister to fund the programs, so that communities of colour, indigenous communities and poor communities are not left without access to environmental justice.
We have made some changes in Bill S-5, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, thanks to the Senate. There is more recognition in that bill of aspects of environmental justice and environmental racism.
We are making progress. We are inching along, but we need to be bolder. We need to move fast. It is my deep hope that, if this bill passes, it will go through the Senate relatively swiftly. We will then be able to say to every Canadian that justice includes the right to a healthy environment, that justice includes climate justice, that justice includes the indigenous peoples who live in Saanich—Gulf Islands, that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans no longer can say, “Sir, one cannot harvest any shellfish from one's traditional waters because we have decided, without doing any testing, that that shellfish is probably not safe to consume.” It is safe to consume, all right. It is just that it is an indigenous community and taking away their right to fish is perfectly okay with DFO, with no testing.
These are issues that can be solved. As someone who stands before us as a woman of privilege, by the colour of my skin, I am deeply honoured to work with the communities for whom this legislation will make an enormous difference, for all of the babies, the sons and daughters, of the peoples in those communities.
I ask members to please assist this bill to be more than a strategy, to be more than a private member's bill, but to be the law of the land to create new rights and bring environmental justice to every Canadian.