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Crucial Fact

  • Their favourite word was communities.

Last in Parliament September 2021, as Liberal MP for Cumberland—Colchester (Nova Scotia)

Lost their last election, in 2021, with 34% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism Act December 8th, 2020

Mr. Speaker, I know the member opposite has also studied environmental racism and actually taught about it in university.

This is an important part of this bill. We are talking about this now in Nova Scotia and in the Black community. It is a very big deal here. The dialogue has just started.

This bill is meant to enable people to make references and tell the government what they think we should do. I would hope that the government would then follow suit, take note of that and follow up with it. It is very important.

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism Act December 8th, 2020

Mr. Speaker, when I first started down this road and researching it, I thought of it as a provincial issue. A lot of things are provincial and municipal like dumps, waste sites, toxic landfills and things like that. As I started to look into it more, I started to notice that it is stretched right across Canada. In fact, there are many corporate polluters, which is part of the reason why many indigenous communities do not have clean drinking water today, why children have rashes and why they have all kinds of illnesses. That is why our government is now tasked with cleaning that up. I think it will stretch across all kinds of departments, but it lands at the department of environment to begin with—

National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism Act December 8th, 2020

, 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.

Judges Act November 20th, 2020

Madam Speaker, as a matter of fact, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and yesterday the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations came to our committee and answered that question. She said that it is coming out very shortly. We will have a national strategy, and I do believe her. I have enjoyed working with her.

I know we are all very frustrated with the delay. There is a wonderful first nations community within my riding, Millbrook First Nation, and I work very closely with the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association. I will give a shout-out to Karen Pictou.

We need to move forward on this. The time has come. Women demand it and we deserve it. I will work with the member to make sure this happens in a very timely fashion.

Judges Act November 20th, 2020

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for her words.

I come from Australia and am well aware of Australian film, which is very strong. Part of the reason I moved to Canada when I was a kid was that my mom and dad felt Australia was very sexist and racist at the time. Canada was a beacon. We came over with 2,000 Australian teachers on a boat in 1968 because Pierre Elliott Trudeau had asked for teachers to come to Canada, as there was a lack of teachers.

Any step forward is a good one. Obviously most feminists would like things to be rapid-fire, and there are many other things we can and should do. I would therefore be very happy to work with the member and talk about what other things we can do and introduce here, for all parties. I put that out to her. Let us get together and talk about what else we can do. I am very interested in talking with her to come up with some conclusions.

Judges Act November 20th, 2020

Madam Speaker, I too am concerned about this. As a woman who has gone through it, I know 30 years is a long time to have no justice and to be looking back and saying I would have, should have, could have. I believe anybody who has been assaulted sexually or in any other way needs to have justice done.

In Nova Scotia, we passed laws whereby a person could go back 20 years. I believe something like this should also be considered in this particular case. It is an emergency situation and women should not suffer because of that.

Judges Act November 20th, 2020

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, at third reading. Bill C-3 should receive all-party support since it is a vital step forward in achieving justice and equity for women and girls who are still too often affected by rape and sexual assault in our society today. It is still very much misunderstood, and it is an affront to all women.

Bill C-3 would amend the Judges Act to require candidates seeking an appointment to a provincial superior court to commit to participating in training related to sexual assault law and social context. This is a critical piece of legislation that is necessary to ensure that judges understand the context in which offending occurs. Thanks to amendments made by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, candidates must also commit to participate in training on systemic racism and systemic discrimination. This is an idea, and a bill, whose time has come.

The bill would also require the Canadian Judicial Council to ensure that those knowledgeable in the field, potentially including sexual assault survivor organizations, are consulted in the development of this new training.

The bill would also assist in assuring transparency in judicial decision-making by amending the Criminal Code's sexual assault provisions to include a requirement that judges provide reasons for their decisions either in writing or in the record of the proceedings. This requirement complements existing legal requirements for reasons, including specific obligations for judges to provide reasons in sexual history evidence. These amendments are critical to a fair and effective response to sexual assault, which we know disproportionately impacts women and girls.

Canada has come a long way in this regard. We have one of the most robust sexual assault legal frameworks in the world, but we must not forget the misogynistic myths and stereotypes to which Canada's existing legal and, I would say, largely patriarchal regime responds, nor the fact that those very same misogynistic myths and stereotypes persist to this day.

For example, pre-1983, sexual offending laws were repealed and replaced with the affirmative consent model that we now have in place. The previous laws accepted as fact, first of all, that a complainant who fails to resist is in fact consenting and, second, that a complainant who consented to sexual activity with the accused before an alleged sexual assault likely also consented to any subsequent sexual activity. We now know that these are false. They are misogynistic myths and stereotypes that distort the court's ability to seek the truth.

We also now know that they have a detrimental impact on victims who, as I have said, are overwhelmingly women and girls. Their impact is compounded when they intersect with other discriminatory stereotypes. In particular, they deter women and girls from coming forward to denounce their assailants, which means that those assailants cannot be held accountable.

While I was in the legislature in Nova Scotia for 10 years as an MLA, a bill came before us. I rose in the House as the status of women critic to discuss these issues and the fact that too many women and girls were part of the #MeToo movement because we have been sexually assaulted or raped in our lives, if not once, possibly twice. We never know. Sadly, this is a major crime and should be considered a major crime in Canada. We need help to make sure that assailants are taken to task and that this does not continue to happen.

In Nova Scotia, there was a case where a young woman was raped in a taxi and the reason given in court was that she was drunk and, therefore, the judge said even drunk people can consent. She was passed out. I do not think a woman who is passed out in the back of a taxi, expecting to be driven home after she has given her address, should be held accountable for the male driver stopping the taxi and raping her in the back seat.

As a staunch feminist, and as somebody who has been sexually assaulted and raped in her lifetime, I can say that these kinds of laws need to be changed and amended. Otherwise, more women and girls will not be able to come forward, just as I did not 30 years ago.

When a law is misapplied, appeals follow. Perhaps even a new trial will be ordered. This can significantly lengthen the criminal justice process and continue to harm victims.

Victims tell us that their interactions with the criminal justice system are often experienced as revictimization. It is therefore critically important that sexual assault matters be resolved as quickly, efficiently, effectively and compassionately as possible. Otherwise, victims will not want to come forward to denounce their assailants. They will not have confidence in the system that is supposedly there to protect them.

What can we do about this problem? How can we help our criminal justice system function fairly when addressing one of the most complex and, I would say, abhorrent human behaviours, a behaviour that is based on dominance, aggression, violence and power? It is not a sexual act in the sense of what some people may call sexy. It is violence and it is about power. It must be stopped, with zero tolerance.

I believe that all members of the House should support Bill C-3, which would assist in ensuring that judges have the education they need to understand sexual assault law, what misogyny is and systemic racism and to make the right decisions so that the right decision is made in each case. The people who are most impacted by the sexual offending and the social context in which the sexual offending occurs need to have justice and need to believe in our legal system.

With that, I will add that in Cumberland—Colchester we have many incredible feminists who are fighting for justice for women and girls. I would like to mention Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson in particular, who have been very vocal and very active with regard to laws about non-state torture and human trafficking and about our need to crack down on the awful actions of the people who are profiting from human trafficking and sex trafficking. It is our intent to bring Canada into the 21st century so that we have people who understand what feminism is really all about and its importance. It is important to understand where the woman is coming from in these cases.

As an actor, I did a scene where I was being raped at knifepoint. The director and producer, on the spur of the moment, wanted me to show my breasts. They wanted to show a knife cutting into my shirt to show my breasts, and I said I was not going to do that. I was a young actor but I stood up for myself. They said, “Well, what are we going to do, then?” They wanted the scene to be impactful. I said they could just pan up to my face and show how I feel, how the victim feels, instead of trying to titillate an audience with this act of violence and aggression. That is, in fact, what we did.

That is the kind of thinking that Canada needs, and more creative people need as well, so that we can stamp out this awful behaviour.

Broadcasting Act November 19th, 2020

Mr. Speaker, as a professional artist myself for 40 years, I am also a member of the Canadian actors' union, ACTRA, and colleagues like Ferne Downey, Theresa Tova and David Sparrow have been lobbying governments for the modernization of Canada's Broadcasting Act, which is now Bill C-10, for years. They say that these proposed changes will help strengthen the industry and lead to increased investment in Canadian content production and, by extension, increased work opportunities for Canadian performers.

My question for the member, therefore, is this. Will she and the NDP be supporting this important legislation? It is a first step in doing the right thing for Canadian performers.

Judges Act November 16th, 2020

That is racist.

Judges Act November 16th, 2020

Madam Speaker, I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. colleague and her incredible speech. I want to thank her for bringing this issue forward and including it in this important bill.

Are we not getting tired of trying to explain to people what systemic racism is? People should just accept the fact that it is there, that sometimes it is unconscious and that is why it is systemic. We now need to move forward and accept that racism does in fact exist and it is systemic.

When it comes to women, that systemic racism adds another layer of trouble to get through and make our voices heard, to have the justice and dignity we deserve. What are my hon. colleague's thoughts?