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An attendee holds a sign that reads, "Hands off Wetsuweten," at a Wet'suwet'en Solidarity Event at the Rail Yard near Pioneer Village Station in Vaughan, Toronto, on Feb. 15, 2020.
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NewsDefend the Planet

This New Bill Aims to End Environmental Racism in Canada


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Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann wants environmental racism — when injustices related to the environment disproportionately impact people of colour and Indigenous groups — addressed in a new bill she’s put forth for debate in the House of Commons.

Zann’s Bill C-230 looks to establish a strategy in Canada that would explore the correlation between race, socioeconomic status, and environmental risks, as well as the link between dangerous conditions and bad health in communities where Indigenous groups and people of colour live, CBC reported.

The systemic nature of environmental racism means that the lobbying, laws, and only having certain people involved in decision-making processes is all legal — but that the end result is that the approved policies end up hurting people of colour, be it through negative health outcomes, demolished natural environments, or the destruction of cultural practices, according to Ecojustice, an organization that goes to court on behalf of community groups, nonprofits, Indigenous communities, and individuals fighting for environmental justice.

In Canada, there are a number of examples of this, especially within Indigenous communities. 

An area in Ontario called Chemical Valley plays host to about 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry, according to Vice.

While pollution is an issue throughout the area, its impact is most notable among the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Ecojustice reported, where pollution has caused “adverse health effects, which neither the federal nor provincial government have properly investigated,” according to a 2017 report by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

“Pollution has impacted the way of life of my community,” Beze Gray, an Anishnaabe land and water protector from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, told Ecojustice. “The Anishnaabe way of life is based on the land. Pollution has put that way of life under serious threat.”

The ongoing water crisis in Canada is another blatant example the organization points out.

Despite Canada’s wealth and access to water, as of Jan. 26, 57 long-term drinking water advisories were in effect in 39 communities. Depending on the advisory, people must boil water before they use it, not consume it at all, or avoid it altogether due to its levels of toxicity.

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Bill C-230 was motivated by Ingrid Waldron, the author behind There's Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities, which was turned into a Netflix documentary featuring Elliot Page in 2019, according to CBC.

The Dalhousie University professor’s work highlights the fact that landfills, mills, and chemical facilities are excessively found in low-income communities where Indigenous and people of colour reside, which then lead to severe health issues.

And because these communities often lack access to social and political power, their voices go unheard, which means that authorities are slow to respond, according to Waldron.

"When you don't have the people who are most impacted at the table, it's easy to miss things," Waldron told CBC. "And therefore you develop policies that miss the mark."

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Bill C-230’s second reading is set to continue on March 23.

"Like systemic racism, environmental racism is something that's been ignored for far too many years, and the time has come for us to act to redress the problems of the past, and make sure they don't continue," Zann said during a video conference at the bill's second reading in December.