"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."