Jenny in the House: Environmental racism: "Systemic discrimination has been embedded in our environmental policy-making"

On March 23 2021 Jenny spoke in support of Bill C-230, "National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism Act".

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester for bringing forward this important bill to address environmental racism. The bill tabled by the member requires the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to redress the harm caused by environmental racism. I certainly hope that the government will support this bill and take meaningful action to really redress environmental racism.

As we know, across Canada toxic dumps, polluting projects, risky pipelines, tainted drinking water and the effects of the climate crisis disproportionately hurt indigenous, Black and racialized communities. We need look no further to see the impacts of Canada’s colonial history on indigenous people. However, even as successive governments say they recognize these historical injustices, so far we are only seeing tiny, incremental measures to right such wrongs.

According to the government’s own website, currently there are 58 long-term drinking water advisories in first nations communities. There are two in British Columbia, six in Saskatchewan, four in Manitoba and 44 in Ontario. I should note that many of these communities have had such conditions for years, and in some cases for decades. The First Nations Health Authority’s Environmental Public Health Services indicate that there are both “do not use” and “do not consume” water advisories in our first nation communities.

“Do not consume” advisories are issued when a community's water system contains a contaminant, such as a chemical, that cannot be removed from the water by boiling. The water should not be used for drinking, brushing teeth, cooking, washing fruits and vegetables, making infant formula or other drinks, soups or ice cubes, for bathing infants and toddlers, or for pets.

“Do not use” advisories are issued when the water system contains contamination that cannot be removed by boiling and consumption of the water poses a health risk. Exposure to the water when bathing could cause skin, eye or nose irritation. In what universe is this okay?

Behind every community are the faces of the people: children, elders and people with disabilities. They are the faces of all of us. Water is life, yet they cannot access basic clean drinking water, which is essential to sustaining life.

This is happening in indigenous communities right now. This is what environmental racism looks like. As an ally of indigenous people, I have attended countless protests and rallies led by indigenous people: the first people, the protectors of mother earth, of water and land. They have demanded accountability. We have protested Canada’s ongoing active engagement in land dispossession and resource exploitation in their territories.

Look at what is happening with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Prime Minister ignored the voices of the indigenous people, elders and protectors of land. He ignored the science on the climate emergency, brought the Trans Mountain pipeline in and pushed ahead on the expansion.

The Prime Minister is completely oblivious to his own hypocrisy. He cannot call himself an environmentalist and buy a pipeline. Thousands of people have come out as allies to indigenous communities who are opposed to the expansion. Some have been arrested for fighting to protect the environment. Watch houses have been set up to monitor the situation, and people are there in the rain and snow. Land defenders continue to take to the streets to protest the TMX expansion. We must stop throwing away billions of dollars on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and fossil fuel subsidies.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has analyzed the Trans Mountain pipeline and shown that, in all the scenarios it has modelled, there is almost no chance that the pipeline would be profitable. That undercuts the Liberals' claim that the pipeline is needed to pay for green energy investments.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation conducted an independent assessment of the project and found that there was a 79% to 87% chance of a spill in its waters over the next 50 years if the project is built. In the worst-case scenario, it projected there is a 29% chance of a spill of over 100,000 barrels. The risks are real. The question is not whether there will be a spill; it is when there will be a spill. These risks are exactly the reason the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and other first nations have not given their free, prior and informed consent to the project.

The Prime Minister is buying the TMX pipeline and pushing ahead on its expansion, and this is a clear violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So much for the Prime Minister's most important relationship. This is no joke. The day the government announced it was buying the TMX pipeline, there were new environmental violations for the project.

The truth is that systemic discrimination has been embedded in our environmental policy-making. Enforcement of environmental regulations and laws is often lax. In fact, most recently, it was found that there have been repeat violations of COVID-19 protocols on the site. According to Burnaby Now, a report by the Canada Energy Regulator found there was “systemic non-compliances” of COVID-19 rules at the TMX expansion project.

Canada’s environmental decision-making process excludes indigenous, Black and racialized communities. Make no mistake about it: This is environmental injustice.

There are other examples of environmental racism in Canada, including the horrific mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. In addition to the frightening health effects of mercury poising and cancer from toxic waste, the high levels of contamination forced the community to stop commercial and tourist fishing, one of its last avenues for traditional economic living, while the Ontario government continued to insist the poisoned fish were safe to eat.

In urban areas, 25% of the neighbourhoods with the lowest socio-economic status are within a kilometre of a major polluting industrial facility, compared with just 7% of the wealthiest neighbourhoods. This results in an elevated risk of hospitalization for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

In Vancouver East, our East Village neighbourhood has campaigned for years, fighting against odours coming from the poultry plant in the community. The community has learned that West Coast Reduction is looking at increasing emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxides. Rightfully, my constituents are concerned about this.

I have brought this up with Metro Vancouver, which regulates air quality for our region. Councillor Adriane Carr is the chair of the Metro Vancouver committee that oversees air quality, and she has advised that it will consider input from concerned parties right up to when the permit decision is made.

In another part of my riding, community members are concerned about the activities of the port. They have been raising concerns about the well-being of a bird marsh at Crab Park. They are concerned that the Port of Vancouver's security fence, which has been put around the four-acre empty parking lot beside Crab Park, will negatively impact the birds there, and they note there are 26 species of waterfowl in Burrard Inlet.

Crab Park is a sacred space for the people of the Downtown Eastside. They fought hard for it and of course they want to ensure that it is protected. They also want to see a healing lodge at Crab Park to support people in our community so they are able access a safe place, a place of healing, especially in the face of so much stress and trauma from the homelessness crisis, the opioid crisis and now the pandemic.

In 2019, Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, wrote, “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.

In September 2020, a report 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” was submitted to the Human Rights Council. It states, “Pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals threaten the right to life, and a life with dignity”. It also says, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.” Canadians have the right to a healthy environment.

Both Liberals and Conservatives have failed to put words into action and, in 2019, they voted against NDP Bill C-438, an act to enact the Canadian environmental bill of rights, which was tabled by former NDP MP Linda Duncan.

In this Parliament, they also failed to show up for NDP Bill C-232, an act respecting a climate emergency action framework, which calls for the recognition of the right of all Canadians to a safe, clean and healthy environment grounded in a commitment to upholding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is a bill that was tabled by my colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre—"

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2021/3/23/jenny-kwan-1/

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