A private member’s bill that would require the federal government to examine the links between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk passed third reading in the House of Commons Wednesday with the support of the Liberals, NDP and Greens.
If adopted, the bill would also compel the environment and climate change minister to develop a national strategy to address the harms caused by environmental racism.
The Bloc Québécois and Conservatives voted against the bill, which was sponsored by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Three Independent MPs voted in favour of Bill C-226, including Quebec MP Alain Rayes, who left the Conservative Party three days into Pierre Poilievre’s tenure as leader.
May’s legislation is based on a previous private member’s bill sponsored by then-Liberal MP Lenore Zann that made its way to the final stage of debate in the House before dying on the order paper when the 2021 election was called.
Now, the long-awaited bill aimed at addressing environmental racism is heading to the Senate, where Sen. Dr. Mary Jane McCallum will steer the bill through the process there, the Green Party of Canada said in a news release. Hailing from Manitoba, McCallum is a non-affiliated senator of Cree heritage.
Advocates, including environmental law charity Ecojustice, are celebrating the bill’s passage.
More than 20 civil society groups say legislation to address environmental racism “is long overdue.” The joint press release points out that the United States established an environmental justice program almost three decades ago.
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After a 2019 visit to Canada, the United Nations special rapporteur on toxic wastes and human rights said it was clear many communities continue to be exploited by toxic exposures. The rapporteur’s 2020 report noted there were long delays for, or a complete absence of, assessments on the health of affected communities and inadequate compliance with and enforcement of laws and policies to access justice.
“There exists a pattern in Canada where marginalized groups, and Indigenous Peoples in particular, find themselves on the wrong side of a toxic divide, subject to conditions that would not be acceptable elsewhere in Canada,” according to the rapporteur’s report.
Research on air pollution as environmental injustice published by the University of British Columbia in December 2020 observed “distinct patterns of inequality” between the three cities studied (Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto), where marginalized groups consistently experienced higher air pollution. In Vancouver, Indigenous residents were most impacted, in Montreal, it was immigrants and in Toronto, low-income residents bore the brunt of pollution.
Bill C-226 will be a starting point for more data collection to identify and address environmental racism, advocates say.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Thank you Ms May: I hope the
Thank you Ms May: I hope the great multi-party support grows.