Canada has no measures to address environmental racism in Canada. That could change if Bill C-226 is enacted. This bill, which passed third reading in the House of Commons, would task the environment and climate change minister to develop a strategy that must include measures to examine the links between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk.
For more than a hundred years, environmental racism has been a reality for Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities in Canada when polluting industries and operations set up shop nearby, impacting health and well-being.
Canada’s responsibility on environmental racism does not stop at its borders, though. Canadian mining has impacted Indigenous and other racialized communities in the Global South for years. And now that the world is on the hunt for critical minerals to support electric vehicles and renewable energy, these impacts are poised to rise.
The Canadian government has an opportunity to make companies headquartered in Canada accountable for harms done at their overseas operations by supporting Bill C-262, which would adopt mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation, and Bill C-263, which would empower the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) with investigatory powers.
Like Bill C-226, these are private member’s bills but only the former has the support of government. This needs to change if Canada wants to live up to its reputation as a human rights defender — and a feminist. KAIROS’ partners in Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Philippines flag the gendered impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous and Afro-descendant women.
For example, sexual violence typically increases when the companies’ man camps come to town, along with the security forces. In addition, extractive projects tend to contaminate fresh water needed for everyday life, especially the tasks that fall on women to perform such as cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, cultivating and small animal raising — jobs that are conveniently invisible and underestimated.
Women and Indigenous communities are often vital stewards of land and water, including regenerative farming and caring practices. Local women and Indigenous Peoples are at the heart of building just, equitable, lasting peace in their regions.
Of note, Acción Ecológica talks about decolonizing the concept of energy in favour of Indigenous perspectives on life and care, and that movement and work are forms of energy, too. Large-scale resource extraction projects undermine these local sustainable practices.
When a community is consulted, companies often exclude women from discussions. Companies also have a reputation for mistaking consultation for consent, and for manipulating information and data to deceive communities, bypassing community decisions and resisting their rejections.
The federal government must make mining companies headquartered in Canada accountable for harms done at their overseas operations, write Silvia Vasquez-Olguin @kairoscanada & Ivonne Yanez @AcEcologica #criticalminerals #CDNPoli #CarbonEmissions
This is certainly the case in Ecuador. Despite being the first country in the world to recognize the rights of nature in its constitution and the rights of Indigenous Peoples — including free, prior and informed consent — Ecuador doesn’t enforce its own constitution. It opened 15 per cent of its land to mining concessions. More than three million hectares will be explored for metal mining — of which approximately 400,000 hectares are in Indigenous territories.
Last June, Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador had enough. They took to the streets in great numbers. Some of their demands included ending mining concessions on Indigenous lands, repairing the social and environmental impacts of mining on their communities and guaranteeing their collective rights.
Amid this, Canada’s mining companies have invested more than $2 billion in Ecuador, and the Ecuadorian government would like to see more. It’s actively pursuing a free trade agreement with Canada that would include increased mining and an investor-state dispute settlement provision that would prioritize the interests of Canadian companies over the interests of the people in Ecuador, particularly local and Indigenous communities — despite their constitutional protections.
Canada and Ecuador purport to be feminist and human rights and ecological defenders. They must match their words and promises — even their laws — with actions. In Canada, we expect swift passage of Bill C-226 in the Senate and call on the government of Canada to support and expedite the two corporate accountability bills, C-262 and C-263, and uphold them.
It is high time Canada aligns its trade agreements with its commitments to feminism, biodiversity and climate justice.
Silvia Vasquez-Olguin is KAIROS Canada’s global partnerships co-ordinator, Latin America and gender justice.
Ivonne Yanez is a founding member and climate justice program co-ordinator of Acción Ecológica, based in Ecuador.