Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs say they are against a proposed private member’s bill that aims to address environmental racism.
Bill C-230, sponsored by Liberal MP Lenore Zann, headed to second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
The bill would require the federal government to collect data on locations affected by environmental hazards, and to examine their connections to race, socioeconomic status and health.
Within two years of the bill's passing, the environment and climate change minister would be required to publish a report laying out a national strategy on reducing the harms caused by environmental racism in Canada.
Zann tried to bring forth a similar bill in 2015 when she was a member of the Nova Scotia legislature, however it was defeated after second reading.
According to Dr. Ingrid Waldron, associate professor in the faculty of health at Dalhousie University in Halifax who helped Zann craft the previous and current bills, environmental racism is when neighbourhoods primarily populated by Indigenous, Black and other racialized populations and members of low socioeconomic backgrounds are often burdened with a disproportionate number of environmental hazards.
Waldron says there are many instances of environmental racism across the country, including the so-called “Chemical Valley,” an area around Sarnia, Ont., and home to a large concentration of petrochemical plants and refineries, which release pollutants and chemicals that have significant impacts on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
“If you are racialized, and you're low-income, and you live in out-of-the-way places, you often don't have the resources, you don't have the political, social or economic clout to fight back in a way that communities that are more privileged would have,” she told Canada’s National Observer.
During first reading in December, the bill received support from the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens.
Bloc MP Kristina Michaud said she doesn’t agree with the bill because it legislates for “special groups,” suggesting it be “universal” so all Canadians have access to a clean environment.
Bloc MP Kristina Michaud said she doesn’t agree with the bill because it legislates for “special groups,” suggesting it be “universal” so all Canadians have access to a clean environment. #cdnpoli
She also takes issue with the fact that the bill designates the federal environment minister to develop a strategy.
“The Bloc, unfortunately, cannot accept legislation such as this. Quebec territory belongs to Quebec, and it is up to the government of Quebec to protect that territory,” Michaud said.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Eric Melillo says he doesn’t have confidence in the Liberals to effectively deal with issues related to the environment and climate change.
“The Liberal track record on these issues has been all talk and very little action,” Melillo said.
Waldron says she’s “disappointed” that some MPs are not seeing the importance of addressing the racial components of this bill.
“I think there is a lack of understanding in Canada in general, but also the lack of understanding by many politicians around the ways in which systemic racism manifests within our social structures. They're missing that analysis,” Waldron said.
Beyond understanding, Waldron also thinks there’s a lack of support for the bill because of the financial costs of alleviating this issue.
“If they admit that racism is real, and they admit that environmental racism is real, they then would have to agree that the issue needs to be addressed. That's not what they want.”
Voting on the bill is to take place Wednesday afternoon. If passed, it will be sent to the environment parliamentary committee for further study.
However, if it’s struck down, Waldron says the work to address environmental racism won’t stop.
"This is not going to deter me. I'm going to continue to do it,” Waldron said. “If it's not me leading that and somebody else, one of the youngsters that I'm mentoring, then so be it. But at some point, it will pass.”
Yasmine Ghania / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer