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Bill C-226: a victory for environmental justice advocacy

By Randy Haluza-DeLay, Animator for Central Ontario

Bill C-226
Projet de loi C-226
Bill C-226, recently enacted into law, promises to address the problem of environmental racism and secure environmental justice in Canada. (AI-generated image)

Last week, Governor General Mary Simon gave royal assent to Bill C-226, which addresses environmental justice and racism in Canada. Now a law, it requires the creation of a national environmental justice strategy to account for the effects of environmental racism―a systemic issue that results in Indigenous, Black and racialized communities being affected by environmental hazards more than other communities.

Environmental justice requires the consideration of how marginalized people―such as those in poverty or poor housing, workers, seasonal agricultural workers, women, and others―are also disproportionately impacted by environmental issues like unsafe drinking water, pollution, toxic wastes, climate change, lack of green spaces, workplace exposure to risks, and other risks.

Environmental racism researcher Dr. Cheryl Teelucksingh of Toronto Metropolitan University commented, “The National Strategy on Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Strategy Act is not just environmental policy. It’s recognition of human rights and links equity, social justice, environment and public health.” These rights, she said, include rights to healthy and safe environments and other conditions that enable lives to flourish.

Bill C-226: a law in line with our views

This means that environmental justice is squarely in line with Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and the work of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada and our international partners. CST begins in the inherent dignity of every person, made in the image and likeness of God. God’s intent for human beings―and indeed that of all creation―is “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Environmental degradation impacts the dignity of humans and their ability to experience full and flourishing lives as God intended.

As Pope Francis stated in the encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home, “Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration” (LS, 43).

Considerable academic research has already been done on environmental justice in Canada (including a 2009 book I co-edited, that was published by the University of British Columbia Press). A 2020 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights pointed to “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 in respect of other groups in Canada.”

Bill C-226: the road ahead

Bill C-226 was a private member’s bill, over ten years in the making. A very similar bill was proposed by former MP Lenore Zann of Nova Scotia and died twice when Parliament was dissolved for elections. Bill C-226 was introduced by Eliabeth May of the Green Party and supported eventually by the government. Zann’s original bill was inspired by the research of Dr. Ingrid Waldron on pollution in Black and Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia. Dr. Waldron is co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice (CCECJ).

The new law created by the bill requires the development and monitoring of a national strategy to address systemic injustices associated with environmental hazards and access to environmental benefits. As the CCECJ noted, “The strategy must reflect the needs of the communities and peoples most knowledgeable about the impacts of environmental racism and injustice, whose expertise will contribute to a meaningful framework to prevent further injustice and ill health.”

Such an orientation would be in keeping with the CST principles of solidarity (support for peoples, especially those marginalized in some way), people’s participation in decisions that affect their lives, and subsidiarity (decisions and solutions being generated at the most appropriate levels).

The law requires formal, nationwide, systematic data collection. Funding and monitoring will also be crucial elements of addressing some of the environmental injustices in Canadian cities and landscapes.

Bill C-226: why we celebrate it

While most of our partners and projects are in the Global South and this law only applies in Canada, it gives our advocacy efforts a stronger foundation. Many of the projects we support are directly about ecological justice and others involve elements of ecological justice.

Our 2024 Reaping our Rights campaign about fighting oil pollution and protecting land and food security will be extended in the fall to focus on improved corporate accountability by advocating for strong mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD) legislation to govern Canadian companies working overseas. Such legislation would compel the prevention and addressing of environmental injustices elsewhere in the world.

CST does not advocate for specific policies, but at Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada, we celebrate the Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice because it can help us better live out Catholic values like the care of creation and the dignity and flourishing of all human beings, especially those who are facing injustice in their environments.

When we see inequalities, it mobilizes the Christian understanding that all are equal in the eyes and love of the Creator. Care of our common home automatically means seeing the inequities associated with experiencing environmental benefits and hazards, judging that they are foreign to the desires of God, and acting to redress these injustices. The new environmental justice strategy act is a good start.

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