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National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Bill

Second Reading--Debate Continued

May 16, 2023

Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard [ + ]

Thank you, Your Honour. I also want to congratulate and welcome you as our Speaker.

Honourable senators, I stand today in support of Bill C-226, the national strategy respecting environmental racism and environmental justice act. I want to acknowledge that we are on the unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Nation, and I live in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. These acknowledgements are particularly important to me today given this topic of environmental racism. Thank you to Elizabeth May and Lenore Zann for their work in the other place. Thank you to Senator McCallum for sponsoring this very important bill here in the Senate and for sharing your ways of knowing and being. It truly is a gift.

Honourable senators, when I talk about marginalized communities, I am talking about groups of people who are, at times, physically on the margins of communities. Think about the outskirts of major city centres. You’ll see landfills, industry and undesirable sites. You will also see racialized communities. When I say the name of a community to our south, Flint, Michigan, most Canadians understand the expanse of the devastating drinking water crisis impacting African Americans. Let me tell you that we have many communities like Flint, Michigan right here in Canada, many of which are still living under conditions that are killing them.

One of the most widely known examples of environmental racism of a marginalized community in Canada is the story of Africville. Senator Klyne talked about Africville in his speech on this bill. Let me add a bit more. Africville was a vibrant community of African Nova Scotians. An open-pit dump was placed 350 metres from this seaside community. They did not have clean drinking water. Throughout the 170 years that Africville existed, a railway extension was installed through the community and the Halifax Explosion damaged the community. An infectious disease hospital was built nearby, along with a human waste disposal pit, a prison and slaughterhouses. It was also the location chosen for a fertilizer production plant.

Imagine a location surrounded by hazardous sites, the last place on earth that you would allow your children and grandchildren to grow up nearby. Those were the conditions forced upon Africville. Located in the city of Halifax, they were denied basic services, such as city water and sewer. Instead of providing services, the city chose to relocate the residents of Africville. During the forceful relocation of Africville in 1967, some community members were transported to public housing in the North End by the City of Halifax using garbage trucks. If that doesn’t show you how African Nova Scotians were seen by the government, I don’t know what would. To this day, I hear of anecdotal stories about the staggering number of former Africville residents who have died of various forms of cancer. The community has connected the dots, and perhaps the government should too.

My gratitude goes to the fierce community activists and advocates who have been mobilizing for decades to protect the health and safety of their communities. African-Canadian Professor Dr. Ingrid Waldron published a book called There’s Something in the Water, which reveals one of Nova Scotia’s hardest and most shameful truths: the pervasive nature of environmental racism against Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians.

This book was used to create a documentary highlighting the devastation of racialized Nova Scotians. The film brings the viewer through the African-Nova Scotian community of Shelburne with local advocate Louise Delisle, who lists the people who have died or are ill with lung cancer and multiple myelomas. These families have no option to move, and even if they did, they would be leaving their homes and be separated from their communities.

Although the dump has been removed, the buried waste contaminates their water. Louise describes her childhood memories of the black smoke that regularly engulfed the skies of her neighbourhood as piles of hazardous waste from the hospitals, factories and residences were burned. She remembers arriving at school smelling like burnt garbage.

Nearby, in Pictou Landing, Nova Scotia, is a Mi’kmaw community absolutely devastated by the toxic waste from the Northern Pulp mill contaminating the water.

The Grassroots Grandmothers are a group of women water protectors who fight for the human right for their community’s access to clean drinking water. Colleagues, please take one hour to watch the documentary There’s Something in the Water and learn more about Canada’s own environmental racism crisis.

We could name many communities: Whitney Pier, the Sydney tar ponds, Membertou, Lincolnville, Indian Brook — colleagues, there are so many examples. In my own community of East Preston, residents have been advocating against plans to designate a dump nearby for decades. In a 2016 letter of protest, Spencer Colley documented three examples of locating dumps in or near the Preston communities, which are the largest Black communities in Nova Scotia: in 1992 near East Lake in North Preston, in 1997 in North Preston and then, in 2016, the proposal to relocate a facility from Porters Lake to East Preston opposite Highway 107, Exit 17, where I live.

Colleagues, policy-making on environmental issues must not exclude race as the two are intrinsically tied. We can map out Nova Scotia by sites of dumps and hazardous industry alongside Indigenous and African-Nova Scotian communities. The environment, race and land have always been tied and always will be.

Eddie Carvery’s protest against the forceful relocation of the residents of Africville will always remind us of that.

In her book, Ingrid Waldron states that:

State-sanctioned racial and gendered violence is subtle, invisible, and often has no specific person who can (or will) be . . . responsible, in contrast to interpersonal violence where a main perpetrator can be identified.

Since there is no one specific person, it is necessary to obligate all policy-makers to make decisions based on what is good for the communities nearby.

This bill proposes a national strategy to examine the link between race and environmental hazards and the locations of hazardous sites. It seeks to address federal laws, policies and programs pertaining to environmental justice; examine compensation for communities impacted and collect information on health outcomes to give us the data to prove what community residents have known for decades: that environmental racism is detrimental to our health.

Honourable colleagues, these communities are no strangers to advocating for themselves, and it’s time the Senate advocated for them. Environmental racism is a great example of colonization doing its job: wiping out Indigenous and Black people in Canada.

Reconciliation cannot happen without putting a stop to environmental racism. Let’s send this bill to committee quickly. This is not a topic to debate; it’s a topic to act upon quickly. We are ready to make policy solutions that will save the lives of some of the most marginalized people in Canada.

Thank you. Asante.

Your Honour, allow me to join our colleagues in congratulating you on your role as Speaker and taking on such a vital and important position, not just for yourself but for all of us. It reflects so well on this place. Thank you so much.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-226. Many examples of environmental racism have already been spoken about at length, most recently by Senators Bernard, McCallum, Klyne and Audette. Their excellent interventions underscore the depth and breadth of this issue across Canada. And as Senator McCallum so clearly articulated last week and as Senator Bernard just did, environmental racism is one facet of the much broader intersectional issue of systemic racism.

Systemic racism both exacerbates and facilitates intersecting forms of racism to flourish and effectively normalizes and too often desensitizes the general population to its very existence and effects. In other words, environmental racism is not experienced in isolation, nor is it unintended. It can go unnoticed, however, as its consequences are rarely felt by those in the most privileged positions or locations.

Too often, we witness deliberate decisions, sometimes characterized as necessary or political compromises, whereby environmental devastation is permitted in what are often referred to as “sacrifice zones,” communities that are largely out of sight and out of mind from the general public. Such decisions are rooted in and fuel geographic racism. On a global scale, environmental racism is the logic by which particular communities, nations and places — often racialized — experience the harshest consequences of the climate crisis.

We see it in terms of the historical and ongoing seizure of land and resources that privileges the convenience and access of the most privileged, from the razing of poor and racialized communities such as Africville and green spaces for the construction of highways, airports and industry. Polluting infrastructure has been purposefully built in, over or adjacent to the backyards of poor, Indigenous and Black communities, with seemingly little regard for the impact of toxic pollutants on the respiratory or heart health of inhabitants, not to mention the racist and class-biased disregard for the corresponding proliferation of cancers and other diseases.

Last week, as I flew over Saskatchewan and into Alberta, the devastating forest fires raging in the West were top of mind. The consequences of those forest fires are immediate and devastating for Indigenous peoples and those in rural communities. The havoc wreaked will affect many people for decades to come. Many have lost their homes with nowhere to go. Many will never financially recover from these losses and will require financial supports. For many, the trauma they have experienced will require a lifetime of mental aid and support.

These forest fires are part of our climate crisis and are predictable, direct byproducts of our colonial privileging of individualistic profiteering and the pursuit of wealth through industries and the use of technology. The climate crisis is directly increasing both the severity and frequency of forest fires, and the resulting environmental, financial and personal devastation is disproportionately negatively impacting the most marginalized, racialized and disadvantaged.

Neither the trauma and hardship experienced nor the remedial resources or relief are equitably distributed. Indigenous communities are clearly signalling this.

The day I arrived in Edmonton, Carol Johnston, a resident of East Prairie Metis Settlement, was in the media describing her concerns that the communities closer to Edmonton and central Alberta were getting more attention than the northern Indigenous communities destroyed by fire. She described how the burning of 4 houses near Drayton Valley was “all over the media,” whereas the loss of 14 homes in the East Prairie settlement did not even initially warrant a mention despite the reality that the community was in dire straits.

Similarly, dozens of homes destroyed in Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation and Fox Lake in Little Red River Cree Nation received virtually no attention. The province has called on the federal government to act, but neither jurisdiction seems to have taken seriously the notice that a dozen Indigenous communities are currently affected or under threat from these wildfires. Neither the province nor the federal government seemingly wants to take responsibility for the crisis they have both played a part in creating.

To her credit, the federal Minister of Indigenous Services recognized that there were at least 150 homes lost, along with community infrastructure, and over 4,000 evacuees. Yet, we are hearing virtually nothing about support efforts. For the few we do know of, we are hearing that Indigenous peoples are having issues accessing the limited funding because they do not have sufficient identification, including identification that states they are Alberta residents.

For those who are displaced, it is often far from their communities, to places they have never been. Mayor of High Level Crystal McAteer recently explained:

Many of our evacuees come from the reserves, that like Fox Lake, for example, are remote . . . so a lot of the people have never left Fox Lake. A lot of the Elders, they speak Cree. Same with the Dene [communities] — they speak Dene. They don’t speak any other language.

With no central evacuation centres or adequate culturally safe and specific resources, families and communities are also often separated. These communities, already devastated by immeasurable loss, effectively lose their support systems, further exacerbating their traumatic experiences.

If this were anomalous, we might be less concerned. But do you remember the wildfires in British Columbia in 2021? Lytton First Nation was all but destroyed, and there was no help provided and no plan to help those most in need. As Chief Matt Pasco so chillingly reminded us then, “They had processes in places for our cattle but none for Nlaka’pamux people.”

Two years later, their community is still grappling with rebuilding while having to take on the burden of again preparing for wildfire season. They are still in severe drought conditions and at risk of another wildfire. It took 19 months for the Lytton First Nation community store to open, a temporary grocery store for the residents of the community. Before that, community members were driving upwards of three hours, travelling as far as Kamloops to buy essential food items. They are still waiting for permanent reconstruction to begin. The Mayor of Lytton, Denise O’Connor, has said:

It’s been extremely frustrating. We’ve been asking specifically for timelines and dates but it’s just not there, we’re just not getting it.

These communities are already struggling with overcrowding, lack of funding, inadequate health care and an overall deficit in social, housing, economic and health supports. Environmental crises create additional hardships and responsibilities for already struggling communities, further disadvantaging them and perpetuating the cycle of systemic inadequacies, distrust and the racism they face.

Last year, the Auditor General of Canada reported on this issue. These are the stark findings.


. . . Indigenous Services Canada did not provide the support First Nations communities needed to manage emergencies such as floods and wildfires, which are happening more often and with greater intensity.

Second, they found that “. . . the department’s actions were more reactive than preventative . . .,” despite the proactive identification by First Nations communities of many infrastructure projects to mitigate the impact of emergencies. In fact, there was a backlog of 112 eligible infrastructure projects waiting to be funded.

Third — and worse yet — the Auditor General found that many issues had not been addressed or improved since they had first identified them in their 2013 audit of emergency management on reserves.


The department also did not know whether First Nations received services that were culturally appropriate and comparable to emergency services provided in municipalities of similar size and circumstance because it did not identify or consistently monitor the services or level of services to be provided to First Nations.

Minister Hajdu said it’s clear that First Nations sit on the front lines of this environmental crisis, which has astronomical cost tied to evacuation, emergency accommodation and rebuilding of communities and livelihoods. Yet, we continue to do little or nothing to meaningfully support these communities and fail to take proactive steps to deal with the issue.

In short, the lack of a national strategy and the focus on reactive rather than preventative measures continue the privileging of the communities of the most privileged, which is just one of the many examples and forms of environmental racism that persists in Canada and that we must address. Let’s please get this to committee and continue the work.

Meegwetch. Thank you.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-226, a national strategy respecting environmental racism and environmental justice act. I want to thank Senator McCallum for sponsoring this important bill. I’m happy to indicate that the government fully supports Bill C-226.

When presenting this bill in the other place, member of Parliament Elizabeth May recounted the parliamentary history of the bill as “ . . . a non-partisan effort from its very inception . . . .” Here she was referring to Bill C-226’s predecessor, Bill C-230, first introduced by the former Liberal MP Lenore Zann.

The government views Bill C-226 and its objectives to prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice as important work for all Canadians. It also aligns with the government’s commitment to introduce legislation to develop an environmental justice strategy and examine the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.

If adopted, Bill C-226 would create a new act, requiring the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to advance environmental justice and to assess, prevent and address environmental racism. The development of a national strategy would add two important elements to the ongoing efforts to combat systemic racism and inequalities relating to the inclusion of Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized communities in environmental decision making and initiatives.

First, the process to develop the strategy would be an opportunity to pursue environmental justice by giving voice to marginalized communities to help define the problem and contribute to potential solutions. The benefits of the process are recognized in the bill, which provides that:

. . . it is important to meaningfully involve all Canadians — and, in particular, marginalized communities — in the development of environmental policy . . . .

Second, a national strategy would help frame what will need to be a diverse set of actions by a wide range of government and non-government actors, given the complex interrelationships and priorities across stakeholders, partners and policy areas. To that end, the resulting strategy will also complement other efforts and opportunities that contribute to advancing environmental justice in Canada, even where the cause of environmental injustice or the acknowledgement of environmental racism may not have been directly identified.

While many of these other initiatives may not be as explicit in their consideration of environmental justice, one example where the concept is directly incorporated is in Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act. As honourable senators will recall, after our extensive consideration and study, Bill S-5 was adopted at third reading in the chamber on June 22, 2022.

This bill is now before the other place, after a thorough study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. If passed, in addition to strengthening Canada’s chemicals management regime, it would recognize a right to a healthy environment as provided under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, more commonly known as CEPA. These amendments to CEPA would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Health to develop an implementation framework that describes how a right to a healthy environment will be considered in the administration of that act.

The framework will also elaborate on how principles, such as the principle of environmental justice, will be considered in the administration of CEPA. Through consultations, Canadians will have an opportunity to participate in the development of the implementation framework. Strengthened awareness of, and reflection on, the potential for environmental injustices in environmental protection approaches can help to avoid environmental injustices before they begin or allow better understanding of those that may already exist.

Another example of concurrent efforts that contribute to the pursuit of environmental justice in Canada is the government’s work to identify and prioritize the cleanup of contaminated sites in areas where Indigenous peoples, racialized and low-income Canadians live. Here, the emphasis on addressing contaminated sites in proximity to potentially marginalized populations aligns directly with the concern outlined in Bill C-226 that a “. . . disproportionate number of people who live in environmentally hazardous areas are members . . .” of those same communities.

Certainly, we expect that other programs that address environmental hazards such as landfills or polluting industries would similarly provide opportunities to make positive contributions to addressing environmental injustices.

We can also look to the recently released Federal Sustainable Development Strategy and how it seeks to reflect the issues of environmental equity and justice, which generally refer to equitable treatment and meaningful inclusion of all people in laws, regulations and programs to protect them from environmental hazards; avoiding the disproportionate burden of pollution and other environmental harms across identity groups and facilitating access to environmental benefits and opportunities regardless of identity factors including gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, language, income or sexual orientation.

Taking into account the range of efforts outlined above, and others that may equally impact environmental justice outcomes, an important role of the national strategy will be to explain how these efforts and others work together to contribute to the strategy’s objectives. Together, there is an opportunity to move the country forward towards more fair and equitable enjoyment of a healthy environment.

A critical interest in the context of Bill C-226 is the collection and use of data to improve understanding of linkages between race, socioeconomic status and environmental risk. The passing of Bill C-226 is expected to result in further collection and compilation of data as part of the required study, which may also provide insights, including from Indigenous peoples, on data collection, disaggregation and analysis to support environmental justice.

However, it also bears mentioning that there are a wide number of datasets already available across the federal government that include information related to environmental hazards, community composition and health outcomes. Given the two-year timeline set out in the bill for developing and publishing a national strategy once the act comes into force, it is expected that the work to support the strategy would also leverage existing data from broader and ongoing government initiatives. Many of these initiatives already, directly or indirectly, assist with providing information necessary to apply an environmental justice lens to decision making.

For example, since the launch of the Canadian Health Measures Survey in 2007, Health Canada, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, has collected information on the general health and health-related behaviours of Canadians that will help improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and promote the health and wellness of Canadians. Other noteworthy examples include Statistics Canada’s Census of Environment and their work to merge existing environmental data to create comprehensive information on Canada’s ecosystem assets, which is integrated with socioeconomic data to help monitor environmental trends and better inform decision making.

Furthermore, Environment and Climate Change Canada maintains the air quality monitoring networks and is also collaborating with provinces and territories to implement the Air Quality Management System, which includes the development and establishment of industrial emissions requirements and ambient air quality standards to drive local air quality improvements.

Good information is crucial for enabling informed public decisions and holding the government accountable. The National Pollutant Release Inventory, or NPRI, plays an important role in supporting that goal. The NPRI is Canada’s legislated, publicly accessible inventory of pollutant releases, disposal and transfers. It tracks over 320 pollutants from over 7,000 facilities across Canada. Reporting facilities include factories that manufacture a variety of goods, as well as mines, oil and gas operations, power plants and sewage treatment plants. It comprises information reported by facilities to Environment and Climate Change Canada under CEPA.

The NPRI is at the centre of the government’s efforts to track toxic substances and other substances of concern. It is a key tool for identifying and monitoring sources of pollution in Canada, including information on pollution from facilities such as releases from facilities to air, water or land; disposals at facilities or other locations; transfers to other locations for treatment and recycling; facilities’ activities; location and contacts and pollution prevention plans and activities.

It is also a tool for developing indicators for the quality of our air, water and land. Information collected through the NPRI is used for chemicals management initiatives and is made publicly available to help Canadians understand pollutant releases in their communities, encourage actions to reduce pollution and help track progress to Canadians each year. Public access to the NPRI also motivates industry to prevent and reduce pollutant releases. NPRI data helps the government track progress in pollution prevention, evaluate releases and transfers of substances of concern, identify and act on environmental priorities, conduct air-quality modelling and implement policy initiatives and risk management measures.

The NPRI is increasingly adopting the knowledge-on-demand paradigm by providing tools to translate released data into more understandable interpretations of risk, impact and priorities. With this added context, priorities and challenging areas are more clearly visible along with environmental impacts on the general population, including members of Indigenous and racialized communities. Information collected through the National Pollutant Release Inventory could support the work that would be required under Bill C-226.

In addition to all the work that is already occurring, allow me to return to the amendments to CEPA in Bill S-5. These will require research, studies or monitoring activities to be conducted to support the government in protecting the right to a healthy environment. These should provide valuable information as the government moves forward on environmental justice issues. For example, they could include the collection and analysis of data to identify and monitor populations in communities that are particularly vulnerable to environmental and health risks because of greater susceptibility or greater exposure.

Finally, I want to highlight the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program, also known as CESI, which is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The CESI program currently provides indicators to measure progress on key environmental issues, including targets in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, and provides contextual information for the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy goals. The CESI program’s experience with developing indicators that integrate data and information from several federal departments, as well as from provincial and territorial governments, would likely serve as a base to build upon to develop indicators, track progress and report on the effectiveness of a national strategy every five years, as required by Bill C-226.

All this is to say the government is committed to making a national environmental justice strategy a reality. With that in mind, I understand that they are already considering how our existing datasets, legislation and policies can work together to continue advancing environmental justice and implement Bill C-226 if passed into law.

In conclusion, honourable senators, together with the Member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands and many of our colleagues here and in the other place, I encourage all senators to vote in favour of this bill. If it passes, a national strategy may give us the opportunity to discuss the best way to address the environmental risks affecting historically marginalized groups.

For anyone with lingering concerns, some of which were raised during the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development’s study of the bill, I would point out that the bill will ensure the strategy remains relevant by providing for a report on its effectiveness every five years. Knowing that this bill and its proposed strategy are the beginning of the journey, not the end, it’s important for us to do our part to help move things forward.

This bill won’t solve all the problems related to systemic racism or environmental inequality, but that certainly shouldn’t interfere with our social progress. Together, we can ensure this bill is examined and passed as soon as possible. From that point on, governments and communities can work together to build both confidence and knowledge and achieve more equitable outcomes with respect to the environment and justice.

Honourable senators, I’d like to thank Senator McCallum once again for her work and her advocacy, and I hope we can send this bill to committee as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Batters, do you have a question?

Hon. Denise Batters [ + ]

Yes, I do.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Will you take a question, Senator Gold?

Senator Gold [ + ]

Yes, of course.

Senator Batters [ + ]

Senator Gold, I am curious as to what your decision process is as to when you give a government speech on a bill, because you are making a speech on this private member’s bill from the House of Commons today. Last week, however, you were the government sponsor of Bill C-46, a government bill, and you didn’t give a third reading speech, so I wasn’t able to ask you a question after you concluded your remarks that day. You didn’t really have any remarks, so I couldn’t ask you what the income threshold was, as I had asked you after the second reading speech and you didn’t have an answer.

I’m just wondering what the decision process is as to when you make a government speech and when you don’t. Also, I note that the fact that you would be making this speech wasn’t on the scroll notes for today, so I’m wondering when you decided to make this particular speech. No one would have expected you to make this speech and have some questions prepared for you.

Senator Gold [ + ]

Thank you for your question and for the care you’ll take to prepare questions for me. I made the decision to give the speech today — it was after scroll — when it became clear that there was an opportunity to make a speech in a timely fashion.

The position of the government with regard to non-government bills is to look carefully at each and every bill. When we can support a bill, we will vote in favour, and when we can’t, we will vote against them.

With regard to whether speeches are made or not, this is a bill that the government believes is important, and I thought it would be of interest to members of the chamber to know that the government fully supports this bill. To that end, I was pleased to speak today, and I appreciate the attention that was granted to me.

With regard to your question about last week, Senator Batters, the government bill, which I was pleased to sponsor, was an important bill that had to be passed by a certain time so that Canadians could get their benefits in a timely fashion — benefits that were important to them. I made the decision in the interest of time and in collaboration and discussion with others to forego my speech so that we could make sure the bill passed and Canadians got their benefits on time.

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