Senate passes long-awaited legislation to tackle environmental racism in Canada

Advocates celebrate the Senate’s passage of Canada’s first environmental justice bill, marking a historic milestone

Ottawa | Traditional, Unceded Territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People | June 14, 2024 Advocates for social justice and equity, environmental protection and public health celebrate the Senate’s passage of Bill C-226, the National Strategy on Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act (Environmental Justice Strategy Act). Today, the Environmental Justice Strategy Act passed the Senate’s third reading vote, with Royal Assent expected soon and representing that final step in the legislative process.

The Environmental Justice Strategy Act will require the government to examine the links between racialization, socio-economic status and environmental risk, and develop Canada’s first national strategy on environmental racism and environmental justice.

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 elsewhere in Canada.”

The United States established a program on environmental justice nearly three decades ago, with an executive order issued in 1994. Canada has now enacted a framework to establish parallel requirements.

Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Founder and Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health Project (the ENRICH Project) and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice (CCECJ), said, “We know the stories about where and how environmental racism exists in Canada. The formal data on these realities is incomplete and therefore there is a lack of understanding about how real this problem is.”

“Data collection and analysis will be a critical starting point in the strategy required by the Environmental Justice Strategy Act. The consequences of inaction on environmental racism would be ongoing negative impacts on people’s health and well-being.” 

Passage of the Environmental Justice Strategy Act marks a milestone in environmental justice efforts in Canada, highlighting the recognition by the federal government of the reality of environmental racism in Canada. The next stage involves developing the national environmental justice strategy. 

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, say advocates.

Advocates urge the federal government to allocate essential funds to advance the strategy and environmental justice initiatives. 

Bill C-226 was first introduced by former MP Lenore Zann as Bill C-230 in the last session of Parliament. It was approved, with amendments, by the House of Commons environment committee in June 2021 but then died on the order paper when Parliament dissolved for elections. On February 2, 2022, MP Elizabeth May re-introduced the same legislation as Bill C-226. Government and NDP MPs supported the bill, ensuring its passage in the House of Commons last spring. Sen. Mary Jane McCallum sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it was passed without amendment

The CCECJ and the ENRICH Project, supported by a number of civil society groups, celebrates the Senate’s passage of the Environmental Justice Strategy Act and calls on the government to initiate development of a national strategy on environmental racism and environmental justice without delay.

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Groups supporting this statement:

  • Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice (CCECJ)
  • Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequalities and Community Health Project (The ENRICH Project)
  • Black Environmental Initiative (BEI)
  • Breast Cancer Action Québec (BCAQ)
  • Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE)
  • Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)
  • Canadian Environmental Law Association
  • Canadian Federation of Medical Students Health and Environment Adaptive Response Task Force (CFMS HEART)
  • Coalition for Environmental Rights
  • David Suzuki Foundation
  • Ecojustice
  • Environmental Defence
  • For Our Kids
  • KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
  • Prevent Cancer Now
  • Shake Up The Establishment
  • South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED)
  • West Coast Environmental Law Association
  • Women’s Healthy Environments Network (WHEN)
  • African Nova Scotian Western Service Providers Network
  • East Coast Environmental Law 
  • Green Ummah

Background information:

  • Text of Bill C-226
  • Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate siting of polluting industries and other environmental hazards in Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities, and uneven access to nature and environmental benefits.
  • The US EPA defines environmental justice as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys: The same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and Equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”
  • More information about environmental racism is available on the ENRICH Project website and the CCECJ’s website.

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