Q&A with Jane McArthur, PhD

Today, we have the pleasure of sharing with you our conversation with Dr. Jane McArthur, PhD, director of CAPE’s Preventing Toxic Exposures Program. Jane’s work mobilizes action on the concerns that led to CAPE’s founding 30 years ago.

At the time, Dr. Warren Bell, who cofounded CAPE with Dr. Trevor Hancock and Dr. Tee Guidotti, had many patients with health issues that he strongly suspected were caused by environmental exposures. Between 1989-1993, they connected with like-minded physicians, Dr. Jim Hollingworth and Dr. Jane McGillvary, who shared their frustration that these issues weren’t being addressed by the health community. Working together, they acted upon their concerns by developing a vision for global healing that led to the formation of CAPE in 1994.

In the three decades since that meeting, CAPE has grown to be a leading voice with expertise on the intersection of health and environment in Canada. Jane describes the incredible impact that CAPE is having upon policy discussions through advocacy and coalition work.

Karen Wirsig from Environmental Defence Canada and MP Julie Dabrusin holding a box labelled "80,000+ Letters" with Lisa Gue from David Suzuki Foundation standing behind
Left to right is Karen Wirsig, Environmental Defence Canada, Lisa Gue, David Suzuki Foundation and MP Julie Dabrusin on April 29, 2024, with the delivery of 80,000 letters from ENGO supporters – CAPE included – calling for a strong global treaty to end plastics pollution.

How has your campaign or program built momentum with our community’s support?

The CAPE community has shown that our strength is in our collective advocacy, this support for one another has great momentum! Our community rises to the occasion each time we have called upon them – sending thousands of letters to Ministers, MPs and Senators, sharing key health and justice messages on social media, amplifying our messages and calls to action in the mainstream media, and participating in webinars and panel discussions and, of course, their financial support for all this work is key!

In particular, the role of the CAPE community has been significant for the recent successes of Toxics Program work, including,

  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act reform advocacy,
  • Support for the National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act,
  • Knowledge translation on traffic related air pollution, and the health and justice harms of plastics,
  • The creation of and action within the Place Based Power Project,
  • Amplifying the message that action on plastics pollution must include human health and environmental justice considerations in the cradle to grave cycle of plastics,
  • Contributing to the conversations on PFAS, advocating against the use of pesticides, and supporting a ban on glyphosate

CAPE doctors and health professionals and the community that supports us have all stepped up!

What challenges have you encountered, and how are you overcoming them?

Relationship-building takes time. Building an understanding of who in the CAPE network has interest, knowledge and availability to advocate on particular campaign issues also requires trust and communication. Knowing and understanding how and in what ways the CAPE community wants to engage on toxics issues as part of overall CAPE advocacy is an area where a deeper dive is needed! Our Toxics team is taking the time to get to know the CAPE community while staying attuned to the opportunities for action that we can plug into. As a result, we have been able to have an influence at key moments and have developed some important collaborations when our community has reached out with expertise in preventing and addressing toxic exposures.

As the House Environment Committee was doing its final clause by clause review of Bill S-5 to update the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), dozens of CAPE physicians and health care professionals sent messages to committee members asking for action on air quality for better health.

CAPE physicians have joined with Indigenous led-organizations and community members to address the human health and justice harms of fossil fuel extraction activities through the new Place Based Power Project.

With the Senate consideration of Bill C-226, the National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act, Dr. Ojistoh Horn provided witness testimony in support of the Bill’s passage and swift implementation.

When the Government of Canada invited comments in its development of the National Biodiversity Strategy, the CAPE community offered important evidence and arguments for human health and social justice elements to be included.

And the recent convening in Canada of delegates from around the globe in the fourth negotiating session for a Global Treaty on Plastics Pollution saw the CAPE community step up – including Dr. Melissa Lem, Dr. Lyndia Dernis, Dr. Sharon Dodd, Dr. Sehjal Bhargava, Dr. George Kitching, Dr. Atanu Sarkar and more – to add their voices to press conferences, media interviews, op-eds, letter sign-ons and more, all delivering the message that health and justice are key pieces of strong environmental policy.

What keeps you motivated to deliver on your campaign or program objectives?

I am motivated by the physicians and healthcare professionals who freely give their time to be volunteer advocates for better health and justice through stronger environmental policies, and equally so by the willingness of the broader CAPE community and supporters to step into action when we make the call at strategic moments.

It has been my experience that the CAPE community is willing to step outside of their typical activities and apply their expertise and concern for broader advocacy. For example, this past year, Dr. Clarissa Wallace produced a powerful set of reflections and art pieces that we transformed into a blog post,and I know that I was not the only one inspired by her brave and compelling words about the importance of the work that CAPE and its community do together!

What’s on the horizon that our community can get behind?  

The CAPE Preventing Toxic Exposures Program is eager to connect with people in our network to maximize the physician and health care professional voice in our activities as we seek to prevent toxic exposures. We want your support and voices to help share the narrative that for better health and justice we need strong environmental protections.

We are continuing our advocacy on a broad base of issues and campaigns including:

  • Implementation of the updated Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) after the passage of Bill S-5 
  • Development of the right to a healthy environment framework under the updated CEPA
  • Action for prevention of the health and social justice impacts of fossil fuel extraction activities through the Place Based Power Project
  • Advocating against harmful pesticides
  • Promoting plastics production reductions and action on harmful chemical additives in plastics
  • Legally binding actions on air pollution 
  • Preventing water pollution
  • A shift to assessing “Forever Chemicals” per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) as a class 
  • Actions to prevent exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in products and environments

As always, we approach this work as intertwined with consideration of and the need for action on:

  • Environmental (In)justice
  • Indigenous knowledge and consent
  • Climate change
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Precautionary Principle
  • Primary prevention

 

Profile photo of Jane McArthur

Jane E. McArthur, PhD
Toxics Program Director

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