A private member’s bill seeking to address environmental racism in Canada, in part by empowering BIPOC communities to act in their own defence, is due to be debated in the House of Commons later this month—the first step in moving the legislation forward to committee.
Introduced by Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann (L, Cumberland—Colchester), Bill C-230 seeks a comprehensive national strategy to examine links between environmental risk, race, and socio-economic status, writes CBC News. The bill is particularly concerned with the connection between industrial sites and poor health outcomes in BIPOC communities.
The current bill is an update to a 2015 version that Zann drafted with the help of Ingrid Waldron, an environmental justice activist and associate professor in Dalhousie University’s faculty of health. Waldron is also the author of There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities, which was released as a Netflix documentary in 2019.
In its new form, the bill asks the federal government to begin collecting “multilayered race-based data—that is, data that looks at the links among race, gender, education, employment, income, health, and environmental harms, as well as other factors,” CBC explains, adding that such intersectional data collection is already being done in the United States.
The bill also calls for long-overdue consultation with, and reparations for, towns like Lincolnville, a predominantly Black Nova Scotia community “where contaminants from a landfill have been an issue since the 1970s.”
In a recent interview with the CBC Radio’s What on Earth, Waldon said low-income BIPOC communities are disproportionately likely to host “contamination-heavy projects such as landfills, pulp and paper mills, and petrochemical facilities,” a pattern that correlates with an increased incidence of health issues like asthma, cancer, and birth defects. She also testified to a devastating lack of social, financial, and political clout in these communities, a powerlessness that renders residents well-nigh invisible to policy-makers.
Speaking via videoconference at her bill’s second reading in December, Zann cited numerous historical and ongoing examples of environmental racism, from the infamous mercury contamination of Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario to the Coastal GasLink pipeline threatening the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia.
“The legacy of environmental racism really can no longer be ignored,” she said at the reading.
Among those throwing their support behind Bill C-230 are Climate Action Network-Canada which, along with other just recovery organizers, is circulating a Care2 petition asking Canadians to add their support for Zann’s bill.