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Environmental Racism Bill Passes Second Reading in House of Commons

Canada has inched closer to passing its first-ever on environmental racism, after a private member’s bill passed second reading in the House of Commons last week.

Bill C-226, introduced in the current parliamentary session by former Green Party leader Elizabeth May (GPC, Saanich-Gulf Islands), calls for a national strategy to assess and address current instances of environmental racism and injustice and lay the legal foundations to prevent future abuses, reports CBC News.

The bill passed second reading last week with a slim majority of 31 votes and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. It stands to become Canada’s first-ever legislation to address the environmental harms that disproportionately affect Indigenous communities and communities of colour across the country.

From the decades-long mercury contamination at the Grassy Narrows First Nation in Ontario, to the lesser-known reality that Black communities in the Maritimes have long been the default choice for policy-makers looking to locate the latest landfill, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities in Canada shoulder a disproportionate burden of environmental harm. That harm has been linked to increased incidence of illnesses like asthma and cancer, as well as congenital disabilities.

May’s Bill C-226 is virtually identical to Bill C-230, a private member’s bill introduced by then-Liberal MP Lenore Zann (Cumberland-Colchester) in February 2020. That bill also passed second reading with support from the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Québécois, but died on the order paper with the 2021 election call.

The Bloc had warned it saw potential threats to Quebec sovereignty and would not support this second attempt to pass environmental racism legislation, and declined to support May’s version.

“We are convinced that it would be inconsistent to claim to fight for environmental justice at the federal level while failing to advocate for the defence of Quebec’s environmental sovereignty,” Bloc environment critic Monique Pauzé said in April.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives remain steadfast in opposition, voting against C-230 two years ago  C-226 last week.

“We already have a complicated regulatory environment when we are developing projects in this country,” said Conservative environment critic Kyle Seeback.

Bill C-226’s supporters will be pushing Parliament to support the legislation through third reading and into law.

“I’m really hopeful that we will finally, as a government, address the issue of environmental racism and injustice,” said Nova Scotia-based activist Lynn Jones who recalled growing up in a polluted, flood-prone, systematically marginalized Black settlement on the outskirts of Truro.