Environment featured Racism

There’s something in the water, and not just in Nova Scotia – Addressing environmental racism Canada-wide

The original dump near the Black community of Lincolnville. Screenshot from “In whose backyard”

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In terms of awareness of environmental racism Nova Scotia has changed for the better over the last five years or so, says Dr. Ingrid Waldron. 

Dr. Waldron is the driving force behind the Enrich Project, which for many years now has supported Nova Scotian communities of colour such as Lincolnville, Shelburne, Lucasville, Pictou Landing First Nation and others in their fight against polluters. 

She wrote a terrific book about it, There’s something in the water, which actor/director Elliott Page then turned into a documentary that received wide international exposure and through Netflix entered countless living rooms.   

“Community organizing, media attention, the film, my book, the Enrich Project, all of that converged to create significantly more awareness around environmental racism,” Waldron tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.

A private members bill, Bill 111, An Act to Address Environmental Racism, shaped to a large extent by Waldron and introduced by then NDP MLA Lenore Zann in 2015, played a considerable part in that shift. The Bill never made it past second reading, but within Nova Scotia it generated a lot of discussion and interest in the topic.

Waldron and Zann, now a Liberal MP, are giving the legislation another shot, this time in Ottawa. On Thursday, December 3, 2020, the MP for Cumberland-Colchester will be putting the federal private members bill A National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism (Bill C-230) forward to second reading in the House of Commons. She introduced it in the House of Commons on February 26, 2020. 

The legislation calls upon the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to take stock of environmental racism as it manifests across the country, and then to develop a strategy to do something about it, including reparations for affected communities, access of affected communities to clean air and water, and amendments to federal laws, programs and policies.

Canada-wide there is more work to be done to familiarize people with the notion that environmental racism plays a role in shaping policies, policies that tend to hurt people of colour more often and more severely than white people.

Environmental racism doesn’t just happen

Much of what allows environmental racism to occur is hidden within environmental policies and processes, Waldron says.

Environmental racism doesn’t just happen. It is rooted in biased viewpoints and perspectives that don’t hold Indigenous and other racialized communities in high regard, says Waldron.

“There is a failure to embed a robust equity lens within curricula in departments such as environmental science, environmental studies, and planning. That equity lens should consider how the intersections of race, gender, income insecurity, poverty, and other structural inequities play a role in where we put our waste in and out of cities”

“Therefore, when students in these disciplines start working in these fields, they are often unequipped to address inequities in all aspects of our environment, resulting in decisions and policies that may have harmful impacts on marginalized communities that can endure for decades,” says Waldron.

Reparations

The idea that communities subjected to environmental racism deserve reparations is much more prominent in the new legislation than it was in the Nova Scotia case. 

“Lenore and I admitted that we played it a bit safe with that legislation back in 2015, because it was a whole new topic in Nova Scotia. At the time we wanted to build a path. This bill has much more teeth. Now we are talking about reparations. We’re talking about the financial fallout that many of these communities have experienced due to environmental racism,” Waldron says.

“We hear the survivors of Africville talk about reparations now. When I first connected with Lincolnville in 2013, members of the community at that time said, we want reparations, and we were promised jobs from the landfill that never panned out. But in addition to that, nobody wants to open up a business or build a house in Lincolnville because of that landfill,” she says.

How you can support Bill C-230

Recognizing that this is a private member bill, and that getting it through parliament will be an uphill battle, Waldron is urgently asking people to support Zann’s initiative.

The Enrich Project website includes a section on the Bill, and how to let parliamentarians know that this is a matter dear to your heart. It’s all there, sample letters, sample tweets, addresses of Ministers, and so on.

Waldron is asking that on December 3, 2020 you call or send a tweet or email to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment, the Minister of Health, and MPs across the country to indicate why you support this bill and why Canada needs environmental racism legislation. Be sure to ask them to support the second and third reading of the bill.

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