Canada’s Plan to Combat Environmental Racism

  • June 10, 2024
  • Aditi Kara

Environmental racism is a form of systematic racism in which polluting industries are placed close to marginalized communities lacking socio-economic power, thereby disproportionately subjecting them to hazardous and toxic substance exposure (Issue). In Canada, racialized communities, in general, face higher levels of poverty[1], and environmental racism not only creates severe health and economic difficulties for them but also impacts their future generations.

To address this Issue, Bill C-226[2][3] (Bill) was first introduced in November 2021 in the House of Commons based on the findings and recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council and other non-partisan publications. It is now due for its third reading in the Senate. It aims to develop a national strategy to advance environmental justice. 

The Bill is not the first of its kind. A similar C-230[4] was introduced in the House of Commons addressing a national strategy to redress environmental racism, which lost momentum due to the 2023 federal elections and is currently inactive.

The Bill puts the obligation to consult on the Minister of the Environment (Minister) and provides any interested person an opportunity to participate. Section 3(2) mandatorily requires the Minister to "consult or cooperate with any interested persons, bodies, organizations or communities — including other ministers, representatives of governments in Canada and Indigenous communities — and ensure that it is consistent with the Government of Canada's framework for the recognition and implementation of the rights of Indigenous peoples."

This Bill obligates the Minister to consult with, prepare, publish, and table a national strategy in each House of Parliament to combat the Issue. To ensure accountability, it further requires the Minister to report on the effectiveness of the national strategy within five years thereafter. Although the Preamble of the Bill recognizes “…a disproportionate number of people who live in environmentally hazardous areas are members of an Indigenous, racialized or other marginalized community,” Section 3(2) only ensures the implementation of the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Despite its best intentions, the Bill lacks teeth. Pursuant to Section 32 of the Standing Orders Of The House of Commons, when reports are required to be tabled before each House, it is automatically referred to an appropriate standing committee of the House by the Minister, usually according to its subject matter.[5] Since the referrals are permanent, committees are not required to examine the documents by a specific deadline.[6] In addition, there is no provision for revision of the national strategy once it is formulated to keep up with the current changes. The Bill does not propose a mechanism to discuss and improvise the quinquennial report.

Apart from the procedural shortcomings, the infamous not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome poses a pragmatic challenge to plan and place polluting industries. A case in point is the backlash faced by Ontario's proposal to designate a landfill site and waste transfer and processing expansion located in the former Town of Dresden, Municipality of Chatham-Kent, under the Environmental Assessment Act.[7]

The Preamble of the Bill stated, "Government of Canada recognizes that collaboration and a coordinated national strategy are key to promoting effective change and achieving environmental justice." Therefore, it may be wise to address this Issue through coordinated efforts involving various industries. Some examples of multifaceted solutions include technological aid for mapping polluting industries and collaboration between waste management and energy infrastructure. An excellent example is the partnership between Waste Connections of Canada, which owns the Ridge Landfill site and Enbridge Gas, which will own and operate all of the infrastructure to convert the gas produced by landfill garbage piles to renewable natural gas.[8]

The Bill is not an all-encompassing solution to the Issue at hand; however, it is a positive step that will formulate a solid framework and reinforce democratic principles of transparency and accountability at the federal level. It remains to be seen how the political climate influences the Minister's strategy and the effectiveness of the Bill. 

While the Bill has received broad support in Parliament and from major environmental groups nationwide, it warrants scrutiny to ensure the proposed framework effectively accomplishes its goals of advancing environmental justice and combating environmental racism. 





[5] Section 32(5), (6) 




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