Advocates urge Senate to pass environmental racism legislation before summer recess

They argued that addressing and redressing environmental racism is a 'moral imperative'

Advocates urge Senate to pass environmental racism legislation before summer recess

Advocates for social justice, environmental protection, and public health, including Ecojustice, are calling on the Senate to expedite the final vote on Bill C-226, Canada's first environmental racism law.

The Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment recently approved the bill without amendment, but supporters insisted it must not face further delays.

Introduced by former Liberal MP Lenore Zann in 2020 and reintroduced in the current session by Green Party MP Elizabeth May, Bill C-226 passed in the House of Commons with multi-party support in March 2023. The bill now awaits a final vote in the Senate before becoming law.

Advocates from various organizations emphasized the importance of passing this legislation promptly to develop and implement a national strategy on environmental racism and justice. Environmental racism involves the disproportionate siting of polluting industries and environmental hazards in or near Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities, leading to uneven access to environmental benefits.

The legacy of environmental racism in Canada is well documented. A 2020 report by the UN special rapporteur on toxics highlighted the pervasive issue, noting that marginalized groups and Indigenous peoples are often exposed to conditions that would be unacceptable elsewhere in Canada. Advocates argued that addressing and redressing environmental racism is a moral imperative, given the severe health and well-being consequences for affected communities.

Ecojustice said in a statement that Canada urgently needs a national strategy and accountability mechanisms to assess, prevent, and address environmental racism and advance environmental justice. Bill C-226 proposes these measures and aims to bring about meaningful change.

Several groups support the call to action, including the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice (CCECJ), the Black Environmental Initiative, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, the ENRICH Project, and the West Coast Environmental Law Association. These organizations emphasized that the Senate must prioritize and expedite the bill's passage to confront the impacts of environmental racism and advance environmental justice in Canada.

Bill C-226 outlines the need for fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income, in environmental laws, regulations, and policies. The goal is to ensure everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process. As the summer recess approaches, advocates urged the Senate to swiftly act and pass Bill C-226.

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