Good Sunday Morning – March 10

Good Sunday Morning!

I will be heading to Nova Scotia this week on a most unusual trip. As my private member’s bill, C-226, Fighting Environmental Racism, makes its way through last stages in the Senate, Minister of Environment Steven Guilbeault accepted an invitation from community activists whose initial work gave rise to the bill. The Black community near the dump in Shelburne Nova Scotia was featured in the academic work of Dr. Ingrid Waldron and in her book There’s Something in the Water which led to the Netflix documentary of the same name by filmmakers, Elliot Page and Ian Daniel. Former Nova Scotia Liberal MP and friend, Lenore Zann, introduced it as a private member’s bill with me as her official seconder. It died on the order paper due to the 2021 election when, unfortunately, Lenore lost her seat. When the dust settled, I started the bill all over again as my own. Fortunately, thanks to Liberal and NDP support, the bill is now through all stages in the House, and sponsored by Cree Senator Mary Jane McCallum of Manitoba, it is making its way through “the other place.” I have never been invited to a community meeting with any minister, but Steven Guilbeault has invited me to join him, and Ingrid Waldron is coming as well. We have been working together for years, but only through Zoom and phone, so this will be an important first meeting for us and with the community leaders she knows so well.

This is an excerpt from an article in “The Conversation.”

“In the 1940s, the town of Shelburne, N.S., became home to a new garbage dump. Residential, industrial and medical waste from throughout eastern Shelburne County was burned at the dump over the decades, leaving nearby residents concerned about health issues.

“The dump was situated uphill from the African Nova Scotian South End community, whose roots date back to the settlement of Black Loyalists who were evacuated from the United States after the Revolutionary War of 1776. Those near the dump worked, played, and lived amid constant smells and smoke from burning garbage. The dump operated for 75 years, closing in 2016.

“The placement of this dump was an act of what we now refer to as environmental racism—the disproportionate siting of polluting industries and other environmentally hazardous projects in Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities.” Environmental racism: New study investigates whether Nova Scotia dump boosted cancer rates in nearby Black community

My work on environmental racism predates the documentary and was sparked through my work fighting the horrors of the Sydney Tar Ponds. My book Frederick Street: Life and Death on Canada’s Love Canal–co-authored with Maude Barlow, and a different film documentary by my friend Neal Livingston, Toxic Partners dealt with the ways in which communities of colour and indigenous people are exposed to hazardous pollution far more often than are non-racialized communities.

That film was made in 1999 but it was not until I went on a hunger strike in front of Parliament Hill in 2001 that we got action.

When I started it, I had no idea it would take 17 days to get Health Minister Alan Rock to act and commit to the clean-up. That is all so long ago now, that I would not be surprised if this is the first you have heard of it. Twenty-three years is a long time, so I should not have been surprised when meeting with Green Party staff recently in Ottawa and found that none of them knew about my tar ponds hunger strike–nor that it resulted in $400 million being spent to contain the hazardous site.

All that activism and work with communities like Oka where Ellen Gabriel confronts illegal dumping of hazardous waste on Mohawk land as well as other examples of environmental racism may soon be dealt with through governmental action. My bill is not a bumper sticker on “environmental racism.” It sets out to replicate for Canadians proactive programmes for environmental justice as found in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since 1994, the US EPA has had programmes in “EJ” leading to clean-ups like the one we documented in Fort Valley Georgia in the film Toxic Partners.

Closer to home in Saanich Gulf Islands, environmental racism is found in the blanket closures of traditional indigenous shellfish harvesting–without bothering to conduct a single test to see if shellfish are contaminated or not. Routinely, without any testing, local indigenous harvesting is banned–in violation of the Douglas treaties. It is yet another example of environmental racism.

Once my bill becomes law, Environment Canada will have to fund a programme to level the playing field so that communities of colour and indigenous people have access to the tools–scientific studies and remediation orders–to restore local ecosystems to healthful sites.

This will be the third piece of Canadian law that started as a Green Party private members bill–all my work since the first bill on Lyme disease and the second banning keeping cetaceans in captivity. It is easy to imagine that one MP cannot accomplish anything, but surely looking at what Mike Morrice has done in fighting for people with disabilities and my work over the years, I know for a fact that Green MPs can move mountains. It makes the work so fulfilling.

If you are anywhere near Halifax, please join us for the reunion dinner on March 13th at The Wooden Monkey (at its Halifax location 1707 Grafton Street) or come to hear JP and me speak at Dalhousie Law School on the 15th. We will celebrate a very Green St Patrick’s Day with PEI Greens on Sunday March 17th! Meet us at the Old Triangle pub in Charlottetown.

Lots of love and have a great week!


Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens