David Suzuki wants the right to a ‘healthy environment’ enshrined in Canada’s constitution

Andy Radia
Canada Politics
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Canada's 'environmental guru' David Suzuki has an interesting idea.

The scientist, broadcaster, author and namesake of the David Suzuki Foundation, wants to — believe it or not — enshrine the right to a 'healthy environment' into our constitution.

He wrote an article about it for Rabble.ca:

"Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives us freedom of expression, equal protection from discrimination and the right to life, liberty and security of the person. But one fundamental right is notably absent – to live in an environment conducive to health and well-being, with clean air, water and soil and biological diversity.

Getting the right to a healthy environment enshrined in Canada’s Constitution won’t be easy. We’re headed in the opposite direction, with environmental protections and laws being rolled back or gutted, mostly in the name of keeping us tied to a resource-extraction economy.

...It’s time to address Canada’s dismal and worsening environmental record."

Suzuki says that momentum for the idea in Canada is building thanks, in part, to Canadian environmental lawyer David R. Boyd. In a recent article in EnvironmentMagazine.org, Boyd claims that over 90 countries around the world have already enshrined a 'healthy environment' into their constitutions.

[ Related: Suzuki Foundation defends itself over right-wing attack ]

"Portugal (in 1976) and Spain (1978) were the first countries to include the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions," he wrote.

"Article 66 of Portugal's Constitution states, “Everyone has the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and the duty to defend it.”

"Constitutional law experts observe that recognition of environmental rights has grown more rapidly over the past 50 years than any other human right."

In Canada, the enshrinement would allow individuals to sue corporations and governments for 'poor' environmental circumstances. For example, in Suzuki's article, he writes about members of a small Argentinean community who successfully sued three level of governments and 44 corporations for ailments supposedly linked to a polluted river basin.

The threat of lawsuits, say Suzuki and Boyd, will force governments and businesses to implement environment-friendly policies.

Right leaning political pundit Gerry Nicholls, however, thinks it's a ridiculous idea.

"This is a preposterous notion even for Suzuki," he told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.

"For one thing how would such a vague "right" be enforced? Would the government be obligated to ban cars to protect the right to clean air? A better way to protect the environment would be to entrench private property rights."

[ More Politics: Public opinion stands against Spence, Idle No More protestors ]

If you want to weigh-in, you can join Suzuki, Boyd and Ecojustice, for a telephone town hall on Sunday, February 3, from 4 to 5 p.m. Pacific Time.