For decades, Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities in Canada have disproportionately experienced the health impacts of toxic dumps, pollution, tainted water and climate change — and they’ve stood up to put an end to such environmental racism.
Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University who researches social inequality in Nova Scotia, has been working to bring such issues to light for years in Nova Scotia.
As director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health (ENRICH) project, Waldron has spent the last eight years analyzing the socio-economic, political and health effects of environmental racism in the province.
In 2018, she penned the book There’s Something in the Water, which explores the disproportionate effects of environmental damage on Black and First Nation communities in Nova Scotia. Last year, the book was developed into a documentary film.
Now, Waldron is taking her work to the national level.
“I’ve always wanted to go beyond Nova Scotia and start looking at issues of environmental racism across Canada,” she said.
Alongside Naolo Charles, of the Black Environmental Initiative (BE Initiative), Waldron is creating a national coalition to address environmental racism across Canada.
According to Waldron, the new coalition will connect allies, raise awareness and support organizations that are currently working to address environmental racism with funding and resources.
One of the coalition’s main objectives, said Waldron, is to engage in policy dialogue to encourage the passage of Bill C-230.
The bill looks to develop a national strategy to “redress environmental racism in Canada.” MP Lenore Zann will be re-introducing the bill for second reading and it will be debated in the House of Commons on Thursday, Dec. 3.
“It will put on the books for the first time, really, the idea of a rights-based environmental bill, so the fact that it would be the human right of people across Canada in racialized communities to be able to have the right to clean air and clear water, for instance,” said Zann.
This is not the first time Zann has introduced legislation on this subject.
In 2014, then an NDP member of the legislative assembly of Nova Scotia, Zann introduced Bill 111, An Act to Address Environmental Racism. It didn't pass, but at the time it was touted as the first such bill in North America.
According to Zann, it was Waldron who approached her with her research on the topic and gave her the idea for the provincial bill.
Now that more people understand what environmental racism is, Zann said it’s time to “address and redress” it and make sure that laws are enacted throughout the country “so this cannot continue.”
“The difference really, I think, between the provincial bill and the national bill, is that in Nova Scotia there are Black communities that have been hit by environmental racism and sadly have been affected by it. We can name them, we have a map, we can see that,” she added.
“But the same thing has not been done yet in Canada and Ingrid is starting that work, but it’s time for governments and other people to start to do that work as well.”
Waldron said the national coalition is “a work in progress,” but is slated to set up by the end of the year.
She said there are many ways people can support the coalition. They’re currently looking to raise $200,000 by the end of this year. Funds will provide direct support for the ENRICH Project, BE Initiative and the development of the new coalition.
People can also participate in a campaign to support Bill C-230 by visiting enrichproject.org/billc-230, Waldron added.
While Waldron praised Nova Scotians for being aware of environmental racism happening around them, she hopes the coalition will be able to bring “greater, broader attention" in Canada.
“There’s a history of environmental racism over the last several decades in Canada. It’s real and there are health consequences for communities that live next to waste sites, serious health consequences like cancer and for women, reproductive illnesses, this is serious, it’s real,” she said.
“Bringing all of us together with our partnerships, with our activism, I think it’s going to make for an extremely powerful coalition.”
With files from Andrea Gunn
Noushin Ziafati, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald