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Nova Scotia MP's bill targets environmental racism

Following her election win, Lenore Zann addressed supporters at her campaign headquarters in Truro.
Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann has introduced a bill aimed at addressing environmental racism across Canada. - Lynn Curwin / File
OTTAWA, Ont. —

Liberal Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann has introduced a bill aimed at addressing environmental racism across Canada.

Tabled Wednesday, the private members' bill dubbed the National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism is the first of its kind on a national scale. It was seconded by Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May.

The bill aims to address the disproportionate number of people who live in environmentally hazardous areas and are members of an Indigenous or racialized communities by calling on the government to develop a national strategy in consultation with representatives of provincial and municipal governments, indigenous communities and of other affected communities.

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, she 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.

Zann said it was Dr. Ingrid Waldron of Dalhousie University who approached her with her research on the topic and gave her the idea for the bill.

Nova Scotia has several examples of environmentally hazardous sites established near Indigenous and other racialized communities, such as dumps, landfills, toxic waste sites and sewage outfalls in places like Africville, effluent pumped into Boat Harbour and a garbage dump in Shelburne, which may have affected the water for a nearby African Nova Scotian community, Zann said.

Even though as a private member's bill from a third place party Zann she knew it wouldn't pass, but, she figured, at least it would get people talking.

“All of a sudden there was just all of this interest in it and young people were interested in it. When Ingrid started doing lectures on (environmental racism) ... there were hundreds of people coming and wanting to hear about it,” she said.

Waldron has since written an award-winning book on her research in environmental racism called There's Something in the Water that has been turned into a documentary by the same name co-directed by Nova Scotia actor Ellen Page. The documentary premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be available on Netflix in March.

When Zann was elected to represent Cumberland-Colchester during the 2019 federal election, this time with the governing Liberals, she said she knew she wanted to reintroduce the legislation on a national scale. The opportunity came sooner than expected when she won the random lottery allowing her to introduce a private member's bill early in the session.

Zann contacted Waldron for final input on the bill, and said she offered up several suggestions.

Zann's bill calls on the government to examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk and collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism. A national strategy must also assess environmental laws in each province and address any issues through amendments to federal laws and policies, involve community groups impacted by environmental racism in policymaking and provide compensation and ongoing funding for affected communities and individuals. If the act comes into force, the government must prepare a report setting out the strategy within two years, and continue to report on the progress and effectiveness of its measures.

Zann said since the bill was developed using language she believes the government will support, and the fact that she has spoken with some NDP colleagues who were quite receptive, that it has a good chance of passing.

Zann said she will be meeting with a few senators in the coming weeks to solicit support in the Upper House should it get that far, and she expects her bill to go to second reading in the House of Commons in late March or early April.

“I think that this is a bill whose time has come,” Zann said. “It's time that we address racism and the fact that it has affected where people put landfills, toxic waste sites, industrial polluters — it's time for us to take a look at that and make amends.”
 


Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Zann as saying the bill was developed with approval of Environment and Climate Change Canada, she has since reached out to say that isn't accurate.

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