Nearly a month ago we announced that we selected “Environmental Justice” as our annual human rights theme for 2018/2019. At that time, we provided a brief overview of the history of the modern environmental justice movement. It is now with great excitement that we officially share our 2018-2019 Chapter Theme Report: “Environmental Justice in Canada”!
About the Report
Cover - 2018/2019 Chapter Theme Report: Environmental Justice in Canada
Through its Human Rights Research and Advocacy Programming, our Environmental Justice theme report will help activate Campus Chapters at law schools across the country in a concerted effort to raise awareness of the impacts of environmental discrimination in Canada’s marginalized communities. Particular attention will be paid to the impact of climate change, air pollution and access to food and water in indigenous communities.
Highlights and Affected Communities
Can’t wait for the read? Below are some highlights of the topics covered in Level’s 2018-2019 Chapter Theme Report:
Terms You Should Know
Pollution: Pollution is the contamination of air, water, or earth by harmful substances. In the Canadian environmental law context, however, what amounts to prohibited pollution varies provincially. For example, where a piece of legislation from Quebec defines a pollutant as a contaminant in greater quantity than the permissible level, a statute from British Columbia defined it as the presence of contaminants that substantially alter or impair the usefulness of the environment.
Sustainable Development: Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.This ethical principle is situated in the fact that there must be equity between “the current generation and those that will follow [intra-generational equity]; and between the poor and the more affluent” [inter- generational equity]. Canada was the first country in the world to endorse the Commission’s conclusions, and today, sustainable development is a cornerstone approach to resource development that can be found in federal and provincial statutes alike.
Precautionary Principle:The precautionary principle is a cluster of basic principles that emphasize the importance of preventive action. Under this principle, preventive action is appropriate even when there is no legislative need to obtain scientific understanding of the risk of harm and shifts the onus of proof to those whose decisions will have an environmental impact that is not fully understood.
Photograph by Wisconson Department of Natural Resources, Flickr
Nova Scotia has one of the highest populations of African-Canadians in the country, most of whom are descendants of slaves who were brought to the province in the 18th century. It is unclear when the name “Africville” originated, but it is known that it was intended to be a derogatory name which reflected social attitudes towards the community. The segregated black community was considered an ‘expendable nuisance’ that was blocking commercial development. After the industrial boom, there was a need for new dumping sites and the government decided to place dumps and infectious disease hospital in and around Africville. Further, in the 1960s, the City of Halifax determined that Africville had become an eyesore that brought shame to the city and sent bulldozers into the community to demolish the homes of black residents.
In July 2018, the Ontario Black History Society put on a national exhibit titled ‘Black History is Canadian History: Continuing the Conversation.The event included storytelling by Africville elders, who shared their experiences and laid a wreath in memory of residents who died.
Access to Water: Boil Water Advisories in Shoal Lake 40
Shoal Lake 40, an Ojibway First Nations community in Manitoba, has lived under a boil water advisory for 20 years. A hundred years ago, the government took part of their land to develop Winnipeg’s water system, leaving the community cut off from the mainland. As a result of the development, Winnipeggers are fortunate to enjoy fresh water out of their taps, but the First Nation community does not have access to this system and instead must purchase their drinking water. To further complicate matters, the community did not have road access in and out of the community until 2015, and the second half of the project—connecting the long cut-off community to the Trans-Canada Highway—is slated for completion in March 2019.
Photograph by John Westrock, Flickr
Climate Change: Caribou and Melting Ice Sheets in the Northwest Territories
“In the old days, it stayed cold for a longer time and there was more water on the land... all of that will impact the animals” - Joseph Antoine, Dené hunter.
In parts of the Northwest Territories, the average annual temperatures have risen as much as 3°C. This has had a significant impact over the past two decades on everything from housing, to transport, to the number of caribou. Since 1986, the caribou population has decreased from 470,000 to just 16,000, and as the earth continues to warm, these numbers are expected to decrease further. While the dwindling numbers of caribou are not unique to herds in the Northwest Territories, they are considered the “canary in the coalmine”, because the Arctic is warming at a rate twice the global average, resulting in drastic changes to this ecosystem in particular. The dwindling caribou population is also having a significant impact on the local Dené community, an indigenous population who relies heavily on hunting as a deep-rooted cultural practice, and as a food source in areas where groceries are typically double the cost of urban centres.
Want the full report?
That was just a taste! Want full access? Feel free to read and share the full report here.
Future Happenings: Partnership with PBSC!
We are also very enthused to announce our partnership with Pro Bono Students Canada and Queen's University! In the coming months, Level’s report will be informing our partnership as our PBSC Research Fellows (three highly motivated Queen's University law students) delve further into the issues of water rights and access to water in indigenous communities. Stay tuned for more details!
Are you a law student interested in getting involved with your local campus chapter? For more information, contact our Program Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Research and writing credit goes to Kenya-Jade Pinto, with a special thanks to Dayna Scott, Jamie Benidickson, Ian Miron and summer student Sarah Mack for their contributions to this report.
*Note: for a full list of citations for the information contained within this post, please consult Level’s 2018-2019 Chapter Theme Report: “Environmental Justice in Canada.”