The issue of environmental racism in Canada can’t be ignored. Addressing the issue and reducing the impact is important to evaluate. Beze Gray, a land/water protector, talks about the ways the community struggles with it. He feels the government has to step up and get a handle on it too. Beze is one of the 7 people suing the government for adversely affecting the Ontario’s 2030 Climate Target.
Gray grew up in an environment filled with smog and pollution, due to the industries around that part of Ontario at the time. It was referred to as Chemical Valley. He has shared stories of how pollution has harmed his life and his community. He focuses on the Anishinaabe principles, and that is land-based. He feels that is threatened due to the pollution.
Chemical Valley, as it is known, is close to Sarnia. It is in the southeast part of Ontario. Approximately 40% of the chemical industries in Canada are in this location. It is believed the health and well-being of thousands of people are put at risk due to the pollutants. A report completed by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario in 2017 confirmed people in Aamjiwnaang are affected more than others.
This study shows the pollutants are causing serious health problems. Yet the governments of the province or on a federal level have failed to investigate this thoroughly. There are many, including Beze, that are adamant there is a connection and they want something done about it. They believe they are more likely to struggle with the negative elements of pollution than white people.
This is due to the location of the populations, including the Aamjiwnaang nation. The community of Africville in Nova Scotia has been a dumping area for many decades. There is also the First Nations water crisis. The fingers have been pointed, the issues have been through the court system, and yet there continues to be problems.
Grassy Narrows has been a topic of debate for a very long time. The levels of mercury polluting the English-Wabigoon River has never been cleaned up. The issue was first identified in the 1960s. As a result, it is estimated about 90% of the people living there have some level of mercury poisoning.
The issues are found in Toronto too. Research confirmed contamination in the soil, industrial land, and waste sites. Such research indicates low-income families, immigrants, and racialized individuals live in these communities. Thus, they are affected the most by the pollution problems. The term coined for this is environmental racism. It has been a black mark on the history of Canada for a very long time. The impact is deep, and change has to be implemented to stop it.
The Impact of Environmental Racism
The impact on a person’s health is the biggest factor to look at with environmental racisms. Reports of medical professionals confirm the Aamjiwnaang Nation living around Chemical Valley have higher rates of cancer, asthma, and reproductive issues than average. There is also a higher-than-average number of people with learning disabilities. These studies also indicate there are mental health concerns as part of the environmental racism to look at too.
The pollutants affect the genetic coding of people. This means the problems often get passed down from one generation to the next in this area. Problems develop due to the land and how the pollution affects it. For example, the chemicals get into the food supply, water supply, and the air people breathe. Living off the land is harder than ever for the people that have such traditions due to the pollutants.
How to Fight Environmental Racism
While the harm from environmental racism can’t be changed overnight, action can be part of the solution to reduce it and eventually end it. There are opportunities offered in Canada including CEPA (Canadian Environmental Protection Act) advocating for a healthy environment for all residents. Bill C-226 and Bill C-230 both address the issues, but they weren’t approved in 2021. In 2022 they were back on the agenda. The goal is to eventually get it mandated for the Minister of Environment & Climate Change to create a strategy to address Canadian environmental racism.
Sharing information and empowering residents is important. They have to understand the injustice that has been going on for decades. They have to stand up for themselves and their rights. The voices have to be heard that they demand an end to this type of inequality.
To move forward, Ecojustice and other organizations dedicated to a better environment have to change their framework. They need goals and efforts moving forward that are designed to balance the playing field. They need to listen to those that have been harmed by environmental racism, including them in plans to change that narrative. Rather than silencing these communities, it is time for them to be heard!