We will not be proceeding to clause‑by‑clause consideration today. We are here to listen to and learn from expert witnesses on Bill , a private member's bill sponsored by Ms. Zann.
We have with us Sylvain Gaudreault, the member of the National Assembly of Québec for Jonquière, and Lynn Jones, who has compiled extensive information on the subject. Both are appearing as individuals. We also have Lisa Gue, manager of national policy at the David Suzuki Foundation, and Elaine MacDonald, program director of healthy communities at Ecojustice Canada.
I know some of you have appeared before the committee in the past. The rules are pretty straightforward. Please keep your microphone on mute when you are not speaking. I would also ask you to address comments to committee members through the chair.
You will each have five minutes for your opening statement. After that, we expect to have time for two and a half rounds of questions. We have set aside the last half-hour to meet in camera, to finalize a draft report on the enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It is now 4:15 p.m. The meeting will last two hours and end at 6:15 p.m.
Mr. Gaudreault, You may go ahead. You have five minutes.
Good afternoon. I am delighted to be appearing before a parliamentary committee in another legislature, the Parliament of Canada. This is a first for me. I want to send my regards to my counterparts in the House of Commons. I recognize a few faces, mainly people I've met on parliamentary missions.
I'll start by telling you a bit about myself. I have been the member for Jonquière since 2007. Under the Parti Québécois government, I was the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy. I am currently the third opposition group critic both for the environment and the fight against climate change, and for energy. As you can appreciate, I was very interested in Bill , the legislation brought forward by . Why? Because I am realizing that, in Quebec, as well as in the rest of Canada, environmental discrimination based on social inequality is prevalent. In some cases, those environmental issues even reinforce social inequalities.
Here are a few examples. In Rouyn‑Noranda, the Horne smelter produces copper and emits a staggering amount of arsenic into the adjacent neighbourhood, Notre‑Dame, which is home to people with lower incomes. Historically, it's a poorer neighbourhood, a working-class community.
Another example is the east end of Montreal, where many parcels of land are contaminated. Similarly, it is a poorer part of the city than, say, the west end.
The situation is the same next door in the historic Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, where air quality is poor because of the Port of Montreal.
In central Quebec, asbestos mines have led to significant health issues for minors.
It is unacceptable that, to this day, many remote indigenous communities all over Canada do not have access to clean drinking water.
Those examples illustrate how environmental issues tied to social inequality affect communities everywhere. I recognize the disparity in the environmental impacts affecting poor versus wealthy populations. That is why we need to act to remove social inequalities or inequities. We must never stop fighting socially motivated environmental inequalities.
However, Bill does not fix the problem, as far as I'm concerned.
First, clause 2 does not contain a definition of “environmental racism”.
Second, social inequalities involve a wide range of areas, from education and health care to economic development and natural resource development. Historically and under the Constitution, all of those areas fall exclusively within provincial jurisdiction. To overcome social inequalities, action must be taken in education, health care, economic development and, of course, natural resource development.
The main problem lies in paragraph 3(3)(d), which reads as follows: “assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province”. That could be a very far-reaching undertaking, something that is unacceptable to Quebec. Even the premier, François Legault, has previously asked the federal government for full jurisdiction over the environment. Quebec alone should determine which environmental projects are carried out within its borders. Paragraph (d) of subclause 3(3) could leave the door wide open to infringement of Quebec's environmental jurisdiction.
Twice, in both the former and current legislatures of the National Assembly of Québec, I brought forward Bill 391, An Act to amend the Environment Quality Act in order to assert the primacy of Québec's jurisdiction in this area. Introduced on May 30, 2019, the bill is entirely in keeping with Bill , the legislation introduced by the other member for , the one who sits in your Parliament.
In conclusion, I believe Bill should be defeated, ideally, or substantially amended. I urge you to take into account the fact that the provinces have jurisdiction over the environment.
Thank you so much. I was saying that I'm now retired—or they say I'm retired, but I'm not really, because my activism continues.
Speaking today on this bill, I guess I have a bit of sadness. My sadness lies in the fact that, as activists, we've been trying for so long to bring the issues of our communities to the forefront. Here we are again, but this is exciting. I'm happy now that we've made it to the national level. I'm hoping for success.
I was looking at this bill and at the word “redress”. We have a saying in our community, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”, but using “redress” means there's something broken and we've come to you to help us fix it.
I come from the African-Nova Scotian community. It's long term in Nova Scotia and we are the original African people of Canada. Right now, I'm sitting in my family homestead. I don't know if many of you know Truro, Nova Scotia. I thought the best way to talk about environmental racism would be to look out my window and try to tell you the story of this little community in which I sit.
I know some of you have a hard time getting your heads around why we need this special environmental racism bill for these communities. It's because of the word “disproportionate”, which is in Bill . It doesn't mean to say that environmental degradation doesn't happen in all different communities, but it is happening disproportionately in our community.
This little community of Truro has three traditional Black communities and they're nicknamed “the Island”, “the Marsh” and “the Hill”. The Island had a dump that began many, many years ago, even before my time. The Black community had to deal with all the atrocities that went along with that. The white community started to move in closer to our traditional communities, and they said, “This dump has to go. We're not having it in our backyard.” Imagine where they decided to move the dump. They moved it to another Black area of the town, the Hill. There was never a cleanup of the original dump site. There was never any encasement. Today, our children's playground sits on that dump. It's never been dealt with.
My community on the Marsh was a traditional Black community, which is now gentrified. There are only three Black families left in this community, where we were forced to live because of the racism of the day. Part of that has to do with the effect of the flooding that took place in this community. With the flooding and the lack of adequate housing and resources, the Black community has all but disappeared. Like I said, there are only three families left, because new people coming into the community— who were not from our community—had access to all the resources that go along with building and flood-proofing and not having to deal with all the degradation that the Black community has.
This bill asks only that you collaborate and develop a strategy to deal with this disproportionate impact, which is still affecting our Black and indigenous communities today. We're asking for redress. I'm also a former trade union activist. I am proud to say that I can remember, many years ago, on the Canadian Labour Congress, introducing environmental racism to what was called the “national anti-racism task force report”.
The Canadian Labour Congress, also had trouble getting its head around it. What is this thing, environmental racism, and why should you have special or distinct clauses that go along with it?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation to join you today.
I am joining you from Ottawa on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. I want to begin by acknowledging horrific events in recent weeks that have put a spotlight on racism in Canada, past and present: the discovery of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and the murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario, targeted because of their faith.
Bill is a starting point to address the environmental dimension of systemic racism in Canada. This is both timely and long overdue. We appreciate the committee's resuming its consideration of Bill C-230 this week, and urge you to favourably report the bill before the summer recess.
I'm grateful for the insights Dr. Jones just shared, but I would also refer you back to Dr. Ingrid Waldron's presentation to the committee on April 14. Dr. Waldron's research into environmental racism in Canada and the conceptual framework she presented to you informs the David Suzuki Foundation's perspectives on Bill .
Mr. Chair, you noted that “environmental racism” is new to many people, and this may, in fact, be the first time this committee has considered legislation on environmental racism, although I can't be sure. However, it's worth noting that many of the measures prescribed by Bill mirror legal requirements in the U.S. that have been in place for a quarter century.
I will give a brief overview of the U.S. requirements, because it highlights the gap in Canadian environmental law and governance, a gap that Bill would start to fill.
The U.S. executive order on federal actions to address environmental justice in minority populations and low-income populations dates back to 1994. It was issued by President Clinton, and has been upheld, to varying degrees, by successive Republican and Democratic administrations. The order directs every federal agency to “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission”, and develop and report on environmental justice strategies.
These strategies must identify and address any disproportionate adverse health or environmental effects of government programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low-income populations. The order also mandates collection of information on health and environmental risks based on race, origin and income.
Broadly speaking, Bill would establish parallel requirements in Canada for the first time with respect to the key provisions in this bill, namely, the development of a national strategy on environmental racism, and mandatory requirements for that strategy to include an examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk; collection of information relating to the location of environmental hazards; possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs; and the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making.
The U.S. executive order goes further, though, establishing a high-level inter-agency working group on environmental justice, comprising the heads of 11 federal agencies, as well as the White House, to support a whole-of-government approach. The Canadian equivalent might be a permanent cabinet committee or inter-ministerial working group.
Within the U.S. EPA, the equivalent to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Office of Environmental Justice provides functional capacity to deliver the agency's environmental justice strategy.
The Office of Environmental Justice also offers technical and financial assistance to communities, as well as environmental justice-related policy guidance, tools and training for EPA officials. The office supports data collection and an integrated research agenda. It's a focal point for collaboration with researchers, community organizations, and state and local governments.
Recently President Biden put environmental justice at the centre of his environmental agenda. In March, the White House appointed a new National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to provide advice on updating the 1994 executive order to address current and historic environmental injustices.
Bill offers an opportunity for alignment with the U.S. at a time of renewed commitment to bilateral environmental action. The David Suzuki Foundation urges all parties to support Bill C-230, and to work to buttress it with supporting governance structures and investments.
In this regard, I would draw to the committee's attention the brief submitted by the Green Budget Coalition, of which the David Suzuki Foundation is a member, recommending investments to establish a Canadian office of environmental justice and equity, with funding to develop a strategy on environmental racism as an early deliverable.
In closing, the David Suzuki Foundation has long advocated for legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment and the integration of human rights and equity considerations in environmental decision-making. Bill is an important step in this direction.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you for the invitation to appear today to speak to this critically important bill to develop a national strategy to address environmental racism. As Lisa already said, the horrific occurrences of the last few weeks have made it even more apparent how desperately we as a society need to address all forms of systemic racism within our country.
I'm joining you from the traditional territories of several first nations, including the Huron-Wendat, the Anishinabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Chippewas and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
Ecojustice is Canada's largest environmental law charity. We work with and on behalf of individuals, communities and first nations, and other non-governmental organizations to advocate for stronger environmental laws in Canada. Ecojustice is committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action towards reconciliation with all indigenous communities, and we are embedding a focus on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our organization.
I will start by building on Mrs. Gue's remarks about the U.S. executive order on environmental justice. Following the executive order, the U.S. EPA developed an environmental justice screening and mapping tool, or EJSCREEN. Similar to the analysis mandated in Bill , EJSCREEN exposes the substantive inequalities of environmental hazards and risk impacting racialized communities across the United States. EJSCREEN combines demographics with environmental data to calculate environmental justice indices at the census block level. Data such as concentrations of air pollutants, proximity to hazardous waste sites, proximity to waste-water pollution discharges, cancer risk from exposure to hazardous air pollutants and more are mapped and available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Communities, industries and regulators all use EJSCREEN for various purposes. For example, regulators use it to assess environmental and human health impacts at the community level; and communities access the analysis to redress environmental racism, to push back against environmental racism.
To demonstrate this point, I've pulled some information from EJSCREEN on an area near New Orleans that is infamously known as “Cancer Alley”, near a cluster of refineries and chemical plants. EJSCREEN shows that this community is almost entirely low-income people of colour. They are at the 99th percentile, among the highest in the U.S., for cancer risk from inhalation of air toxins, and similarly high for proximity of waste-water pollution discharges. That is just some of the information compiled and analyzed on the risk and hazards from pollution and toxic substances. Other hazards, such as coastal flooding from climate change, are also available through EJSCREEN.
Finding similar information on impacted communities in Canada is nearly impossible. For example, in the area known as “Chemical Valley” near Sarnia, Ontario, a cluster of refineries and petrochemical plants surround the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Reserve. While visiting homes within the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, I have seen how close industry is. I have smelled, tasted and felt the pollution in my throat and in my eyes. I recognized my privilege when I returned to my home in Toronto.
The only federal environmental database on pollution in Canada is the very limited national pollutant release inventory, or NPRI. As the title indicates, all the NPRI provides is information on pollution releases from industrial sources and other facilities. There is no demographic information and no assessment of impacts on communities. Therefore, in its present form, it is not a tool that can be used to assess and work towards substantive equality.
The data analysis mandated by Bill , particularly in paragraphs 3(3)(a) and 3(3)(b), could start to fill this urgent need in Canada. That is why Ecojustice fully supports the bill and recommends that it be passed by all parties and that the data analysis be publicly available so that everyone, including other governments, may use it to inform decisions that impact racialized and indigenous peoples.
However, if there is an interest in strengthening the bill, Ecojustice has some recommendations for additional provisions. We recommend an amendment to set out an obligation for the Government of Canada to take all necessary measures to ensure that environmental assessments and risk assessments under federal laws identify potential impacts on indigenous and racialized peoples and ensure that approvals, permits, licences and other federal decisions do not perpetuate, intensify or exacerbate environmental racism. In addition, we recommend that the bill include a low-risk, low-barrier legal mechanism for individuals and communities to enforce an alleged failure of that obligation.
The last point I want to make is that I'm very familiar with Bill to amend CEPA, and I can reassure the committee members that Bill is entirely complementary to Bill C-28. Bill C-28 lays out the foundations for recognizing the right to a healthy environment in the administration of CEPA and requires consideration of vulnerable populations, but it does not mandate the collection and analysis of data on environmental racism as prescribed by Bill C-230, nor does Bill C-28 contain a specific focus on environmental racism. Both bills are needed and are long overdue.
I wish to thank the committee for its time. I'm happy to try to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you to all the witnesses. We've certainly had very important testimony on this private member's bill. I want to start by doing a quick check-in.
There is no one presenting today who would say this bill would not impact indigenous peoples. Is that accurate, that this is a bill that would...? Is that an accurate statement?
I'm not seeing anyone saying it's not accurate, so we do know that this is a bill that would have impact on indigenous peoples and indigenous communities.
Where I struggle right now is that this government and many of the members here are committed to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I want to read an article from it. Article 19 of the UN declaration reads:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
As I look at this private member's bill, and I know there is a commitment by the current government to implement the UN declaration, how can we move forward with this when clearly they have not lived up to that standard in article 19 of the UN declaration?
Perhaps I could start with Ms. Gue.
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here today.
My question is for Mr. Gaudreault, who is well known for his involvement in environmental issues.
Mr. Gaudreault, you said in your opening statement that health care, education and natural resources, which are under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, are crucial in fostering greater social equality.
In fact, Quebec has recognized the right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved since 2006, in its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Being a quasi-constitutional right, it protects every Quebecker. Why, then, include in the legislation provisions that have the same purpose but carry less legal force?
Do you not get the sense that, because of the exception in Quebec's case, the provisions in Bill are of less value to Quebec than they are to the rest of Canada?
Thank you for your question.
That is precisely what I was trying to convey in my opening statement. Although the right to a healthful environment is recognized as a value in Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, it's important to go a step further. Entrenching the right in the charter is a step forward, but it has to be recognized as grounds for discrimination; that recognition does not currently exist.
I agree with you, but I would add something. If we want to fight social inequalities, which are caused and reinforced by environmental issues, we have to act on all fronts. In other words, actions have to target health care, education, social policy and natural resource development. All of those areas fall under provincial jurisdiction. We need to focus more on that dimension, as far as provincial jurisdiction goes.
Yes, absolutely. That actually explains why paragraph (d) of subclause 3(3) of Bill is completely unacceptable.
I would point out that, leading up to the 2019 election, Premier François Legault sent the leader of each federal party a letter, on September 17, calling on the federal government to give Quebec full jurisdiction over the environment. Obviously, the Fathers of Confederation could not foresee in 1867 the climate crisis facing us now and into the future.
Natural resources and economic development fall within the domain of the provinces. Accordingly, we believe Quebec and the provinces should have exclusive jurisdiction over environmental matters, especially considering that, in many respects, Quebec's Environment Quality Act provides better protection for the environment and goes further than the federal legislation.
Unfortunately, Quebec's act does not cover infrastructure under federal jurisdiction, such as ports and gas or interprovincial pipelines. That infrastructure nevertheless has very significant impacts on indigenous communities in Quebec, on communities that are already devalued or struggling, and on communities that are home to low-income families. Quebec's jurisdiction and Environment Quality Act—which goes further than the federal legislation and controls, for instance, noise and air pollutants—should have primacy.
You've asked the wrong person this question. I say that because of having dealt for a very long time with issues of racism and anti-racism. I'll go back to the previous question, which talked about justice: environmental justice, including racism.
I'm old, right? I'm growing old, but I've been around during the environmental “justice” movement, and during that time, I never saw issues in my community addressed—or in any marginalized, racialized communities, such as indigenous communities. Black communities, indigenous communities.... They didn't talk about us, and our concerns weren't on the table when we talked about environmental justice, even though you would think they would be, because it's justice for everybody. We weren't included, and that's why it's so important that, number one, we talk about racism, because then we get included.
Whenever you say the word “racism”, somehow or other you hit that brick wall, and I don't think that when it comes to provinces and national concerns it's any different. My personal feeling, because you've asked me, is that unless we look at this bill in terms of national incentives, we will not have uniformity in the country in terms of dealing with racism and, in this case, environmental racism—
Like I said, my thoughts got kind of broken up there.
I wanted to say that what is really great about this bill is that it is national. We tried to address environmental racism, for example, at the provincial level. Although we made headway, we didn't make it through, because there needed to be.... The concerns happened not only, for example, in Quebec, but the racism is the same across the country.
If we're going to deal with environmental racism, I think it's imperative that it be from a national perspective. The provinces will still have an opportunity to do all these great things that we're talking about within their province. We're not taking that part of the bill away.
I'll just leave it at that. I could go on and on about the trickle-down effects and all that kind of thing, but I'll leave that for another day.
I'll turn next, perhaps, to Ms. Gue or Dr. MacDonald.
At the beginning, Ms. McLeod mentioned the UN declaration. Given the impact of environmental racism on indigenous people, and given where we are in the conversation about indigenous rights and the need to include indigenous people in decision-making, do you think that adding an explicit reference to the UN declaration in this bill would strengthen it? How do you think that would best be handled in the context of the legislation?
I'm sorry. I know when a question is posed to a whole group of witnesses, it just confuses things. I'll try to be more specific. We'll start with Dr. MacDonald and then, Ms. Gue, you can add your thoughts.
Mr. Bachrach, thanks for your long history of advocacy on environmental rights at the municipal level, as well as in Parliament.
We too are encouraged that the government has introduced Bill , and at the same time, we are discouraged that it has yet to be debated. I hope to have the opportunity in the not-too-distant future to return to your committee to discuss those important measures related to environmental rights and other really critical updates to CEPA that are an important complement to Bill .
In terms of your specific question about how the two relate, as Elaine already said, they are complementary. I would note that, of course, Bill is primarily amending the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the provisions related to environmental rights and environmental justice that are specific to the authorities of CEPA, whereas Bill takes a broader view of federal actions.
There are other legislative authorities relating, for example, to the management of nuclear power, nuclear waste, federal environmental assessment and pesticide regulation, just to name a few that could have implications. I think it's a strength of Bill and, again, an important complement to what's being proposed in Bill , that the proposed national strategy would take a holistic, whole-of-government view to redressing environmental racism.
Obviously, Canadians have long known that parliamentarians have had ongoing discussions and journalists have had ongoing discussions about transparency regimes between Canada and the U.S., where the U.S. model seems to be more open by default.
It says here that the government will then do consultations with provinces, first nations and other communities. The issue I would have is just that, obviously, when a government reaches out to a provincial government, that information is shielded in access to information requests because it's between governments. I'm not sure about other communities, like municipal discussions, first nations or other groups, as Dr. Jones has said, because there are other elements where these discussions could apply.
Do you have any concerns about a lack of transparency or a lack of equity in terms of access to information?
Environmental racism cannot be separated from the history of our country.
I also chair the Nova Scotia chapter of the Global Afrikan Congress, which addresses the atrocities of what happened as a result of the transatlantic slave trade that we don't like to talk about in Canada.
From the perspective of African people in Canada, we've been dealing with racism for well over 400 years, since we came to the Americas. It only stands to reason that it touches every aspect of who we are, and our being. We cannot divorce it from how we live and the environment in which we live, and what happens to us as a result of coming to this country.
For other racialized groups, they come at different stages, but that racism, beginning with First Nations people in this country, permeates to the core of what we do. Therefore, when you ask about the definition or how environmental racism begins, it begins from the minute that colonizers set foot in this country, and also what we, as settlers, and also people who came as slaves, faced when we got here.
We haven't wanted to talk about it and we haven't wanted to face it, but it's for real.
At some point, I hope somebody asks me a little about this data collection from a community perspective, because I have an opinion on that.
With the whole thing around the COVID, I've never heard so much about data collection since we've been dealing with this pandemic. It's so real, and the effect on.... I'm, of course, most familiar with the African-Canadian community. In my community too, we were black and indigenous who lived in my community. On the need for desegrated data, we're hearing also about health data, and you can't talk about the environment unless you talk about health.
In this bill, we will have an opportunity...as other areas, for example, in the health field, in the policing system, all now recognize that the pandemic has had a terrible effect on our communities, and we don't have the data to go along with it.
This bill will allow us also to collect this kind of desegrated data to help us do better. It's not just for the sake of doing it, but because we want a better environment and better health in these communities. We want to address these issues.
I'm no expert in a mathematical or engineering field, but I certainly can speak to community and community needs.
I recognize that those who live in poor communities, immigrant communities, disadvantaged neighbourhoods and racialized communities are hit very hard by environmental impacts.
The Notre‑Dame neighbourhood in Rouyn‑Noranda is a striking example. You only have to go there once to see just how close residents are to the copper smelting plant. It's practically on top of them. Research shows that both children and adults living there have concentrations of arsenic four times higher than those in a control group of residents of Amos, in Abitibi, the same region. The ethnocultural makeup of the neighbourhood is fairly uniform; the people there have worked at the Horne smelter for generations. Think about it. The presence of arsenic in those people's systems is four times higher than the arsenic levels found in a comparable group of Amos residents.
That is unacceptable. Something has to be done. That is what is referred to as environmental justice. I have no doubt that achieving greater environmental justice hinges on providing a broad range of services in a number of areas, including education.
For instance, in Quebec—
The biggest barrier is probably the cost issue, the risk of adverse costs, even the cost of hiring a lawyer to access the courts. Certainly, in our experience at Ecojustice Canada, we do many litigations, and in Canada it's the cost risk.
It's not as bad, I must say, in Federal Court as it is in some provincial courts, but the cost risk is certainly an issue for many individuals and small communities that just don't have the funds. It's absolutely the biggest barrier to bringing something before the courts. That's why we suggested a kind of easy, low-risk tool that would waive costs unless the case was vexatious, for example.
There is an environmental protection action provision in the Environmental Protection Act, which we've looked at, and we have some concerns with that. It's never been used, because it creates many barriers when it's used. For example, it requires a person to request an investigation of government first, and then get a response from the minister, who's unresponsive, or no response at all. They can then move into taking this on, but once again the cost risk is really the major barrier that I see there in terms of taking that on.
Thanks again, Mr. Chair.
I'm going to start with you, Mr. Gaudreault. Thank you for your service in the National Assembly.
I agree with your arguments that provinces are uniquely situated. They're local and they often have the enforcement capacity to immediately jump on cases of a violation of environmental laws. I agree with that.
In my former riding, though, on a first nation reserve, it turned out that someone was charged and taken to court for the illegal burning of some wood. I think British Columbia's provincial government was looking to collect $100,000 in fines. The court found that it was ultra vires: It was actually under federal jurisdiction because it was the Penticton Indian Band reserve, which is under the federal side. Also, by the way, the Indian Act actually says that the penalty would be around $250.
As much as that argument says to me that provinces should be able to enforce their laws, unfortunately there are just some cases where provincial laws don't align.
How would you address that, sir?
I think the federal Indian Act is completely outdated. The example you just gave is only further proof of that.
Without question, the Indian Act has to be completely overhauled in recognition of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, the methods of today have to be used, taking into account today's realities. I would add that indigenous communities have to rely on services provided by provincial governments, for instance, hospitals, health care facilities and educational institutions such as universities.
There is much work to be done when it comes to hospitals and health care services provided by the provinces, who need to pay more attention to the needs of communities and tailor services accordingly, if only in terms of language. In addition, more services need to be available within indigenous communities.
In relation to indigenous communities, specifically, the federal Indian Act needs overhauling and the services provided by the provinces to communities need improving.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
Again, I'm concerned that because this will go to Environment and Climate Change for them to consult on, it may not necessarily get the profile it needs to actually have the appropriate minister respond.
The First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia is something that the Harper government put in place to ensure first nations had more control over their health care systems. Along with that first nation band, we were able to put in more resources, including a health centre, so I appreciate that.
For my next question, I'm going to start with Dr. Jones and then open it up.
One of the challenges we have is that this is a big, diverse country. We maybe don't have as much history as some places around the world do, like Europe, but we do have a lot of history where some of these things have happened under multiple governments. How do you start? Where do you start if you have a whole mandate where you could start with first nations, where you could start with provinces or where you could start with individual communities, such as the Black community in Truro? How do you pick a priority for consultations to move forward?
I think I'm going to pick up where my colleague, Mr. Albas, left off.
Dr. Jones, you've had such a rich life, exploring and advocating. Your historical experience in this is vast. The knowledge we're gaining from you is tremendous with regard to your personal perspective on this.
Taking up where my colleague left off, I'd ask you this: How do we ensure that meaningful engagement occurs with marginalized communities in the development of environmental policy? In your wealth of experience, what are best practices you would recommend that we consider here in this discussion?
I'd like to carry that a little further. I have extensive work in shared society building on another side of the world, in Israel and Palestine. One thing I've learned in this process when you consult with communities is that you learn a lot, but you also learn where the gaps are. We were talking earlier about the data, and I'll open this up to other witnesses who are here, as well. What information or knowledge gaps do we have right now when it comes to environmental justice and environmental racism as we move forward with this?
I may want to ask, Dr. Jones, if some of our other witnesses want to weigh in with you, of course.... Perhaps someone else will pick up.
Against the backdrop of climate change, which is irreparable, the biggest challenge facing populations is definitely environmental justice. All impacts on all populations must be avoided. We have to work to avoid the impacts.
The impacts are experienced on three levels. First are the past impacts on indigenous and working-class populations, which we absolutely have to remedy. Second are the current impacts tied to climate change, ranging from heat islands to public health issues. Third are the future impacts, those associated with the green transition; for example, workers and families will end up having to leave behind the types of jobs they currently hold and adopt new types of employment.
That, too, is a facet of environmental justice for all. It is imperative that the provinces and federal government invest massively in a just transition. The transition must be just for workers and vulnerable populations, whether they are racialized or indigenous, whether they live in historically poor neighbourhoods or whether they have to leave well-paying jobs to do other types of work in the future. That is a just transition.
I have a question for Ms. Gue that I asked a previous panel of witnesses. Often, when we think of environmental racism, the most intuitively understood examples involve contaminated sites near communities, or very site-specific incidents. In the region where I live and that I represent, northwest B.C., climate change is disproportionately affecting first nations communities, as you well know, and that impacts wild salmon stocks, wildlife and so many other values. It's a fundamentally different kind of impact than a site-specific contamination, because it's linked to global climate change, which is a global problem. Is this bill going to sufficiently address those two very different expressions of environmental racism?
What would that look like in the context of the national strategy, for instance?
As I said at the beginning, we will break before moving in camera, but first, I want to thank all the witnesses for sharing with us their views and observations on the important issue of environmental racism. It was a real pleasure to hear your comments and discuss the issue with you.
Thank you again to the witnesses. The committee will reconvene shortly.
The meeting is suspended.
[Proceedings continue in camera]