Good afternoon, everyone. We'll get the meeting going.
We have Mr. Benzen substituting for , and we have Mr. Fragiskatos substituting for . Welcome, both of you, to this meeting of the environment committee, which has a goal to get through clause-by-clause on Bill .
From the Department of Environment, we have Laura Farquharson, director general, legislative and regulatory affairs, environmental protection branch, and we have Susan Martin, director general, strategic policy directorate.
I will read some opening remarks that have been given to me by the legislative clerk.
We welcome Mr. Lafleur and Mr. Méla to assist us in this exercise.
I'll just let you know that the idea is that if we get through this and there's still time, we will go in camera and have a bit of a meeting on future business to discuss how we're going to go forward, given that we've received legislation from the House, Bill .
I'd like to provide members of the committee with a few comments on how the committee will proceed with the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill
This is an examination of all the clauses in the order in which they appear in the bill. I will call each clause successively, and each clause is subject to debate and a vote. If there is an amendment to the clause in question, I will recognize the member proposing it, who may then explain it. The amendment will then be open for debate. When no further members wish to intervene, the amendment will be voted on.
Amendments will be considered in the order in which they appear in the package each member received from the clerk. If there are amendments that are consequential to each other, they will be voted on together.
The chair will proceed slowly, so that everyone can follow the proceedings well.
Amendments have been given a number in the top right-hand corner to indicate which party submitted them. There's no need for a seconder to move an amendment. Once an amendment has been moved, you will need unanimous consent to withdraw it.
During debate on the amendment, members are permitted to move subamendments. These subamendments do not require the approval of the mover of the amendment. Only one subamendment may be considered at a time, and that subamendment cannot be amended. When a subamendment to an amendment is moved, it is voted on first. Then another subamendment may be moved or the committee may consider the main amendment and vote on it.
Once all clauses have been voted on, the committee will hold a vote on the title and the bill itself.
The committee shall also give an order for the bill to be reprinted so that the House has an updated version at report stage.
Finally, the committee shall request the chair to report the bill to the House. This report shall contain only the text of the amendments adopted, if any, and an indication of the deleted clauses, if any.
I think that is pretty clear. Most of us have been involved in a clause‑by‑clause review of a bill.
(On clause 2)
The Chair: Yes?
You'll find that many of our amendments propose roughly the same word: “inequity”.
Amendment BQ‑1 proposes, as a first step, that clause 3 of the bill be amended by replacing line 12 on page 2 with the following:
In addition, the amendment proposes similar wording to replace line 3 on page 3 with the following:
ronmental inequities and that may include
We did not choose the word “inequity” lightly. We based ourselves first on definitions found in French dictionaries. For example, Le Petit Robert defines inequity as “extreme, flagrant injustice”. For its part, the TV5MONDE dictionary defines it as an “unbearable injustice”. It was after consulting such sources that we concluded that this was the strongest word we could use in French for our amendments.
Mr. Chair, shall I move amendments BQ‑1, BQ‑2 and BQ‑3 together?
Very well. So I'll start with this one.
I'll provide a brief explanation of why we're bringing this amendment forward.
At the Bloc Québécois, we are in favour of the desire for environmental justice that is expressed in the title and preamble of the bill. We believe that, if Parliament is to pass a new law, it is the concept of environmental justice that must be put forward, that must be the main subject, the central concept.
We support government action to address the inequalities experienced by all communities in their relationship with the environment. We want this action to include everyone. There are problems of geographical disparities in living standards and access to a good environment, and that is a concern. It is of concern that these disparities have a direct impact on citizens who are immigrants, visible minorities, indigenous communities or socio-economically disadvantaged. Following what I told you on Tuesday, I would even add to the list other categories of citizens who are truly disadvantaged. For example, have we looked at where detention sites are located, whether they are prisons or psychiatric hospitals? That would help to understand their exposure to environmental hazards.
That's what we want to do. In North America, this has been going on since the 1980s. We want to broaden the scope of the proposed measure to include as many people as possible.
I will reiterate what Mr. Greg McLean said on Tuesday, addressing what might be described as a case in point. It kind of supports what I said earlier. He said that he grew up in a world where justice was good and racism was bad. As he said, eliminating racism and achieving justice for all is a goal we all want to have. I think he was very clear. I agree with him completely.
On Tuesday, I spoke about arsenic in Rouyn-Noranda, red dust in Limoilou, and pollution from refineries in East Montreal, where I live. Mr. McLean, on the other hand, was raising the experience of Italian immigrants who died because of their work in the smelters. He wasn't just talking about one particular case. That's what we want, too: a broader aim.
In passing, Mr. McLean raised the issue of the form of discrimination related to geographical location, or rural isolation. He did not say that this was racism, but suggested that in some way the plight of marginalized communities, not just racialized communities, should be highlighted.
When we talk about marginalized communities, we are also talking about socio-economically disadvantaged communities. This goes back to the example I gave you earlier, about detention sites.
For each line of the bill I am proposing to amend, the objective is the same: that everyone be offered the same protection and that the entire population have access to real environmental justice. Although we in the Bloc Québécois recognize that the element that I will refer to in this context as skin colour is certainly a factor of discrimination and inequity, several other factors underlie environmental racism, as understood in the bill before us.
Last week, a luncheon lecture was held here on Parliament Hill featuring Dr. Judith Enck, who is an expert on plastic pollution and was appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency by President Obama during his first term. In her lecture she raised the issue of the location of certain chemical plants. She explained that some very polluting chemical plants had targeted a number of states to develop and expand in. I wanted to know her opinion on the phenomenon we are discussing today, whether economic insecurity and demography had anything to do with it. So I asked her. Neither she nor I used the term “environmental racism”. She only used the term “environmental justice”. Indeed, there is something more comprehensive when the conceptual reference is environmental justice.
In the last Parliament we heard from Ms. Waldron, founder of the ENRICH project, on the study of systemic racism in Canada. She gave us her academic perspective on the environment and discrimination. According to her, there is a lack of political power to curb the establishment of industries that are harmful to human health and the environment. There are also factors related to education and economic insecurity. It is a global phenomenon. I would add to that access to clean housing and clean water.
These are all factors that, alongside those related to racism, form the breeding ground for the lack of environmental justice for all marginalized communities.
There is the socio-economic character, which I have talked about more than once.
I'll stop here. I have presented practically all of our amendments to you together.
This morning, I was given a report from the David Suzuki Foundation, which calls on the government to take concrete action for greater environmental justice. This report, written among others by Léa Ilardo, always refers to the notion of environmental justice. It describes what is happening in this regard in the east end of Montreal, a particularly disadvantaged sector. They want to set up an industry that will generate, according to forecasts, 300,000 container movements per year, 1,000 truck crossings per day, in and out, as well as numerous train movements. Why is this industry being established in the east end of Montreal? It is because it is an area where disadvantaged people live.
When I asked Ms. Lenore Zann if Bill would affect the people living around the Horne Foundry, she said no. That is why we are proposing to broaden the scope of the bill.
That's it, I'm done.
I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. There have been connection issues on Zoom all morning with the House of Commons.
The Chair: We can hear you.
Mr. Greg McLean: I do have an issue. We need to look at what we mean by “environmental justice”.
I really appreciate my colleague's amendment. I am broadly supportive of her amendment.
Madam Pauzé and I agree on this issue around smelters.
I raised the example last time of the Italian immigrants who came to Trail. I'm well-connected with the grandchildren who grew up without grandfathers because they chose to work in a smelter where the air inside was toxic. That air was often released at night. If a dog went out in the street in Trail in the nighttime, it would die. When people were inside, the toxic air was released. It is broadly considered one of the most toxic places in North America as a result.
A number of immigrants, primarily Italian immigrants, made their journey to Canada and got jobs in Trail. I imagine it's the same in many towns across the country that are primarily outside of our major centres. People made the decision to work in these less than desirable facilities and paid the price accordingly.
As I said before, women lived to the age of 80 in Trail, and their husbands all died in their forties. It's a shame.
As much as this addresses what we talked about as far as the inequities are concerned, I want to also talk about environmental justice. I don't think it's well defined anywhere here. I want to understand exactly what we're talking about before it's interpreted for us by somebody else.
That somebody else, of course—Ms. May, the proponent of the bill puts out—will be determined in a court of law by a judge without any direction about how this actually happens.
I would like to know that meaning, about how we come up with environmental justice. Is that justice for the environment and reparations to the environment? Is it reparations to the people who have suffered because they live on lands that have been exposed to more pollution because those lands have waste from our urban development shipped out to areas where there are fewer people?
What I want to find out is that we're not putting a definition on what environmental justice is that somebody else is going to interpret for us. If we could move forward with a clear understanding of what environmental justice is, it would serve this bill very well.
I'm going to pause there and leave it for maybe one of the officials to talk about how they see that unfolding in the mid-term, only two years or so before this is in place. I'd like to hear that, please.
It is wild to me that the Bloc and Conservatives want to remove the word “racism” from the bill on environmental racism.
I absolutely do not support this amendment.
It's concerning to me that the Bloc are uncomfortable with this bill focusing on racism. Of course, there are other kinds of inequities in the world, but that doesn't negate the fact that this bill on environmental racism is important. Ensuring that we tackle the lack of racial data in Canada on this topic is crucial. Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately impacted by toxic substances and polluting industries. Of course, we need to take an intersectional approach, but to try to remove the word “racism” to deny the need to focus specifically on systemic racism is extremely troubling.
I will be voting against this amendment.
Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for the intervention.
In reading the bill, it doesn't just rely on racism in some of its definitions.
Subclause 3(2) states:
In developing the strategy, the Minister must consult or cooperate with any interested persons, bodies, organizations or communities—including other ministers, representatives of government in Canada and Indigenous communities—and ensure that it is consistent with the Government of Canada's framework for recognition and implementation of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
We are talking about a bill on environmental racism, which we don't have defined either. I appreciate Madam Pauzé's amendment to address that. The consultation phase there widens it far beyond races and actually talks about any interested persons, bodies, organizations and communities.
I will seek guidance on this from the translators. I know Madam Pauzé talked about the meaning of iniquité in French being the highest level of difference, but it's not so in English. Inequity is an imbalance, if you will. It's not necessarily a severe imbalance. It's an imbalance between inputs and outputs, or results and effects, if you will. I don't know if the word needs to be stronger in English than the word that Madam Pauzé has proposed in French. I don't think “inequity” is that strong in English.
To Ms. Collins' intervention, the clause in this bill does open it up to all kinds of people, any person who wants to provide input in consultation and co-operation with the minister. It isn't just racial communities. It will apply to everybody who wants to have an input on the concept we're talking about here of environmental justice.
I will repeat, I do think we need to identify and define what we're talking about here when we say “environmental justice”.
I would note that in reading through the amendments and some of the discussions, and to emphasize Mr. McLean's point, even some of our witnesses this past week have emphasized how racism can be a factor, but a person of colour or indigenous person can have a multitude of factors. I think addressing this from a more comprehensive perspective is a valuable approach for trying to accomplish what the bill intends. That also doesn't limit it to one particular aspect of some of the challenges faced by Canadians.
I agree, as well, that the whole definition of “environmental justice” needs to be very well defined in the broader picture. I hear from constituents—I don't exaggerate when I say “on a daily basis”—who are furious with the current plan that leaves.... Whether it will be defined as the just transition, or whatever the case is, they feel left out. Certainly, there have to be some clear definitions to ensure what the bill's intent is. We want to make sure it can actually accomplish that.
I think Madam Pauzé has endeavoured to do so. I am not bilingual, but I certainly value some of the comments she made about trying to find a way to ensure that essence is captured.
Mr. Chair, I'm here for just this purpose, to clarify and explain the purpose of the bill.
Thank you, Laurel.
The purpose of the bill is to promote environmental justice and confront environmental racism. It's addressing environmental racism in the largest context. As I said when I was a witness here on November 1, I don't think any community experiencing environmental or toxic contamination as described in the bill, or communities located in proximity to environmental hazards.... The bill does not exclude any community that finds itself in that situation. It is, specifically, part of an approach to confront and name environmental racism. In that context, communities that are not racialized but are economically disadvantaged in any way, to such an extent that they've also experienced a lack of environmental justice.... The bill is focused on environmental racism.
I don't think I'll let any cats out of the bag by saying that, before the bill came forward, before first reading, I engaged with my friend from the Bloc Québécois, the member for Repentigny. We tried to see if there were any ways the Bloc could be comfortable with the bill.
I took the proposals she made today back to Lenore Zann, the original mover and former member of Parliament for Cumberland—Colchester, to Dr. Ingrid Waldron and to some of the many groups across the country that hope to see this bill passed. The notion of removing the word “racism” from the bill was widely and broadly found to be unacceptable.
In the context of Greg McLean's questions, it's quite clear that the bill will not exclude any community regardless of whether or not it's indigenous people or people of colour. If people are in a disadvantaged situation, where environmental contamination is visited upon them in a way that would not happen in a more well-heeled and economically and politically powerful community, they'll have access to the programs of environmental justice. As I mentioned before, the U.S. EPA is a model in this area, having developed robust programs since 1994.
I hope that helps clarify it for you.
Thank you for asking me, Laurel.
I have the U.S. EPA definition of “environmental justice”, but I think it's so common sense that courts aren't going to have a problem knowing this bill doesn't relate to trees going to court to defend themselves. That's one aspect Greg suggested, that it might be nature itself getting the right to remedy. This is clearly a bill that focuses on human communities that are not receiving the protections we would require as a minimum for Canadians. We know that it's overwhelmingly and disproportionately communities of colour and indigenous people experiencing this in Canada, although it's not exclusively people of colour and indigenous communities.
Mr. Chair, I'm sorry, but my colleague, Ms. May, misunderstood me. The issue on environmental justice, as far as it applies to nature, is the justice to make nature back to what it was before, and the funds expended to accomplish that, as opposed to accomplish the harm visited upon people. Inasmuch as the two go hand in hand, that was my question—not that trees would be taking the government to court.
If we're dealing with witnesses here, I did raise a couple of concerns. Can we please consult the witnesses on what I raised about the translation between what Ms. Pauzé said on the severity of inequities and the heightened level of meaning of iniquités in French? It's a much softer definition in English, in my opinion. That would be good.
If we were speaking here to Ms. May's comment, I wouldn't mind at all if we actually put the definition that the U.S. EPA has put forward for “environmental justice“ in the preamble, or somewhere in this bill, so we do understand what that is pertaining to. Maybe we can make it a clause in this bill, that as a definition of “environmental justice” here is a commonly understood term that we will be applying in this bill. I think that would be instructive for everybody who's going to have to look at this bill later and come to their own determination of what we're meaning when we're passing this legislation.
First of all, to the other two witnesses here, can we talk about the translation issue between the French and English, and then talk about the definitional issue? I think it would be instructive.
Mr. Chair, in speaking to the amendment and the clause itself, subclause 3(3) begins:
The strategy must include
(a) a study that includes
(i) an examination of a link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk,
I wish it was just environmental risk and socio-economic status, for reasons that both Madam Pauzé and I have previously iterated here.
In paragraph 3(3)(b) it continues:
measures that can be taken to advance environmental justice and assess, prevent and address environmental racism...that may include
We say “The strategy must include measures that may include possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs”—the entirety of laws and programs—“the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making”—any community group in these policy-makings—and, of course, “compensation for individuals or communities” for what that may entail at the end of the day. This is determined by whom? Is there a body that's going to determine this, or can it be courts that determine this at the end of the day, what that quantum is going to be? Of course, that will require a big budget item if we're talking about making a balance for historical inequities that have been here for many communities across Canada for a long period of time.
If there is some clarification on that in relation to the amendment, I think it would be constructive as well.
Yes, I am. Thanks for the question.
It's very routine. The term “consulting” with interested parties is used in many pieces of Canadian legislation. Even just dealing with Environment and Climate Change Canada, they put out on a website on a routine basis “here's an opportunity to comment”. People have that opportunity to comment. Then the minister reports.
The only mandatory portion of what the minister must do is to table the report and prepare the report in consultation with those groups. It's not an in-person event. It doesn't mean that the minister has to sit down and have tea with everybody who has written to him or her or them, by that point.
This is pretty boilerplate. I'm sure Environment Canada can confirm. I don't know how many consultations Environment and Climate Change Canada does. Just trying to keep up with them and write back myself is exhausting. I think I see on the order of one or two a month of consulting with the public at large and individual interest groups, etc.
That is the intention, but I don't think it's onerous.
Yes, of course. In fact, I'm going to take my right to speak to discuss both our amendments to the preamble and our amendments to the title. We are actually proposing amendments to the title, so we're going to present them all at once.
Again, we believe that the rights as well as the policies that will flow from the bill should be universal, that all should enjoy them regardless of their differences. The sections of the bill as we have just passed them do not provide us with powerful legal tools to counter inequities and discrimination, such as those based on origin, language, cultural background or socio-economic conditions.
I add a small comment about our amendment on money transfers, which was rejected earlier. It still boggles my mind that while the bill provides for “compensation for individuals or communities”, the committee is denying federal transfers to Quebec and the provinces to help them do the work that needs to be done under the bill. I am surprised by this.
That said, I'm done and I'm not arguing about it anymore.
I apologize to Madam Pauzé for moving out of order, but it is in the same realm as what she proposed earlier.
I'll read the paragraph that we're talking about in the preamble. It says:
Whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that it is important to meaningfully involve all Canadians — and, in particular, marginalized communities — in the development of environmental policy and that racial discrimination in the development of environmental policy would constitute environmental racism;
Mr. Chair, I'm not sure this is true at all. I mean, when you look at the environmental policies that the government is moving forward with here, it is not substantively involving its partners in Confederation. There are two provinces in western Canada that are passing legislation to try to limit the intrusion of the federal government's—one-sided, arbitrary intrusion—use of lands, which I think is the nature of Madam Pauzé's motion here.
Substantively, my motion from the floor would be to remove that entire paragraph. It's not particularly true, in our experience.
If you'd like, I can read the definition Ms. Farquharson, one of the Environment Canada officials, gave in response to Mr. McLean's question.
It's a very well understood definition that's quite available and accepted. It's:
Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
I had translated it, but this is pretty much boiler plate. I wouldn't put forward legislation, although I wasn't the original drafter, and again, thanks to Lenore Zann.
As a former environmental lawyer, Greg, I can tell you it's really hard to find environmental laws that work in this country. This one should not put us into any kind of snags.