We Need to Address Environmental Racism In Nova Scotia

Ingrid Waldron calls for public support of Nova Scotia Bill 111: An Act to Address Environmental Racism.

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Environmental racism is the disproportionate location of polluting industries, sites, and other environmental hazards close to racially marginalized communities and the working poor. It has serious implications for the health and well-being of communities that have historically been marginalized.

On April 29, 2015, a Private Member’s Bill entitled Bill 111: An Act to Address Environmental Racism was introduced in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly by Lenore Zann, NDP Critic for Human Rights and Aboriginal Affairs.

The purpose of this first-ever legislation on environmental racism is to consult with Mi’kmaw, African Nova Scotian and Acadian communities throughout the province in order to provide them with an opportunity to share their concerns about environmental racism and collaborate with government to devise strategies and solutions to address this issue.

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Duncan’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Photo Credit: Angel Petropanagos

The Act requires several Ministers to establish a panel to examine the issue of environmental racism in Nova Scotia and to provide recommendations. The panel is to be composed of:

  • Three members chosen by the Minister of Environment from among the members of the Round Table established pursuant to the Environment Act;
  • Two members chosen by the Minister responsible for the Human Rights Act from among the members of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission; and
  • Three members chosen by the Minister responsible for the Human Rights Act, of whom there must be one from each of the following: (1) the First Nations’ community, (2) the African Nova Scotian community, (3) and the Acadian community.

Passage of Bill 111 at first reading on April 29th was a stunning achievement since a Bill to address the problem of environmental racism has never before been developed in Canada. It appears, however, that the Nova Scotia government is not interested in supporting this Bill because it was introduced by a member of the opposition. This is a major step backwards in addressing the problem of environmental injustice and more specifically the problem of environmental racism in the province.

The Bill is the product of a research project that I have been leading since 2012 in collaboration with a team of faculty/researchers, community members, university students, and non-profit organizations. The project, which is entitled Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (ENRICH), is a collaborative community-based project investigating the health effects of polluting industries and other environmentally hazardous sites and activities located close to Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian communities.

Since its inception, ENRICH has carried out research, public education, and knowledge sharing/media activities. These include developing a province-wide collaborative research team; hosting a series of workshops entitled “In Whose Backyard? – Exploring Toxic Legacies in Mi’kmaw & African Nova Scotian Communities” to listen to residents’ concerns; and consulting with government to discuss existing policies related to environmental decision-making and to determine how government can address residents’ concerns. Some of these concerns include wastewater flowing into Boat Harbour, a quiet estuary near Pictou Landing, two kilometres east of the pulp mill at Abercrombie Point; contaminated water from the first-generation landfill leaking into the second-generation landfill close to the predominantly African Nova Scotian community of Lincolnville; and a salvage yard (i.e. junk yard) on the Acadia First Nation reserve in Yarmouth that has been used as a dumping ground for abandoned car parts and other waste for over 60 years.

There is a long history in Nova Scotia and Canada of disproportionately exposing racially marginalized communities and the working poor to toxic and hazardous materials and waste facilities, such as landfills, industrial power generation stations, pulp and paper mills, and hazardous waste storage. The toxins produced by these activities may be released into air, water, or land. This poses long-term risks to the environment and exposes these communities to greater health risks than other communities, thereby generating environmental health inequities.

As a Canadian-born Black woman and an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University who conducts research on the impact of social, economic, and political inequalities on health and well-being in racially marginalized communities, I understand the importance of this Bill in providing Mi’kmaw, African Nova Scotian, and Acadian communities with a voice to share their concerns about the link between illness in their communities and their proximity to polluting industries and other environmental hazards.

In my view, it is imperative that members of the public put pressure on Randy Delorey and other government representatives of Nova Scotia to pass this Bill at the second and third readings before the House finishes sitting this week.

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Ingrid Waldron is Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at Dalhousie University. @inwhosebackyard

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