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Recapping Progress on Bill C-226: An Act to Develop a National Environmental Justice Strategy in Canada - March 2024

Updated: Apr 25

By: Zeina Seaifan & Iris Molony-Everett

Edited by: Asha Swann, Anna Huschka & Manvi Bhalla

Positionality statements for all authors are available at the bottom of the article.


Throughout March 2024, Canada’s Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources met twice to discuss Bill C-226 (view the meetings here and here). This article recaps the discussions surrounding the Bill during these meetings, the data presented and captures the recommendations offered by expert witnesses who provided testimonies.


March 19 Meeting Recap

On March 19, 2024, two panels convened which consisted of the sponsors of the Bill and representatives from Environment and Climate Change Canada, who provided statements and answered questions from the attending senators to an audience of committee members, other senators, and an analyst from the Library of Parliament.


Key Takeaways

This Bill is intentionally non-prescriptive. 

In the Honourable Mary Jane McCallum’s words: “Bill C-226 is intentionally not prescriptive in how to develop and execute the national strategy, as it must be developed in concert with affected individuals and communities.” All witnesses emphasize that individual communities will have individual needs and paths to equality; and that individual problems will have individual solutions and paths to rectification. Actions that will be taken to address issues of environmental racism must come from communities: they are the ones undergoing environmental racism, and they know their land and governance best. 


Environmental racism isn’t a new issue or a new area of study. 

Elizabeth May said: “If I leave you with nothing else, I want to leave you with this: [environmental racism] is not a new area of work in the world; it is a new area of work in Canada." In her opening statement, she mentions that a community in Fort Valley, Georgia (struggling with the lingering environmental impacts of a closed pesticide plant), the U.S Environmental Protection Agency has provided tools and programs to confront environmental racism. Similar work has been done in Europe, and May states that there is experience and assistance to be accessed from other countries when (as she hopes) the Bill is passed.


The Canadian government and the execution of this Bill needs to provide affected communities with legal tools and remove legal barriers, in order for them to advocate for their own environmental justice. 

Elizabeth May emphasized that we need to place tools in the hands of communities themselves, allowing them to “harness their own Indigenous knowledge; harness and mobilize their own agency and empowerment and sovereignty.” She references the many barriers baked into the legal system that benefit corporations over communities with fewer monetary resources: cost awards to dissuade communities from speaking up (as cost awards require the losers of a litigation to cover the winner’s legal fees, which is impossible for many affected communities) and SLAPP suits (SLAPP standing for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) to name a few.

This Bill is seen as critically needed to help address the widespread impacts of environmental racism nationwide, today.

Elizabeth May shared the story of Clotilda Douglas-Yakimchuk, the first Black woman in Nova Scotia to graduate from and later become president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ College. Yakimchuck is a single mother who had recently returned to Canada from running a hospital in the Caribbean. No landlord in Sydney would rent her a home anywhere except an area where a high degree of pollution was equivalent to smoking several packs of cigarettes per day. May stated, “there was enforced segregation in my community and I knew nothing about it.”  Similarly, Amanda Monforton shared a story concerning the Morvan Road landfill in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. This landfill is uphill and in direct proximity to a community of African Nova Scotians. This ‘landfill’ had no protection of ground or surface water, and the trash was openly burned, posing significant health risks to the community. This environment contributes to respiratory illness, cancers, heart disease and skin rashes (2) yet had been disproportionately exposing the Shelburne community to health and environmental hazards for 75 years. Shelburne residents, including Chris Jacklyn, Christia Farmer, and Darlene Cooper, shared stories that “depicted the landfill as a childhood playground, where they could find food, toys, and more.” These members of the community are now advocating to prevent future generations from suffering the same harmful playground and health risks posed to their community.


Recommendations Provided

  • Elizabeth May, in her opening statement, recommends that we learn from the experiences, progress and examples of other jurisdictions (such as the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and European Aarhus Convention) to develop a strategy when the Bill is passed. 

  • Honourable Mary Jane McCallum insists that “in assessing environmental racism, we must no longer rely on assumptions; we need facts.” She recommends neighbourhood mapping and the incorporation of local knowledge to assist communities in identifying environmental hazards and developing research to address this issue.

  • Amanda Monforton from Environment and Climate Change Canada recommends that the national strategy to come out of Bill C-226 have objectives and intent independent from other similar and related bills. Monforton says “[The intent of the bill is] focusing the strategy on the intersection of environmental hazards and marginalized communities would be important to maintaining a manageable scope within the broader concept of environmental justice in the short, legislated timeline, and to delivering meaningful, measurable outcomes.” The future strategy must identify where these subjects coincide and provide input on how to close jurisdictional gaps and best use other policies and initiatives to address each case.


Attendance for this Meeting

  • Presiding: Honourable Paul J. Massicotte

  • Committee members: Honourable Senators Arnot, Galvez, Massicotte, McCallum, Sorensen and White

  • Other senators: Honourable Senators Al Zaibak, McPhedran and Oudar

  • Library of Parliament analyst: Jesse Good

  • Witnesses

    • Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament, Saanich—Gulf Islands (Sponsor of the Bill)

    • Honourable Senator Mary Jane McCallum (Sponsor of the Bill)

    • Heather McCready, Director General, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs

    • Susan Martin, Director General, Strategic Policy Directorate

    • Amanda Monforton, Director, Policy Development, Environmental Justice and Gender-based Analysis Plus


March 21 Meeting Recap

On March 21st, 2024, the Government of Canada held their next Senate on Bill C-226, where four witnesses came forward to share their opinions on the proposed Act, as well as their respective experiences with environmental racism and justice in what is currently Canada. 


Over the course of two hours, the Senate heard from the following experts:

  • Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Professor, McMaster University 

  • Dr. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto 

  • Dr. Sarah Marie Wiebe, Assistant Professor, University of Victoria

  • Chris Plain, Chief, Aamjiwnaang First Nation


Key Takeaways

Chief Chris Plain Offered a Deeper Look Into the Negative Health Impacts Forced Upon the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in ‘Chemical Valley’ Due to Devastating Environmental Racism

Chief Chris Plain shared a powerful, compelling, and equally devastating story of Aamjiwnaang by tracing the oral history of his community as one that has been nurtured by the wealth and generosity of the lakes and rivers of the lands and waters of what is presently known as Sarnia, Ontario. This region has now been labelled an ‘environmental sacrifice zone’ by the UN. Here, it is known that residents are subjected to disproportionately higher negative health impacts due to contaminants and pollution in their local environment, largely due to the activities and emissions from high number of industrial facilities present (2).

For some historical context, in 1827, the Anishinaabe peoples of Aamjiwnaang entered into Treaty 29 which promised them constitutionally protected Aboriginal and treaty rights, including the continued use of water for traditional activities such as swimming and harvesting fish (3). Aamjiwnaang additionally ceded 2.2 million acres while reserving 10 thousand acres of land for their own community. During the early to mid-20th century, Sarnia began experiencing the rapid construction of federally owned polymer plants (4). This federally-supported development was eventually followed by a series of policies and actions used to accommodate the needs of this growing industry sector with very little regard for surrounding communities. Presently, Aamjiwnaang First Nation down to having 2500 acres, with much of the land being used to house industrial facilities (5). This area is often referred to as 'Chemical Valley' because it contains 40% of Canada’s chemical industry.

As a consequence of these settler colonial land relations, members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation are continually being disproportionately being subject to ongoing intergenerational harms as a result of their proximity to these facilities (6). Though protected under section 35 of the Constitution of 1982 (7), Plain shares that there is virtually nowhere in the vicinity of Aamjiwnaang where members can practice their treaty rights without worrying about negative health consequences from the extremely polluted air, water and land. This pollution, stemming from the deliberate installation of hazardous waste, incinerators, and pollution industries, induces a wide array of psychological and physical health issues among residents (8). This includes dizziness and nausea, high rates of miscarriage, child asthma, cancer, and reports of constant flaring noises and sirens (8). 

The story of Chemical Valley illustrates the entrenched harms of structural and institutional racism that was and continues to be shaped by colonial practices. These practices include broken treaty promises, discriminatory acts and policies aimed at assimilation, and the dispossession of land and resources. These practices shape our current environmental policies, which must be structurally and systemically amended if we are to truly advance environmental justice in so-called Canada. 


There is a great need for an intersectional framework combined with a multidisciplinary lens to ensure the success of a national EJ strategy; this extends towards ensuring we also evaluate our practices as it concerns data collection, weight of evidence informing decisions and community-based research methods.

Canadian environmental laws, policies and regulations insufficiently consider the intersecting factors of gender, race, socioeconomic status and Indigeneity and their differential and cumulative impacts on health outcomes. One recent example is Bill S-5, which upon receiving royal assent in June 2023, made it federal law to recognize that all Canadians have the right to a healthy environment. 

This speaks to a wider research gap between environmental risk and socioeconomic status made visible through Bill C-226. Yet, as the witnesses explain, proposed studies around this area are often undermined or dismissed because of how health and the environment are taught and understood in what is currently Canada, which is through  Western science methods. By not being inclusive of non-western Anglo, Euro-centric ways of knowing and being, and the differing understandings of health and wellbeing as held by Indigenous and racially and ethnically minoritized communities. Furthermore, as Dr. Waldron explains, health and the environment are often divorced from one another in academic departments across Canada. This shortfall consequently leads to “siloed” understandings of health and the environment in policy decision-making processes.

Similarly, Western settler colonial societies tend to create and value a hierarchy of research and evidence as a correlation between data and truth. In Dr. Caron-Beaudoin’s experience, policy changes typically require a significant amount of evidence to be enacted and rarely take into account well-documented lived experiences of underserved populations. Dr. Caron-Beaudoin revisits her research on rural Indigenous women in Northeastern British Columbia and Alberta living close to unconventional oil and gas wells to illustrate this point. As Dr. Caron-Beaudoin explains, these wells release carcinogenic, mutagenic, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals which disproportionately affect Indigenous women versus non-Indigenous women in these areas. While these releases have been well-documented by academic and governmental research initiatives, these rural communities lack the large data sets typically needed to enact policy changes. We must begin treating community knowledge as a valid form of evidence and expertise while increasing peer-reviewed studies in these historically underserved communities. Bill C-226 crucially lacks a strategy that advocates for the collection of diverse data sources. 

In consideration of intersectional environmental racism needs, witnesses emphasized the need to adopt an equity-centred approach to address environmental issues. They specifically highlighted the need for the co-creation of a national strategy that is developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts (from diverse disciplines such as sociology, psychology, political science, and more) that explicitly includes impacted community members to support academic peer-reviewed research efforts. To a degree, this is already present in the Bill, which includes consultations with community members through NGOs that are very well connected to said community, but this underscores the importance of community-based participatory research as integral to this work

Furthermore, Dr. Sarah Marie Wiebe advises developing an intersectional planetary health lens to address disproportionate environmental health effects stemming from extraction-dependent sectors, such as unconventional oil and gas extractions. As Dr. Caron-Beaudoin clarifies, unconventional oil and gas extractions involve drilling holes vertically and horizontally for several kilometres before injecting water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure to release gas (9). This process can impact local air and water quality while releasing harmful contaminants in the vicinity of extracting operations (9). Dr. Caron-Beaudoin’s research found higher levels of these harmful chemicals in the hair samples of Indigenous pregnant women living in the vicinity of these operations in comparison to non-Indigenous pregnant participants. Following this, Dr. Wiebe describes socioeconomic status as deeply connected to gender-minoritized populations and health outcomes. By continuously relying on gas and oil extractions, underserved communities are isolated and further marginalized through disproportionate health impacts. Dr. Wiebe stresses the need to move beyond dominant Western thinkings of extraction from the land, and more so toward building relationships with the land by developing an intersectional planetary health approach that respects Indigenous rights. 


Overall, while all of the witnesses attested to the strength of Bill C-226 in addressing environmental racism, there is still room for future-oriented frameworks and the reconfiguration of current data/health systems used that can prevent potential emergent environmental racism. 

In Dr. Ingrid Waldron’s words, “Bill C-226’s strength is that it is broad enough to capture the shared experiences of Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities that have been impacted by environmental racism. Bill C-226 is also specific enough in its understanding of the importance of looking at the intersections of race, socioeconomic status, environmental risk and health.” 

In some ways, addressing environmental racism within disproportionately affected marginalized and racialized communities in what is currently Canada, such as in Aamjiwnaang, is an action problem rather than a knowledge problem. From Chief Chris Plain’s perspective, despite countless studies, letters, protests, reports, consultations, and petitions, there is very little intersectional and effective action taken between the Government of Canada and the Indigenous communities these reports represent.


Recommendations Provided

Chief Chris Plain recommended that:

  • Section 3A1 of Bill C-226 be amended as follows:

    • "The strategy must include a study on Indigenous peoples that incorporates an examination of the link between race, the impacts of colonialism, socioeconomic status and environmental risk" (as Plain emphasizes)

  • Enforce existing regulations and facilitate meaningful dialogue when additional projects are to be developed in Sarnia, Ontario. 

  • Amend the treaty relationship between Aamjiwnaang and the Crown where Aamjiwnaang has an equal voice in decision-making, their concerns must inform the path forward. Indigenous communities, such as Aamjiwnaang First Nations, would like the Canadian government to listen to and acknowledge that they are valuable members of society and contributing members of our economy. 

  • Aamjiwnaang First Nation must move beyond partnerships and academic studies with Canadian and American universities to act and protect their community. 


Dr. Ingrid Waldron shared that:

  • Bill C-226 is very well developed. 

  • Canadians must understand how environmental racism operates within systemic inequalities. It is precisely those inequalities which make it easier for polluters to settle within disproportionately impacted communities on the basis that there will be less protest.  


Dr. Sarah Marie Wiebe recommended to:

  • Enact Bill C-226.

  • Bring treaty relations forward, provide opportunities for input, have ongoing consultations, and revise agreements on an ongoing basis to further refine Bill C-226.

  • Establish a national office of environmental justice created from a multijurisdictional approach that includes community-led leadership and collaborative governance.

  • Adopt an intersectional planetary health lens to guide future environmental justice regulatory developments during administrative programming.


Dr. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin advised to:

  • Enact Bill C-226.

  • Establish a permanent interdisciplinary institute fully devoted to funding environmental health issues.

  • Advocate for a strategy in the Bill that collects data from diverse sources, including community-lived experience. 


Overall, while Bill C-226 makes strides toward advancing environmental justice and addressing environmental racism, there is still room to consider and integrate the recommendations laid out by Indigenous, Black and other racially-minoritized community members who continue to be disproportionately impacted by exacerbating environmental conditions in what is currently Canada. The case studies and recommendations provided by Dr. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin, Dr. Sarah Marie Wiebe, and Dr. Ingrid Waldron, alongside the lived experiences of Chief Chris Plain and the residents of Aamjiwnaang First Nation illustrate that much can still be done in further developing this act across what is currently Canada. Shake Up the Establishment is looking forward to future iterations of Bill C-226, where we can see these important considerations implemented in an equitable and fair way. 


Authors' Positionality Statements

Hello/Bonjour! My name is Zeina Seaifan and my pronouns are she/her/elle. Presently, I reside on the traditional and treaty territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (currently known as “Ajax, Ontario”). A daughter of Arab-immigrant parents, I have many fond memories of playing, living, learning, and breathing on this land and am happiest when connecting with nature, including Lake Ontarí’io. I would specifically like to acknowledge how my cherished memories were made possible by more than three centuries of colonialism and land theft in which settler government officials conducted unjust land acquisition treaties with the Mississauga and Ojibwa peoples, who still live on this land and whose livelihood continue to be shaped by these colonial legacies. I would finally like to acknowledge the immense privilege and honour I have been able to have in watching this Senate meeting and listening to the invaluable testimonies of the four witnesses in sharing their lived experiences around environmental racism.


Hello/Bonjour/Aanii/Boozhoo,

My name is Iris Molony-Everett and my pronouns are she/they/them/theirs. I live on the lands of Anishinaabe Waki, Wendake-Nionwetso, Ho-de-no-sau-nee-ga and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, unfairly negotiated for in Treaty 13 to become what is colonially known as Toronto. It is from here that I viewed the March 19th Senate meeting and had the privilege of being adjacent to important justice-oriented work and to learn from the immensely knowledgeable speakers in this meeting. I would like to acknowledge that as a white person living in a wealthy part of Tkaronto, I have not experienced environmental racism and do not intend to speak on behalf of all those affected. I’m very grateful for the time readers take to view this blog post and learn more about this very topical and important issue. 


References

  1. Private Member’s Bill C-226 (44-1) - Third Reading - National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act - Parliament of Canada [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/bill/C-226/third-reading

  2. Cormier M. The Morvan Road landfill and its impacts on the African Nova Scotian Community [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Apr 9]. Available from: https://archive.sierraclub.ca/en/ontario-chapter/2022-11-16/morvan-road-landfill-and-its-impacts-african-nova-scotian-community 

  3. Patterson B. UN report identifies Aamjiwnaang First Nation as a pollution “sacrifice zone” in Canada - Peace Brigades International-Canada [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Mar 24]. Available from: https://pbicanada.org/2022/03/13/united-nations-report-identifies-aamjiwnaang-first-nation-as-a-pollution-sacrifice-zone-in-canada/

  4. Establishment of the Polymer Corporation National Historic Event [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/dfhd/page_nhs_eng.aspx?id=10954

  5. History – Aamjiwnaang [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.aamjiwnaang.ca/history/

  6. Kestler-D’Amours MO Jillian. Al Jazeera. [cited 2024 Mar 24]. Toxic legacy: The fight to end environmental racism in Canada. Available from: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/longform/2021/12/8/toxic-legacy-the-fight-to-end-environmental-racism-in-canada

  7.  Immigration R and CC. INAN - Section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 - Background - Jan 28, 2021 [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Mar 25]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/transparency/committees/inan-jan-28-2021/inan-section-35-consitution-act-1982-background-jan-28-2021.html 

  8. Sarnia Area Environmental Health Project. [Internet] 2024 [cited 2024 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/climate-crisis-new-perspective-needed-to-deal-with-climate-crisis-says-report/

  9. US EPA O. The Process of Unconventional Natural Gas Production [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Apr 9]. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/uog/process-unconventional-natural-gas-production

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