Nova Scotia’s communities unite behind proposed Environmental Bill of Rights

By Touchbase staff

A coalition of environmental and community leaders, from Boat Harbour, Harrietsfield, Lincolnville, Sipekne’katik, and Shelburne came together, April 21, at the Wooden Monkey in Halifax to launch a non-partisan Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR)

The Bill, developed by the Nova Scotia Environmental Rights Working Group (NSERWG), endeavours to give everyone in the province legal access to a healthy environment. While similar laws exist in other provinces, this is the first time a proposed EBR recognizes the troubling issues challenging traditionally marginalized or vulnerable residents.

But Shelburne’s black community was outraged after a disparaging comment on Facebook, the following day, by its town councillor Rick Davis who accused Shelburne resident and black advocate, Louise Delisle, of “playing the race card.”

Delisle, speaking at the EBR forum said she believed a dump that operated in the south end of Shelburne caused devastating health effects in the black population.

“If you do any research you will find across North America, dumps or landfills located in black or native communities,” Delisle is reported by the Herald News as saying. “Groups of people are exposed to something that kills them through no fault of their own.”

In his Facebook rebuttal, Davis reportedly said: “I think it’s time to stop trying to find fault, and push blame. I think it’s time to stop playing the racism card. It’s old.”

Davis reportedly apologized after the event, but Delisle is asking that he step down.

Ingrid Waldron, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Professions and Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health Project (ENRICH), explained that the Bill’s focus on marginalized communities, reflects the reality of environmental racism in Nova Scotia.

“Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities are disproportionately burdened by the health risks associated with polluting industries and other environmentally hazardous activities. If we want to ensure that all Nova Scotians have a right to a healthy environment, our policies must strategically target the ills they are meant to relieve in communities most affected by those ills,” Waldron said.

It’s just as well, the bill would enshrine the right to a healthy environment in law and specifically address the concerns of marginalized communities

“Without a right to a healthy environment the people of Nova Scotia do not have the legal tools they need when decisions, made outside of their control, leave them in a polluted community, threatening their health and environment,” said Lisa Mitchell, Executive Director of the East Coast Environmental Law Association (ECELAW).

“Access to clean water, unpolluted air and uncontaminated land should be a fundamental right for all people, and yet it is not.”

The Bill is the work of the Environmental Rights Working Group, a coalition, whose mandate is to create legally-based environmental rights in Nova Scotia. The coalition members include the Ecology Action Centre, Sierra Club of Canada, the ENRICH Project, law students and several others.

The East Coast Environmental Law Association initiated the ERWG in 2014 since when there has been a growing movement across Canada. Private member Bills on Environmental Racism (Bill 111) and Environmental Rights (Bill 178) were introduced in 2016, but did not proceed past second reading.

The Environmental Bill of Rights proposed on 21 April, builds on these earlier efforts. In the belief that the right to a healthy environment transcends party lines, the ERWG has been urging Nova Scotians to call their provincial representatives and express their support for the Bill.

The speakers at the launch of the EBR included Marlene Brown, from the Community of Harrietsfield; Jonathan Beadle, Pictou Landing First Nation; Raymond Sheppard, Community of Lincolnville; Dorene Bernard, Sipekne’katik (Indian Brook) First Nation; Louise Delisle, Community of Shelburne; and Lisa Mitchell, ECELAW.

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