Bill developed and championed by HOPE Chair in Peace and Health Ingrid Waldron to become Canada’s first environmental justice law

A view from inside a pipe as water flows out. Trees and grass can be seen in the distance.

Bill C-226 requires that the Minister of the Environment develop a national strategy both to protect marginalized communities from environmental racism and to advance environmental justice.

In January 2015 health sociologist Ingrid Waldron sat down at a Starbucks with then-Nova Scotia MLA Lenore Zann to talk about environmental racism. 

Waldron had been introduced to the idea in 2012 by an environmental activist in Halifax, who had made her aware that polluting industries and other environmental hazards are often disproportionately located in or near Indigenous, Black or other marginalized communities. 

Zann, says Waldron, had never heard the term environmental racism, but remembered many Indigenous communities in her native Australia that had been located next to dumps. 

Both agreed that something needed to be done. 

Together, they developed a plan for a private member’s bill that would address and mitigate the ways that contamination and other environmental health hazards disproportionately affect Indigenous, Black and racialized communities. 

Waldron, now the HOPE Chair in Peace and Health in the Global Peace and Social Justice program at McMaster, remembers Zann cautioning her that private member’s bills never get passed into law – but that introducing it in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly would be a great way to raise awareness of the issue. 

Fast forward a decade, and a version of that provincial bill will now become federal law – Bill C-226, which Zann sponsored in the federal legislature after she became an MP in 2019, and which Green Party leader Elizabeth May then sponsored when Zann lost her seat in the 2021 snap election. 

Bill C-226 requires that the Minister of the Environment develop a national strategy both to protect marginalized communities from environmental racism and to advance environmental justice. That strategy will include both a study that examines the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk, as well as specific measures that can be taken to assess, prevent and address environmental racism. 

Consultation with affected communities will be a key part of the strategy development, says Waldron, who is also the director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health Project (the ENRICH Project) and co-director of the Canadian Coalition for Environment and Climate Justice. 

In fact, many community and grass-roots organizations have already been involved with developing the bill, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Shake Up the Establishment, Environmental Defence, Kairos and the South End Environmental Injustice Society – and many, many others. 

Even so, says Waldron, having community consultation explicitly called for in the bill was significant. 

“One of the definitions of environmental racism is that impacted communities are never at the table,” she says. “We don’t need this to be an exercise in listening to their grief – we’ve done that, and it doesn’t accomplish anything. This bill enables communities to be directly involved in the co-creation of this national environmental justice strategy.” 

And while there are existing laws to protect people from environmental harm, Bill C-226 goes a step farther in explicitly acknowledging that establishing environmentally hazardous sites in Black, Indigenous and racialized communities is a form of racial discrimination – addressing the systemic aspect of environmental racism that goes beyond specific sites or incidents. 

“Environmental racism isn’t about one place, or one story – it’s a pattern over time, and it goes hand-in-hand with economic challenges, food insecurity, unemployment and other sociopolitical factors,” Waldron explains. “With this bill, we are not just protecting communities from environmental harm, but are also addressing the unjust structures and systems that make these communities more vulnerable to environmental harm in the first place.” 

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