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Halifax celebrates Blue Dot movement day of action

by Rebecca Hussman

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -- Last Sunday, more than 80 communities across Canada participated in a day of action for the Blue Dot movement, a grassroots campaign started by the David Suzuki Foundation and environmental law charity Ecojustice Canada.

The movement calls on the Canadian government to add the right to a healthy environment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In order to achieve the goal of amending the constitution, locally-based Blue Dot teams begin by working with municipal leaders, asking them to declare their support of the goal to add environmental rights to the Charter.

So far, in the last eight months, there have been a total of 36 municipal declarations achieved: 25 in B.C., 4 in Quebec, 3 in Ontario, 3 in Manitoba, 1 in the Northwest Territories and 1 in the Yukon.

At the start of the new year, Halifax Blue Dot community organizer Katie Perfitt and volunteer Kate MacEachern-Ali presented to Halifax City Council and the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee, who have sent the declaration to their city staff to evaluate what the implications of the declaration would be for the city.

“We’ve already had a lot of verbal support from our councillors so we’re very hopeful that they will do the right thing and that they will move this forward to a vote at full council,” says Perfitt.

Perfitt says the report will be completed and returned to council for review by mid-May.

As Halifax Blue Dot members wait for the declaration, the day of action marked a turning point in their campaign.

“I think that in the Atlantic region, Halifax does play a huge leadership role. I believe that when Halifax jumps on board, we’re going to see a huge tidal wave of action happening in this part of the country,” says Perfitt.

“We’re continuing to support Halifax municipality, but this is the time when we’re going to start shifting our attention to helping other communities across Nova Scotia join the Blue Dot movement,” she adds.

The community gathering that happened in the afternoon took place at Victoria Park, after a morning filled with organized bike rides and hikes by Long Lake. The events were a result of a collaboration between the Dal Bike Centre and the Dal Outdoors Society.

“I feel that (a) close relationship with nature is very much a part of our Canadian identity,” says Halifax Blue Dot volunteer Kara Martin. “And that's something that I want my children to be able to appreciate as well. I want all current Canadians and future Canadians to inherit that right.”

Martin says it’s also about having the legal tools to express these values, which include the right to clean air, safe water and healthy soil.

“It’s also about us saying that we want the Canadian economy to be sustainable and resilient into the future, and create sustainable long-lasting jobs,” she adds.

Keynote speaker Silver Donald Cameron of TheGreenInterview.com also offered words of wisdom to the crowd gathered in Victoria Park for the day’s final event.

Cameron says that without constitutional environmental rights, Canadians currently do not have the tools to address any environmental degradation as they see it.

“If you’re driving along and you see, you know, some kind of pollutant going into the harbour, or you’re living with choking exhaust from vehicles or industries or something like that, see at the moment you would have to go to court and say, ‘I personally am suffering from this issue, this pollutant or whatever it is, and I’m suffering and I can say that that source there affects me directly and personally, and I can put a dollar value on it.’ And that's not easy to do.”

Cameron then referenced the case of Harrietsfield, a community in Nova Scotia that is without access to clean water because it is downstream from a construction and demolition waste site.

“The effluent from that dump has gotten into the groundwater, and it’s interacted with things like natural uranium - what’s in the rock already - and so you now have a number of people whose wells are so bad that they can't even wash in it,” says Cameron. “They can’t wash their children it, they can’t shower - it’s only good for flushing, really. And there’s nothing much that they can do about it! ’Cause they have a ministerial order that they have to clean it up, but there’s been a succession of owners of the property.

“So now you’ve got to show as a householder, that it was the third owner of the property that issued the particular bit of pollution that affected the groundwater that is in your well now. You’ll never do it! But what you can do - if you had environmental rights - you can go back to the province and say, ‘Doesn’t matter! Doesn’t matter who did it- fix it.’ And the problem would then be up to the province to deal with the original polluters.”

Thus the key to having constitutional environmental rights lies in the fact that it would give every Canadian legal standing to take action on any environmental issue without having to prove how it personally, narrowly, affected them (and cost them a particular amount of money in damages).

Now, as the Charter is, Canadians technically have the right to life - which many argue includes the right to clean air, safe water and healthy soils. However, as many cases in Nova Scotia and the rest of the country can attest, the current wording and provisions of the Charter are not enough to protect the citizens and resources of this country from exploitation and harm.
The day of action drew lots of attention to the cause, and the movement is only growing. As Perfitt points out, on top of the 36 declarations, there have been over 14,000 people who have signed up as Blue Dot volunteers and over 70,000 have signed the petition to amend the Charter.

“It’s picked up in a way that we’ve never dreamed, and so this day is really to celebrate that.”

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