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"We're on the backs of others that have paved the way for us.”

Bill 111 - An Act to Address Environmental Racism, is introduced into Nova Scotia House of Assembly

by Miles Howe

On April 29th, 2015, Lenore Zann, Nova Scotia NDP MLA for Truro - Bible Hill - Millbrook  - Salmon Arm, introduced Bill 111, the Environmental Racism Prevention Act [Photo: M. Howe]
On April 29th, 2015, Lenore Zann, Nova Scotia NDP MLA for Truro - Bible Hill - Millbrook - Salmon Arm, introduced Bill 111, the Environmental Racism Prevention Act [Photo: M. Howe]
“It's not about us just doing this today. We're on the backs of others that have paved the way for us.” - Lynn Jones. [Photo: M. Howe]
“It's not about us just doing this today. We're on the backs of others that have paved the way for us.” - Lynn Jones. [Photo: M. Howe]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Today, April 29th, 2015, may well be the day that in future is celebrated as the day that the province of Nova Scotia took the first brave political step towards accounting for its genocidal, racist, past. Today, in the provincial house of assembly, Lenore Zann, New Democratic Party Member of the Legislature for Truro – Bible Hill – Millbrook – Salmon River, introduced Bill 111, the Environmental Racism Prevention Act.

The Act itself, as a private members bill, certainly isn't a sure thing to get passed into legislation. If Zann does manage to find appetite for the bill amongst the provincial opposition Conservative or majority Liberal parties, the Act calls for the establishment of an eight person panel to “examine the issue of environmental racism in the Province, and provide recommendations to address it.” The panel will be composed of:

“a) three members chosen by the Minister of Environment from among the members of the Round Table established pursuant to the Environment Act;

b) two members chosen by the Minister responsible for the Human Rights Act from among the members of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission; and

c) three members chosen by the Minister responsible for the Human Rights Act, of whom there must be one from

  • the African Nova Scotian community,

  • the First Nations' community, and

  • the Acadian community”

Within a year of coming into force, this panel will be mandated to engage in province-wide public consultations on the matter of environmental racism, giving special emphasis to consulting with “African Nova Scotian, First Nations' and Acadian communities and provide a report to the Ministers that sets out its findings and recommendations.”

In a bill drafting/press conference, Zann acknowledged that Bill 111 – and her knowledge of the issue of environmental racism – was largely due to the tireless work of Dr. Ingrid Waldron, of the Dalhousie School of Nursing and the ENRICH project, as well as African Nova Scotian and longtime activist and organizer Lynn Jones.

Both Waldron and Jones, in taking the podium and addressing the gathered crowd at the press conference, were quick to point out that their work was merely following in the footsteps of countless activists and community members, who, despite not previously knowing of the term “environmental racism”, certainly knew of its debilitating effects.

“To me, now, this environmental racism and its eradication? It's a movement,” said Jones, to a rich round of applause. “So you're now part of this movement. And the movement didn't start with us and we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the number of Aboriginal and African Nova Scotians who had to endure, suffer, who knows what health effects. We all have stories about cancer and what have you, and who knows what these toxic waste sites did to the people that came before us.”

“It's not about us just doing this today. We're on the backs of others that have paved the way for us.”

Dr. Waldron, for her part, expressed some surprise, after years of work, that the moment had arrived for the legitimization – through a first attempt at legislation – of her and others' efforts.

“I'm extremely excited about this and very grateful to Lenore for moving this forward,” noted Waldron. “The ENRICH project has been going on for about three years and this is real progress, progress that I did not entertain or expect. I think it's a first step in building relationships with community members. Yes, I think that some of these sites need to be removed or relocated, redirected, but I don't think that can happen before honest relationships are built.”

Waldron and Zann also cited the work of the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, which for several years has been engaged in a project to map sites in the province demarcated as “environmentally racist”. Although the map remains a work in progress, notable inclusions include the landfill near Lincolnville, Nova Scotia, an African Nova Scotian community, as well as the Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility, in the backyard of the Pictou Landing First Nation community.

Zann, for her part, remained hopeful that given the majority Liberal government's recent commitment to close and remediate the Boat Habour facility, the time might be right to see her private members' bill through towards legislation. Zann also did not shy away from the fact that disproportionately situating environmental catastrophes next to marginalized communities was only one example of the underlying stew of racism that continues to percolate in the province.

“I think we all would be aware that there's been racism, deep roots of racism, in Nova Scotia,” said Zann. “This [bill] is definitely trying to address that and to say that you can have a healthy, clean, environment and you can have jobs. But these industries don't have to be in the backyards of racialized communities or poor people.”

When I asked Zann, why, after centuries of colonization, land theft, slavery, genocide and discrimination, the moment was right for this bill, her answer was simple:

“Why not?”


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