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New multimedia project to examine the rights of nature

Silver Donald Cameron’s GreenRights project to include footage from around the world

by Natascia Lypny

Silver Donald Cameron in Quito, Ecuador, where he attended the Global Rights of Nature Summit and Public Tribunal. [GreenRights Film Facebook page]
Silver Donald Cameron in Quito, Ecuador, where he attended the Global Rights of Nature Summit and Public Tribunal. [GreenRights Film Facebook page]

Canada is one of only 16 UN members worldwide that do not recognize the right to a healthy environment — and it shows, said a local environmental activist.

Silver Donald Cameron is on an international journey to capture on film the benefits of enshrining environmental rights. He hopes a multimedia project, dubbed GreenRights, will spur Canadians to fight to get environmental rights added to their own constitution.

“I hope it leaves Canadians jealous,” said Cameron from Ecuador, where he had recently attended the Global Rights of Nature Summit and Public Tribunal.

Cameron, the host of the Green Interview website, is travelling in South America with producer-director-cameraman Christ Beckett to collect stories detailing how people have used constitutions, legislation and laws and to flip their countries’ environmental health on their heads.

EXPLORE AN INTERACTIVE MAP OF CAMERON'S INTERVIEWS SO FAR

“The environment is something that can make you very, very depressed if you allow and we’re talking to people who are not depressed,” said Cameron.

Tackling environmental concerns as as varied as toxic watersheds, hydraulic fracturing, oil spills and deforestation, Cameron said the common thread of the people he’s encountered has been the sense that environmental rights protection is on the “edge of the rising tide” that is sweeping the globe. At its helm are efforts on the grassroots level, said Cameron.

“It’s people who clearly understand we’re in a crisis situation, where the Aboriginal people would say that we’ve lost the original instructions; the operating system for the planet did not allow for the heavy industrial exploitation that we have, and the planet is not putting up with it, and the planet is giving [us] as clear messages as it can that it can’t stand this kind of thing.

“The people who are seeing this, of course, are not the people who own large corporations or who are in different positions and so forth, because for them the system is working. It may be collapsing for the planet and for all the other species on the planet, but it’s working for them.”

Who it’s not working for is Canadians, said David Boyd. The British Columbia-based environmental lawyer inspired the GreenRights project when he visited Halifax in 2012 for the launch of his book The Right to a Healthy Environment. Boyd, along with the organizations Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation, have been fighting to get the right to a healthy environment added to Canada’s charter.

“Basically, having a constitutional right to a healthy environment would mean that every person in Canada would have a right to breathe clean air, drink safe drinking water, to eat healthy nutritious food and to live in a country that has flourishing, healthy ecosystems,” said Boyd.

“And a constitutional right to a healthy environment delivers on those essential promises by producing stronger environmental laws, better implementation and enforcement of those laws and enabling greater public participation in environmental decision-making.”

 

Why Canada doesn’t protect those rights is rooted somewhat in history: commonwealth countries and former British colonies have tended to follow the model of Britain in failing to make room for such provisions in their constitutions. But that’s changing: Kenya and Jamaica are two examples.

There are more recent causes at play, too. Cameron points to a federal government that is “really hostile to environmental activities” and tends to “see the environment as the enemy.”

Boyd also offers that many Canadians are blind to the extent of their country’s environmental problems and how well the government protects nature. He cites an Angus Reid poll commissioned by the David Suzuki Foundation that indicated half of those surveyed thought environmental rights were already enshrined in the charter; when they found out that was not the case, 83 per cent believed they should be.

“Despite the fact that there’s a pile of studies as tall as my desk that shows Canada falling behind other wealthy, industrialized countries in terms of our environmental record, that pile of evidence still hasn’t been able to overcome what I call the cultural myth of great, green Canada,” said Boyd.

The myth can’t be farther from the truth. The World Health Organization has found that 30,000 Canadians die every year as a result of environment-related actors, and more “suffer unnecessary illness,” said Boyd.

Still, Boyd is optimistic that provisions for the right to a healthy environment will make their way into the Canadian constitution in his lifetime — and he believes GreenRights could be a big part of that. Boyd said the project “will be really, really helpful in showing Canadians the power of these rights as they’ve been implemented around the world.”

From Ecuador, the first country to recognize the rights of Mother Nature, Cameron hopes his project will launch a significant public debate in Canada about healthy environment as a human right.

The GreenRights project will be rolled out with individual interviews on the Green Interview website, followed by a freely distributed film set for release in the fall. Cameron is also planning a television series with the stories he collects, as well as a book.

You can follow the GreenRights project’s progress on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Natascia Lypny on Twitter @wordpuddle.


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