Now there is a proposed federal bill that aims to understand and tackle environmental racism in Canada. However, I believe that for it to be effective and truly center on racialized communities and individuals in it, it needs to be approached from an intersectional perspective that prioritizes the healing and unique experiences of these communities and individuals.
Environmental racism, a form of systemic racism, happens when environmental policies and practices intentionally, or unintentionally result in increased harm to Indigenous, Black, or other racialized communities in the form of increased pollution, health risks, diseases, violence, substance abuse, etc.
There have been, and still are, multiple cases of environmental racism in Canada, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion happening in BC that has disregarded the concern of communities affected along its route, and that have publicly opposed its development. Additionally, Indigenous people across Canada still face water-boil advisories that have made their communities sick for decades, something that is unacceptable and does not happen to the rest of the country.
To truly understand and address a systemic problem such as environmental racism, we need to look at it with an intersectional lens. Environmental racism and systemic racism in general, are not one-size-fits-all types of problems. Different communities, groups, and individuals experience the issues in different ways. For example, even though both Indigenous and Black people face racism and are victims of environmental racism in Canada, Indigenous people are targeted differently because, through colonialism, their connection to the land has been specifically used to inflict violence upon them and their territories.
Additionally, environmental racism in Canada also needs to be seen as a gender equality issue because women, girls, and intersex People of Colour are targeted not only for their race, ethnicity, or skin colour, but also for their gender. Their intersectional identities put them in greater danger of experiencing both racial violence as well as gender-based violence.
Because environmental racism endangers peoples’ lives, safety, culture, and identity and puts them at greater risk of violence and discrimination, the issue is not only an environmental rights issue but a human rights one. Therefore, Canada needs to take responsibility and respect the international rights that it is violating by allowing environmental racism to happen.