Environmental rights: The movement is building

The idea of a right to a healthy environment is getting traction at Canada’s highest political levels. Federal Opposition MP Linda Duncan recently introduced An Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights in Parliament. If it’s passed, our federal government will have a legal duty to protect Canadians’ right to live in a healthy environment.

The idea of a right to a healthy environment is getting traction at Canada’s highest political levels.

Federal Opposition MP Linda Duncan recently introduced An Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights in Parliament. If it’s passed, our federal government will have a legal duty to protect Canadians’ right to live in a healthy environment.

I’m travelling across Canada with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Tour to encourage people to work for recognition of such a right — locally, regionally and nationally. At the local level, the idea of recognizing citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment is already taking hold. Richmond and Vancouver, B.C., The Pas, Man., and the Montreal borough of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie all recently passed municipal declarations recognizing this basic right.

Our ultimate goal is to have the right to a healthy environment recognized in the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a federal environmental bill of rights is a logical precursor. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself was preceded by a federal statute, the Bill of Rights, enacted under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government in 1960.

This isn’t a partisan issue. It appeals to people across the political spectrum and has broad support among Canadians. An earlier attempt to pass a Canadian environmental bill of rights (also led by Linda Duncan) gained the support of MPs from various parties before its passage through Parliament was interrupted by the 2011 federal election. In France, conservative leader Jacques Chirac championed the idea of environmental rights during his presidency. After more than 70,000 French citizens attended public hearings, the Charter for the Environment was enacted in 2005 with support from all political parties.

I’ve seen so many positive changes in our legal systems and social safety net in my 78 years — including adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. My family was incarcerated in the B.C. Interior during the Second World War, just for being of Japanese descent, even though we were born and raised in Canada. Like other people of colour, my parents didn’t have the right to vote until 1948. First Nations people on reserves couldn’t vote until 1960. And women weren’t even considered “persons” under Canadian law until 1918, when they were given voting rights. Homosexuality was a crime punishable by prison until 1969! I’m convinced that legal recognition for environmental rights will be the next big change.

Progress is possible when enough people recognize its necessity and come together to make it happen. Protecting our country and planet, our health and the future of our children and grandchildren is absolutely necessary. We can’t live and be well without clean air and water, nutritious food and the numerous services that diverse and vibrant natural environments provide.

Even in Canada, where our spectacular nature and abundant water are sources of pride, we can no longer take these necessities for granted. More than 1,000 drinking-water advisories are in effect in Canada at any time, many of them in First Nations communities. More than half of us live in areas where air quality reaches dangerous levels of toxicity. And from Grassy Narrows and Sarnia’s Chemical Valley in Ontario to Fort Chipewyan, people are being poisoned because industrial interests and profits are prioritized over their right to live healthy lives.

It’s not about hindering industry; it’s about ensuring that companies operating in Canada, as well as our governments, maintain the highest standards and that human health and well-being are always the priority. Evidence shows strong environmental protection can benefit the economy by spurring innovation and competitiveness and reducing health-care costs. This is about giving all Canadians greater say in the democratic process and looking out for the long-term prosperity of Canada.

More than half the world’s nations already recognize environmental rights. It’s time for Canada to live up to its values and join this growing global movement.

There’s no date yet for a vote on Bill C-634, but its introduction has started a conversation among politicians in Ottawa. Let’s hope people from across the political spectrum will recognize the importance of ensuring that all Canadians have the right to a healthy environment.

Scientist, author and broadcaster David Suzuki wrote this column with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Just Posted

Red Deer officials will allow Calgary to trial alcohol in parks

The result could determine if local rules are relaxed

RDSO plays ‘rousing’ Scottish tunes to celebrate Robbie Burns Day

Violinist Kai Gleusteen will solo at the Jan. 26 show at RDC Arts Centre

Updated: Sylvan Lake council adopts waterfront plan

Sustainable Waterfront Area Redevelopment Plan to guide development for next 20 years

Driver who backed into Red Deer pizzeria sentenced

David Andrew Amstutz sentenced for failing to remain at the crash scene

Shaw getting ready to raise prices for its main residential service, CEO says

CALGARY — Residential customers of Shaw Communications Inc. will likely see a… Continue reading

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Fashion Fridays: Inspirational gym outfits

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Company issues lifetime ban after man jumps from cruise ship

Nick Naydev posted the video last week showing him standing on the balcony of the Symphony of the Seas

Unruly passenger forces B.C.-bound flight to divert to Calgary

Police say charges are pending against a woman in her 40s

Inflation rises as higher airfares, veggie prices offset cheaper gas

Statistics Canada says inflation accelerated to two per cent in December

Canadian tattoo artist inks Toronto skyline on Blue Jays pitcher Stroman

Marcus Stroman found a way to show his appreciation for Toronto when… Continue reading

Team World sweeps opening day against Team North America at Continental Cup

LAS VEGAS — Team North America has some serious ground to make… Continue reading

SXSW to screen ‘Run This Town,’ which includes Rob Ford character

TORONTO — A drama that features a portrayal of the late Toronto… Continue reading

Fans buy ‘Little House on the Prairie’ star’s memorabilia

GENOA TOWNSHIP, Mich. — More than 200 items belonging to “Little House… Continue reading

Most Read