Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on November 20, 2014 (updated: February 27, 2015)

Why we’re standing up for Canada’s right to a healthy environment

Margot VentonLawyer
Dr. Elaine MacDonaldScientist
Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn MitchellKaitlyn MitchellEcojustice Alumni
Kaitlyn Mitchell, Margot Venton, Elaine MacDonald

For years we have asked ourselves what Canada needs to better protect its residents and the environment. Over and over, we arrived at the same answer: Charter recognition of our right to a healthy environment.

It’s a big, audacious idea, sure. But we believe it is a big, audacious idea whose time has finally come.

Nearly 10 years ago, we met our clients Ron Plain and Ada Lockridge. We have sat in their living rooms and in the living rooms of others in Sarnia, Ontario, where the air quality is consistently ranked as among Canada’s worst.

We have seen firsthand how pollution from nearby petroleum refineries has chronically undermined the quality of their lives. In Sarnia, constant industrial noise means that the roar of a flare or wail of a siren can disrupt daily life at any time. Noxious smells linger in the air. Residents like Ron and Ada face ever-present threats to their health and the health of their families.

No Canadian should be forced to live under these conditions. It is not right for industries that make billions of dollars in profits every year to offload their toxic legacies onto communities like Sarnia and the nearby Aamjiwnaang First Nation. All of us, no matter who we are or where we live, should have the right to live in a healthy environment.

The truth of the matter is that this legal fight is an uphill battle. While the facts are simple — what is happening in Sarnia is, by most reasonable standards, unjust — Canada’s environmental laws consistently protect private rights at the expense of the public interest. As a result, an innovative legal case, like the one we brought on behalf of Ron and Ada, is often the only available avenue we have to challenge polluters and compel government action.

This is where the big, audacious idea of adding the right to a healthy environment to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms comes into play. Until our highest law recognizes that environmental rights are human rights, what is happening in Sarnia and far too many other Canadian communities will continue — and the legal fight to right these wrongs will not get any easier.

But thanks to committed supporters like you — people who believe in fairness and justice for all — we are a lot closer to seeing the Charter right to a healthy environment made a reality than we were just a year ago.

Four Canadian municipalities, including the City of Vancouver, have already adopted declarations recognizing their residents’ right to healthy environment. A federal environmental bill of rights has also been recently introduced in Parliament. These are all positive indications that Canadians have an appetite for change.

We’re excited about where this could go. We hope you are too.

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