Environmental Justice 101: Building Equity in Canada’s Environmental Movement

Like Greek yogurt, man buns, and ‘innovation,’ the word “justice” is popping up all over the place in the Canadian environmental community. However, this isn’t a fad – social and economic justice has been a part of the environmental movement for a long time, but only now is it getting its due recognition.

In the last decade or so, Canadian scholars and journalists have been asking a very important question: “where is Canada’s environmental justice movement?” (See Speaking for Ourselves p. 2). Historically speaking, we seem to be lagging behind our American neighbours, whose work to fight environmental injustice is strongly rooted in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Just as the Civil Rights Movement was focused in the South, where racial discrimination abounded, the environmental justice movement was centred in poorer, racialized communities where environmental discrimination was most heavily concentrated. High-polluting sites like waste management facilities, factories, and energy production infrastructure tended to be placed in minority-dominated areas, burdening the communities with a toxic environment and disastrous health outcomes. In wake of these disturbing trends, advocacy groups continue to call for equal protection from environmental harm, citing violation of basic civil rights laws. The ability to live free of environmental pollution, they said, should be a right for all citizens – not the privileged few.

So what about Canada? Where do we find the intersections between socio-economic equity and environmental protection in our own country?

In the last year, we’ve seen an uptake of the concept of environmental justice. Earlier this year during the Pan Am Games, over 10,000 people took to the streets of Toronto for the March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate. ‘Environmental justice’, ‘environmental equity’ and especially ‘climate justice’ labels are being used all across the country on campuses, in activist groups, ENGOs, and the like. This month, thousands of Canadians are expected to march in the 100% Possible’s March for Climate Solutions and Justice.