We are a coalition of organizations that share a collective interest in fighting environmental injustice using a human rights-based approach.
We recognize that Canada’s unfair pattern of environmental harm is a reflection of deeper systemic issues that require systemic change. This includes disproportionate impacts experienced by: Black, Indigenous and people of colour; women; economically marginalized groups; children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
We advocate for the use of an intersectional approach, bringing to light how demographic factors combine to increase the likelihood of being subjected to environmental harm.
We recognize and appreciate existing work being undertaken by Indigenous and other groups, and direct our focus to what we can achieve collectively.
We collaborate to support and amplify each other’s work towards achieving environmental justice in its many forms.
We bring to light the inadequacy of existing laws and resulting failures to protect people, and explore how achieving recognition of the right to a healthy environment could strengthen environmental governance.
Constitutional Change is a long-term endeavour. In the near term, we seek to achieve the following objectives, which will contribute to achieving that ultimate goal.
1) Recognition of the right to a healthy environment in existing legislation (the Canadian Environmental Protection Act).
2) Recognition of the right to a healthy environment in new, stand-alone legislation (a federal Environmental Bill of Rights, or equivalent).
3) Achieve widespread awareness among the public and their elected representatives of the need for environmental rights by highlighting patterns of injustice and disproportionate impact in Canada. This includes supporting the development of a strategy to address environmental racism, as proposed in Bill C-230.
4) Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), including recognition of Indigenous legal systems and the right to free, prior and informed consent.
HOW DO WE PLAN ON ACHIEVING OUR GOAL?
Ultimately, we seek to have the right to a healthy environment recognized as a basic human right within Canada’s constitution (under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). As the highest law of the land, any law that a court finds is in violation of Canada’s constitution can be struck down as invalid.
There are three different ways that this could be accomplished:
Strategic litigation: This would involve a constitutional legal challenge (brought forth by an individual or organization) of a specific government action or decision that threatens the environment, on the basis that this would violate existing Charter rights. For example, a group could claim that in permitting dangerous levels of pollution in their community, the federal government has failed to uphold their existing constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person. They could argue that without the right to a healthy environment, it is impossible to uphold these existing rights. A legal victory would establish that existing Charter rights include the right to a healthy environment. This precedent would stand unless a subsequent decision overturned it.
Judicial reference: A federal, provincial, or territorial government could request the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify whether the right to a healthy environment is implicit in the right to life, liberty and security of the person. If the court decides that this is true, this becomes binding on lawmakers of all jurisdictions within Canada. This process has been used over a hundred times to clarify legal obligations under the Charter.
Constitutional amendment: Adding a new right to the Charter requires Parliament’s approval and the support of seven out of the ten provinces (representing more than more than half of Canada’s population). While not impossible, this would require a substantial amount of political will and alignment at both the federal and provincial level.