Access to clean water: Environmental Racism in Canada

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Since being in Canada I have been shocked at the amount of pollution in the water available to rural communities. But what has become more prevalent is when I have looked at the demographics of the communities impacted – they tend to be those that are predominantly of colour.

A film released in 2019 by Elliot Page called There’s Something in the Water provides a very disturbing portrait of the environmental and social disasters that have occurred in Nova Scotia alone. Unlike many other countries, Canada does not have a legislated environmental justice lens, and therefore, the issue remains mostly invisible and unaddressed. So much so that in 2019 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances, Baskut Tuncak, said Canada’s Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by toxic waste. The Indigenous communities feel so neglected and abandoned by the Canadian Government that they feel it falls under cultural genocide.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances said Canada’s Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by toxic waste.

For example, the Neskantaga First Nation were evacuated to Thunder Bay after an oily sheen was found on their reservoir late last year. The community has already been living under a boil-water advisory for 26 years.

In Sarnia, Ontario lies Chemical Valley, a 15-mile stretch of manufactures for 40% of Canada’s petrochemicals. Particulates and harmful chemicals from Chemical Valley find their way to the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair which has been the cause of water intake shut downs due to chemical contamination. In the midst of it all lies Aamjiwnaang, a Chippewa First Nations reservation over 300 years old.

Yet the federal government still hasn’t launched a health study to properly investigate the effects on local residents.

Lack of access to clean water is very much a racial inequality issue here in Canadian society that is not well understood.

Lack of access to clean water is very much a racial inequality issue here in Canadian society that is not well understood in wider implications for these communities on their mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing, educational success and cultural continuity. As outsider I have only started to scratch the surface. But what are some things that we can do? Well, get educated!