Nova Scotia bill aims to address legacy of 'environmental racism'

A new private member's bill is being introduced today to address, what some say is, a legacy of "environmental racism" in Nova Scotia.

'Act to Address Environmental Racism,' to propose committee to hold public meetings on issue

A new private member's bill is being introduced today to address, what some say is, a legacy of "environmental racism" in Nova Scotia.

Ingrid Waldron, assistant professor at Dalhousie University's School of Nursing, says she has researched environmental racism as part of an examination of how social factors shape community health.

While the concept has been around since the 1970s, Waldron says the definition will be new to many Nova Scotians. 

"The disproportionate location of industries that produce toxic waste, contaminants, and pollutants in racialized communities. In other words, non-white communities," she says.

Waldron says the Halifax neighbourhood of Africville is a historic example of the problem: The city's dump and a slaughterhouse were built next to a black community founded in the late 1700s. 

Paper mill effluent ponds next to the Pictou Landing First Nation, and the landfills built in black community of Lincolnville in Guysborough County are current examples, she says. 

Lenore Zann, the New Democrat MLA from Truro-Bible Hill who's introducing the private member's bill, thinks it's a matter of addressing past wrongs, and repairing relationships with minority communities that have been at the tailpipe of the province's industrial development. 

"Part of that bridging of the gap is acknowledging things that have been done in the past that should not have been done and should not be done in the future," says Zann.

Bill 'a very good first step'

Zann's private member's bill, "An Act to Address Environmental Racism," will propose creating a committee to hold public meetings on environmental racism around the province. The committee would then report findings back to government.

Zann says other aspects of the bill will be announced Wednesday.

"I think consultations need to take place, because for people who aren't used to that terminology, we need to start talking about about it and finding out, 'What does that mean to various different communities?' and, 'What are communities prepared to do? and what is the government prepared to do to made sure that these injustices don't continue in the future?'"

Zann thinks there are many lesser known examples of environmental racism in Nova Scotia. She remembers two town dumps in Truro that were built in two different black neighbourhoods. 

"I think it's a very good first step for government to even admit that there is a problem, and that we want to consult with the communities and with the municipalities as well, because municipalities are in charge of where the put waste-fill areas and where they put dumps."

Waldron thinks any public discussion around environmental racism is good for the province. 

"Extremely important because it's going to bring attention to the issue. Environmental racism will hopefully become a much more familiar term."