Ellen Page expresses frustration with 'absolutely horrifying' environmental racism in N.S.

In a new doc, the Canadian actress takes a searing look at injustices in her home province.

In a new doc, the Canadian actress takes a searing look at injustices in her home province

Halifax-born Ellen Page's documentary There’s Something in the Water delves into environmental racism in Nova Scotia. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/The Associated Press)

Ellen Page first became a household name 13 years ago for her portrayal of a wisecracking teen in Juno, but activism has also played a big part in her public image, from co-creating the LGBTQ travel series Gaycation to taking aim at U.S. President Donald Trump.

Now, Nova Scotia's most famous acting export is using her celebrity platform to highlight environmental racism in her home province. 

In the new documentary There's Something in the Water, Page and co-director Ian Daniel (whom she also collaborated with on Gaycation) reveal how environmental neglect disproportionately affects communities of colour.

"Essentially, [environmental racism] is the disproportionate placement of landfills and hazardous industry next to Indigenous and black communities," Page told q host Tom Power on the phone from her home in New York.

"Not only that, it's about the lack of government response to [their] suffering and trauma, which is very horrific."

One of the stories from the film, which is streaming now on Netflix, focuses on a predominantly black neighbourhood of Shelburne, N.S., which suffers from high cancer rates due to pollution from a dump placed there during the 1940s.

"These incredibly hazardous materials in their neighbourhood were also being burnt… so for a long time they've been dealing with contaminated water," explained Page.

"There's a conversation around whether or not the dump is actually responsible for that. So that'll remain to be seen with more tests and what have you. This dump is literally steps away from most of these homes."

There's Something in the Water is inspired by the book of the same name by Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor in Dalhousie University's school of nursing in Halifax.

In late 2018, Page endorsed Waldron's book on Twitter.

"Needless to say, it transformed so much of my idea of that province," Page said of making the film and learning about environmental racism.

"It's one thing to research all these things, but it was nothing like going to these communities and seeing a degree of suffering and trauma that's really unimaginable. … It was absolutely horrifying."

Page added that it's up to individuals to become aware of the inequality plaguing vulnerable communities, particularly now as COVID-19 spreads.

"It's our responsibility to educate ourselves. Complacency is a part of what causes the suffering."

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Jennifer Warren.