Legislature

Activists lobby for passage of Bill 111 to address environmental racism

Supporters says the bill is the first of its kind in the history of Canada to be debated

Lynn Jones (left) and Lenore Zann said they're hopeful Bill 111 will pass its second reading.
Lynn Jones (left) and Lenore Zann said they’re hopeful Bill 111 will pass its second reading.   Sarah Poko

About 30 people crowded the foyer of Province House for a press conference in support of Bill 111 on Tuesday morning. Members of the African Nova Scotian and First Nations community attended the conference to discuss the bill, which addresses environmental racism.

NDP MLA Lenore Zann introduced the bill to the Legislature in Apr. 2015. She said the objective of the bill is to gather a committee to interview communities that are experiencing environmental racism. The committee then reports their findings back to the government after a year.

“The committee would be made up of three people from the environmental department, three people from the black, First Nations and Acadian communities, and two people from the Human Rights Commission,” she said.

Zann defines environmental racism as “the disproportionate number of dumps, toxic waste sites and landfills that are placed on or beside African Nova Scotian or Aboriginal communities.”

Not a new thing

Zann said it was Dalhousie School of Nursing assistant professor Ingrid Waldron who first informed her of environmental racism. Zann said she then realised she had also witnessed environmental racism as a child when she visited her grandmother in Australia. Her grandmother’s house was beside an Aboriginal community.

“My grandmother said it was racist that people were dumping things there,” said Zann. “As if to say that the people themselves weren’t worth anything. So when Ingrid brought this up to me, I put two and two together.”

Zann attended the conference with social activist, Lynn Jones. Jones represented Waldron and the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health (ENRICH) Project, a group which has been pushing for the bill to be passed into law. She said the Liberal government has no reason not to pass this bill.

“It’s not rocket science,” she said. “We’re taking pro-active measures to give the government an opportunity to address all these past wrongs and approve it – unanimously.”

Youth involvement and support

About 500 people signed a petition supporting Bill 111 and the majority of signatures were from students. Jones said she was surprised that so many youth would care.

“We held an event an Dalhousie and there were a lot of young people who were really concerned about environmental racism,” she said. “The numbers and their passion were beyond my wildest imagination.”

Former Lincolnville resident Raymond Sheppard attended the conference to support the bill. He said young people are now more open-minded as most of them have friends in various communities.

“I think as young Caucasian people become more aware, they don’t necessarily hold onto the beliefs of their parents or grandparents,” said Sheppard.

Sheppard reasoned that people who wish to decrease global warming should also be supportive of Bill 111 as they both aim to create a better place for future generations. He also said white people should not feel guilty when talking about racism.

“Racism is based on power and control. If you have no power to influence people of colour in a negative way and you’re working to help, then there’s no need to feel guilty,” said Sheppard.

Carrying a torch

Although Bill 111 would only have jurisdiction in Nova Scotia, Zann said the bill has received recognition across North America.

Jones said she has faith the bill will past its second reading, but she acknowledged that the bill might not pass into law.

“People really aren’t interested and are not ready for the realty of racism in this province and it has happened before,” said Jones. “The reality of it is, it exists and it’s not going away unless we start addressing it.”

Filmed and edited by Sarah MacMillan.

The second reading of the bill is scheduled for this afternoon. Zann will submit the petition and defend the bill in the House of Legislature.