Office of Environmental Justice and Equity

The Green Budget Coalition recommends that the Government of Canada provide funding to ECCC to establish a new high-level Office of Environmental Justice and Equity tasked with:

  • Improving understanding of the burden of preventable environmental health hazards faced by racialized and/or disadvantaged communities;
  • Assessing possible interventions; and
  • Ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to enjoy the same level of protection from environmental health hazards and access to environmental health benefits. Bill C-230, a private Member’s bill reported by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in
    the second session of the 43rd Parliament, would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop and report regularly on a strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and advance environmental justice; the Office of Environmental Justice and Equity could support this task.

Increasing evidence confirms that racialized and/or disadvantaged communities bear a disproportionate burden from the effects of climate change and preventable environmental health hazards, such as pollution, toxic substances in consumer products, and environmental degradation. According to PHAC, significant health inequities exist among Canadians living on low incomes, Indigenous people, racial and sexual minorities, immigrants, and people living with physical or mental impairments. While climate change will affect everyone, federal government reports repeatedly confirm that it will exacerbate these existing inequities.

Government programs, policies and regulations that address environmental health hazards rarely address population-level inequities. Canada currently lacks coordinated capacity to ensure racialized and/or disadvantaged communities have the opportunity to enjoy the same level of environmental protection as other Canadians.

A federal Office of Environmental Justice and Equity would support ongoing assessment of preventable environmental health hazards affecting racialized and disadvantaged communities, and identify opportunities to advance environmental justice. The new Office would champion efforts to integrate environmental health equity in all relevant government programs, policies, and activities, and assist with coordination. Benefits will manifest as reduced health inequities and a healthier population overall, health care savings and increased productivity.

A model has existed in the United States since the early 1990s in the Office of Environmental Justice, mandated to protect and promote environmental and public health in minority, low-income, tribal, and other vulnerable communities. A complementary Executive Order issued in 1994 established a high-level Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice and required every federal agency to make achieving environmental justice part of its mission. Under the Biden administration, a January 2021 Executive Order on “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” directs government agencies to prioritize and advance environmental justice in multiple areas.

The Green Budget Coalition recommends a Canadian Office of Environmental Justice and Equity at ECCC also support a whole-of-government approach, mirroring the governance structure in the U.S., working actively to coordinate with other departments.

Recommended Investments [ECCC]:

  • $25 million over two years in start-up funds for a new Office of Environmental Justice and Equity, including the development of a national strategy on environmental racism and environmental justice, and then $15 million per year ongoing in annual operating funding; and
  • $7 million per year ongoing (starting in 2022-23) to expand the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators to support the data collection needed to enable environmental justice analysis for these indicators and an equity lens within the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. Recommendation endorsed by the Centre for Environmental Health Equity. See also Chemicals Management Plan Top-Up, later in this document, regarding additional recommended investments to enable assessment of cumulative effects and risks to people in vulnerable situations.

Contacts

Lisa Gue – lgue@davidsuzuki.org
Theresa McClenaghan – theresa@cela.ca