Last week I attended the David Suzuki Foundation Blue Dot Tour here in Toronto. I admit, I didn’t really know what the tour was about (they had me at “David Suzuki”). I figured it had to do with climate change and I’m always interested in what Suzuki has to say on that subject.
Plus I knew there were going to be other performers and speakers — Chantal Kreviazuk & Raine Maida, Barenaked Ladies, Stephen Lewis, to name a few. So it promised to be an entertaining and enlightening evening. It it was!
But I had NO idea the scope of what Suzuki and his colleagues and supporters hope to accomplish through this tour. Get this: They are trying to build Canadians’ right to a healthy environment into the Constitution.
How do they plan to do this? By amending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Many environmental activists want substantive environmental rights accepted as a part of Canadian law. Some are focused on expanding such rights to include the right to a healthy climate. How could this be done? It’s a long, long, long-shot, but the best possibilities are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, aboriginal law, and the concept of public trust. – Dianne Saxe EnviroLaw
As Canadians know, but my American friends may not, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada. The courts test federal and provincial statutes, regulations and activities against the Charter and when confronted with violations, may strike those activities down as unconstitutional.
By ultimately enshrining Canadians’ rights to clean water, clean air, and healthy food in the Charter, every action the government plans to take — whether damming a river, building a pipeline, approving a strip mine or removing protection for fish, forests or waterways — will have to show that it is not in violation of the charter before it can proceed.
Sounds groundbreaking, doesn’t it?
It’s not really. Canada is lagging far behind in recognizing the importance of its citizens’ environmental rights. Portugal (in 1976) and Spain (1978) were the first countries to include the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.
In the last 50 years, the right to a healthy environment has gained recognition around the world faster than any other human right. More than 110 countries now recognize their citizens’ right to a healthy environment. – EcoJustice
If a Charter amendment is successful, this has the potential of creating a huge positive ripple effect.
Nations with environmental provisions in their constitutions have smaller ecological footprints, rank higher on comprehensive indices of environmental indicators created by researchers at Simon Fraser University and the Conference Board of Canada, are more likely to ratify international environmental agreements, and made faster progress in reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and greenhouse gases than nations without such provisions. (David Boyd, Environment Magazine)
As well, prioritizing the health of the environment may serve to level the playing field with competing social and economic rights.
In many nations where environmental rights are articulated in constitutions, courts have rejected challenges in which plaintiffs alleged that their property rights were violated by environmental laws or policies. (David Boyd, Environment Magazine)
So how is this going to happen in Canada? The Blue Dot plan is pretty straightforward — start at the bottom.
- 1. People stand up.
- 2. Neighbours come together to change a city
- 3. Cities come together to change a province
- 4. And provinces come together to change a nation
When seven out of 10 provinces representing more than 50 per cent of the Canadian population have recognized our right to a healthy environment we turn toward the ultimate goal: amending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Bluedot.ca)
- The Blue Dot Tour Official site
- Blue Dot Tour Schedule – Find your city and book tickets!
- Environmental Law & Litigation: News and analysis (not advice) by a top Ontario environmental lawyer
- Environment Magazine: The Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment, David Boyd
- EcoJustice: Right to a Healthy Environment