About the Project

What is Environmental Justice and How Does it Relate to Law in Canada?

The loss of biodiversity, the changing climate and the pollution in our air, water and soil affects us all, but the effects can be different depending on many factors, such as where we live, how old we are, our ethnicity and/or culture, and whether we have a disability. Examples of environmental injustice abound. For example, the Inuit living in the North are experiencing the impacts of climate change in a very different way than people living in urban areas in the South.  Our ability to cope with the impacts of environmental problems is also affected by our income levels, our education and the extent to which there are community resources available to support us, among other factors.  Also, the benefits of a clean and healthy environment are not always distributed fairly. Environmental justice encourages us to understand how environmental problems and their solutions affect different people and communities, and drives us to build a society where we share equitably in the planet’s resources.

Our legal system is at the root of how environmental problems are created and how they are addressed.  The choices we make in law have ripple effects throughout society and largely determine the values we hold most dear in a country.  A legal system can work to help ensure that everyone – including the most vulnerable people in society – have access to clean air and water and safe, nutritious food.  It is a matter of making sound choices.

We are a team of law professors interested in making sure our laws and policies promote an environmentally just Canada.  We are interested in a legal system that can effectively provide a clean environment for everyone, not only the privileged.  We want to be sure the growing pains of transitioning to a low-carbon economy, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation are not borne by the most vulnerable Canadians, but rather that our laws be an engine of progressive change, addressing environmental challenges while simultaneously promoting an equitable society.  We hope our research will contribute to building an ecologically robust and fair Canada.

Environmental Justice in Canadian Law and Policy

Environmental justice is an idea that emerged from a grassroots movement in the US in the 1980s, in reaction to the disproportionate number of toxic waste sites in racialized communities. Theoretical and empirical research on environmental justice around the world has been growing ever since, in tandem with community-based efforts to address the resulting injustices. Part of our project is to elaborate on environmental justice in a Canadian context, especially how it intersects with law and policy. For example, we will consider how environmental rights can promote environmental justice, and whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against environmental injustices. We will examine Indigenous rights and their role in promoting environmental justice for Indigenous communities. We will use a number of case studies to help us elaborate a coherent theory of environmental justice in Canadian law and policy.