Did you know Canada is among the eight per cent of UN member states that fails to recognize the right to a healthy environment? That means that all Canadians can enjoy a service anywhere in the country – which is fantastic – while we have no legal right to fresh air, clean water, or safe soil. It also means we intentionally omitted from our Supreme Law what we often proclaim to value most – nature.
We’ve come a long way in recent times. The introduction of agriculture, the age of enlightenment, and the industrial revolution rapidly transformed the way we live and think about the world. But as societies increasingly recognized individual liberties and rights, we seemed to forget that we are a small part of a much greater interconnected web of life.
The reality of climate change has forced us to reflect on our fundamental values and the path we are currently on as Canadians. Are we truly lovers of nature? Do future generations deserve to enjoy the abundance that we do now? Should our beer commercials be set in the mountains, and should we even have a leaf on our flag?
It will be tempting to allow the economy to enter into the discussion as if it is a directly competing interest of the environment rather than a wholly owned subsidiary of it. Let’s remember our common goal to create a future in which all Canadians have a means to provide for their families.
If we choose to take action, we can look abroad for inspiration. In Argentina, a landmark ruling forced several levels of government to commence a ten year, multi-billion dollar effort to restore and preserve the countries’ largest watershed. Research from the 110 countries around the world with environmental rights protection in their constitution reveals stronger environmental laws, stricter enforcement, increased government transparency and public engagement, and smaller ecological footprints as a result.
Constitutional reform is no small task, and will by no means resolve all of our ecological dilemmas. However, protection for the environment in our Supreme law will symbolize a collective commitment to the creation of a sustainable future, and provide potent substantial and procedural laws to guide us on our way.
If you’d like to learn more about the growing environmental rights movement, check out the following events and resources.
Halifax Blue Dot Kick-off
Nov. 23 in the atrium of the Steel Ocean Sciences building (1–4 p.m)
Environmental Law Students Society lunch and learn
Nov. 18 in room 204 of the Weldon Law Building (12 p.m.)
Sign a petition to join the tens of thousands of Canadians supporting green rights.
Take a look at this firm’s research and current litigation strategy.
Explore environmental rights work being done in the Maritimes.
Hear and see environmental rights success stories from around the world.
Books by David Boyd, law professor and leading scholar on Environmental Rights
The Environmental Rights Revolution (2012), The Right to A Healthy Environment (2012).