Environmental Racism

Introduction

Aeration ponds, Boat Harbour effluent treatment ponds, Abercrombie Point, Nova Scotia (1990s). Source: Verne Equinox


In Canada, some political commentators and Canadian politicians have questioned and even denied that Canada has a history of systemic racism. [1] To most Canadian historians, however, systemic racism is an obvious and pernicious part of the history of this country. This is evident in the legacies of environmental racism in Canada.

Environmental racism is a concept and field of study that examines the ways in which racism influences inequitable exposures to environmental hazards and access to natural resources. Across the country, Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of colour are disproportionately exposed to toxic hazards and have limited access to environmental services and amenities like parks and clean drinking water. In Canadian history, environmental racism is mediated through the structures of settler colonialism upon which the country was founded. The field of environmental racism emerged in the 1980s in the US out of the scholarship on environmental justice and the work of the Commission for Racial Justice. The Commission’s report “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States” was one of the earliest studies to outline the concept of environmental racism.

This chapter features a podcast interview with Ingrid Waldron, a scholar of the history of environmental racism in Nova Scotia. It also features a 1991 documentary on the history of Africville, an Afro-Nova Scotian community that was destroyed and displaced by an urban renewal project in the 1960s.

Interpretations

  1. Kheraj, Sean. “Episode 69: Environmental Racism and Canadian History” Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. 29 July 2020.
  2. National Film Board of Canada. “Remember Africville” Directed by Shelagh Mackenzie, 1991.

[1] Meera Estrada, “COMMENTARY: Yes, there is systemic racism in Canada — our history is filled with it” Global News, accessed July 22, 2020.