Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Professor Dayna Nadine Scott: Chemical Valley compromises First Nation people's rights

Professor Dayna Nadine Scott: Chemical Valley compromises First Nation people's rights

The cumulative impact of the relentless release of pollutants into the air from Canada’s "Chemical Valley" affects the members of Aamjiwnaang in a way that is fundamentally unfair, and is now argued to be unconstitutional, wrote Dayna Nadine Scott, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and co-director of the National Network on Environments & Women’s Health in The Sarnia Observer Nov. 8:

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has known for a long time that its air pollution regulation fails miserably when it is applied to several large, high-emitting facilities clustered together. That regulation allows the Minister to hand out Certificates of Approval (CofAs) or "pollution permits" to individual facilities without taking into account the background, or "ambient," levels of pollution already present. For pollution hotspots like Sarnia, the regime is completely inadequate to protect the health of residents downwind, and the Ministry acknowledges this.

The mantra of the environmental justice movement that “some of us live more downstream than others” is a stark and obvious truth in the Chemical Valley. This area houses one of Canada’s largest concentrations of industry, including several large petrochemical, polymer and chemical industrial plants, as well as coal-fired utilities on both sides of the border. Talfourd Creek gathers its waters in an industrial corridor home to more than 40% of Canada's chemical production before it winds its way through the Aamjiwnaang reserve and empties into the St. Clair River.

. . .

When we consider this pollution and its effects on the health of residents in the context of their status as First Nations people on the reserve, then the violation of their constitutional rights comes into sharp relief.

The First Nation is tied to the land, confined to a small portion of their traditional territory. To this legacy of colonialism, they add the legacy of a century of petrochemical production. That they should be expected to endure these threats to their well-being, perpetuated by the ministry’s failure to enact an effective, health-protective air pollution regime, is unconscionable. That they should be forced to choose between subjecting themselves and their families to these risks or leaving the reserve at great social, economic and cultural cost, demonstrates that their equality rights are clearly infringed.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin