By Amy Juschka

When David Suzuki launched the Blue Dot movement with his cross-country tour in the fall of 2014, we aimed to pass five declarations in the first year. We never imagined this movement would ignite so quickly, right across the country.

Today, 12 million people (one-third of the population!) live in a community that has passed a right to healthy environment declaration — an amazing accomplishment that would not have been possible without the thousands of people who stood together to protect the people and places they love.

At writing, 119 municipalities have passed local environmental rights declarations. But we know that municipalities alone cannot protect our environment.

That’s why we’re calling on the new federal government — the one that declared “Canada is back!” as an environmental leader — to pass a federal environmental bill of rights that respects, protects and fulfils every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment.

In 1972, the United Nations Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment proclaimed that people have “the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.”

Since then, more than 110 countries have passed laws recognizing their citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment. But here in Canada, no law explicitly protects our right to a healthy environment.

Instead, our current patchwork of environmental laws and regulations has led to poor environmental performance and negative impacts on our health. Piecemeal laws fail to address systemic threats like climate change and unsafe drinking water in Indigenous communities.

According to the World Health Organization, environmental hazards contribute to almost 37,000 premature deaths in Canada each year and approximately 13 per cent of all illnesses and injuries. Another study estimated that for just four categories of illness — cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, cancer and congenital afflictions (birth defects) — environmental hazards contribute to 10,000 to 25,000 deaths and 600,000 to 1.5 million days in hospital annually.

By guaranteeing improved implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, a gold-standard federal environmental bill of rights would help improve the well-being of Canadians, as well as our natural environment, and lead to cleaner air, safer water and healthier people and ecosystems.

Research shows that countries that recognize the right to a healthy environment and mandate environmental protection have better environmental records. They tend to have stronger environmental laws, better enforcement of those laws, enhanced government and corporate accountability, improved access to environmental information and higher levels of public participation in decision-making.

International examples demonstrate that countries with laws recognizing the right to a healthy environment perform better environmentally and economically than those that do not. Environmental rights spur innovation, increasing competitiveness and economic growth. This bodes well for Canada’s fastest growing industry — clean tech — which fights ecological degradation and builds economic resilience in the age of climate change.

We know that protecting environmental rights will help build healthier communities and a more prosperous and sustainable nation. We also know that Canadians care deeply about the environment — eight out of 10 of us agree that we need stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.

So here’s Blue Dot’s long-term plan:

  • We’ll continue to support you to make change locally — with tools to help you pass new declarations or strengthen your community’s existing municipal declaration, and by supporting provincial environmental rights.
  • With your help, we’ll also lay the groundwork for a federal environmental bill of rights.
  • Then — with your help — we’ll turn to our ultimate goal: recognition of the right to a healthy environment in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We hope you’ll help us move towards a future that guarantees the right to a healthy environment for everyone.