By Lisa Gue

True or false? Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly protects our right to live in a healthy environment.

If you answered “true,” you’re in good company. Polling shows more than half of Canadians erroneously believe the Charter includes a provision on environmental rights (another 19 per cent aren’t sure).

It should, but it doesn’t. In fact, no federal law does.

A private member’s bill introduced in Parliament on October 29 proposes to change that. Bill C-634, An Act to Establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, would introduce a legal duty for the federal government to protect Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. If Bill C-634 becomes law, Canadians will have access to new legal mechanisms for ensuring that the federal government lives up to this duty and takes appropriate actions to protect the environment and enforce existing environmental laws.

Other aspects of the proposed legislation include provisions to ensure all Canadians have access to information about, and the opportunity to participate in, government decision-making concerning the environment. The bill also proposes protection for workers who blow the whistle on illegal pollution and other environmental offences.

As federal legislation, these requirements would apply specifically to the actions of the federal government. Leadership in this area may also inspire provincial governments to adopt their own environmental bills of rights. (Quebec, Ontario and the three territories already have such bills, but they are more limited in scope than Bill C-634 and should be strengthened.) Ultimately, we hope to see environmental rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter alongside other human rights, so that all levels of government throughout the country would be legally responsible for protecting our right to live in a healthy environment.

Recognition of other human rights in Canada has followed a similar path. Parliament passed the original Bill of Rightsin 1960, paving the way for these rights to be enshrined in the Canadian Charter in 1982.

Private member’s bills face an uphill battle in Parliament and rarely become law. An earlier version of Bill C-634 came close, though. First introduced in 2009, it garnered support from MPs of various political stripes before its passage was interrupted by the 2011 federal election. The current proposal likewise deserves the support of all parties.

After all, most Canadians would agree with the values and language in the bill, including a deep concern and value for our environment, a collective responsibility to care for the environment and a commitment to protect our natural world for future generations.

This strong commitment to protecting the people and places we love has been showcased everywhere the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Tour has gone in Canada. In communities all across the country, the Blue Dot Tour has been met by full-house crowds, rousing standing ovations and thousands of ordinary Canadians who believe we all should have the right to fresh air, clean water, healthy food and access to nature.

It only makes sense that Canadian laws should reflect and uphold these deeply held national values concerning the environment. Bill C-634 would establish the necessary legal framework for respecting our right to live in a healthy environment.

It’s up to Canadians from coast to coast to stand up and voice their support for the kind of change that will mean everyone, no matter who you are or where you live, has their right to live in a healthy environment recognized. The best way to do this is to sign the Blue Dot petition today.

Together, we can create a future that is healthier and more secure.