Everyone deserves the right to a healthy environment. But did you know that in New Brunswick, citizens have no such right?
The citizens of Richibucto, New Brunswick, would love to have fresh clean air to breathe so they don’t have to inhale the stench of the Coastal Shell Product Plant that resides in their community. Local residents cannot go outside and enjoy their gardens or patios without dealing with the awful smell. They must close their windows to prevent the smell from getting in.
Their properties are no longer enjoyable as they once were, and the resale value of their homes has plummeted. Therefore, some of the residents are suing the company responsible for the poor air quality and stench.
JoAnne Robichaud of the Kent Clean Air Action Committee states: “The health of our children, seniors, and community at large must supersede the greed of a few! An Environmental Bill of Rights in New Brunswick is necessary to ensure the stench that we in Beaurivage are currently experiencing does not occur in any other community”.
The United Nations General Assembly on July 28, 2022, passed a resolution stating that: “a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.” This is the first time that the UN has declared this right for the citizens of the world.
Oğuz Ergen, climate activist and founder of the Social Climate Association in Turkey wrote, “The definition of a clean environment as a human right by countries strengthens the struggle of citizens in the field of environmental protection. In lawsuits filed against companies regarding damage to the environment, not only will a decision be taken about polluting the environment, but also human rights will be taken into consideration. This will be the driving force for companies to be environmentally conscious.”
On June 13, 2023, the federal government made amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which had not been updated since 1999. CEPA is the legislative framework that protects Canadians and the environment from pollution and toxic ingredients.
With Bill S-5, Canadians for the first time have the right to a healthy environment under Canadian law. It is not perfect, but it is a start and has been a long time coming. A healthy environment in this context is defined as “an environment that is clean, healthy, and sustainable.”
Members of the Environmental Rights Caucus of the New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN) have proposed a child-focused Bill that would recognize that children, and therefore all New Brunswickers and nature, and future generations, have the right to a healthy environment. The time is now for this Bill to be enacted.
What would an Environmental Bill of Rights mean for New Brunswickers? It would mean that our citizens would have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, consume safe food, have access to nature, know about pollutants and contaminants released into the local environment, and have the right to participate in decision-making affecting the environment.
David R. Boyd is a renowned environmental lawyer, activist, and former Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment. His research states that having the right to a healthy environment can result in better environmental performance, stronger environmental laws and policies, improved implementation and enforcement, greater citizen participation, increased accountability, and a reduction in environmental injustice.
The climate crisis is here now. When even our youngest citizens recognize the urgency of the climate crisis then we, the adults, must act. As world citizens, we must ask ourselves, “What legacy are we leaving our children?” There could be no greater gift to future generations than a world in which all children can live, grow, and become the best they can be.
With a dry, hot summer expected and wildfires happening in New Brunswick and in our neighbouring provinces, we must act before it is too late. Most of us have been affected by flooding, hurricanes, heat waves, ice storms, power outages, and poor air quality due to fires from our province and elsewhere. The climate crisis that humans created is here, and we must fix it now.
What is needed is the political will to make this happen. We are seeking an all-party consensus that all New Brunswickers have the right to a healthy environment that is protected by provincial law. The advantage of having an Environmental Bill of Rights is that it is likely to attract people and businesses that value such protection and make New Brunswick an environmental leader in Canada. It will also help New Brunswick become more resilient and adapt to the climate crisis, which is threatening the future of children and other vulnerable people we need to protect.
To support this proposed bill please go to the New Brunswick Environmental Network’s website and sign on: https://nben.ca/en/show-your-support.html
To send a letter to your MLA to ask for their support go to: https://www.legnb.ca/en/members/current
The Environmental Rights Caucus of the NBEN: Sam Arnold, Bonnie Hamilton Bogart, Gordon Dalzell, Denise Melanson, Marg Milburn. If you require additional information, please contact Saadia Hara, Program Coordinator, New Brunswick Environmental Network. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 506-855-4144