Canada’s Biggest Eco Embarrassments

Green Living performed a reality check on the nation’s environmental record—and the results weren’t pretty

Embarrassment #6: Human Rights

“Where else would our government allow open toxic ponds to exist? Only near a First Nations reserve,” says Cox, referring to the tar sands operations.

“Most NGOs view the tar sands as an issue to highlight the need for a new energy economy, but we look at the sands primarily as a human rights issue,” says Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (Pukatawagan) in Northern Manitoba and tar sands campaign organizer for The Indigenous Environmental Network, who recently visited London, England, to lead grassroots protests and to highlight the issues facing First Nations communities downstream of the Athabasca tar sands. “It wouldn’t happen like this if there was proper enforcement of aboriginal laws and our constitutional treaty rights.”

Toxic pollution affecting downstream people in Fort Chipewyan and Serpent River are just two examples of a long history of more relaxed environmental restrictions on industrial operations near First Nations communities. Take Aamjiwnaang, near Sarnia, Ontario: The reserve is internationally known for having one of the lowest birth rates of boys the world over, which scientists suspect is related to the petrochemical factories that surround their land.

In fact, the proximity of industrially intensive operations near First Nations communities and the lax regulations controlling their emissions is so commonplace that it is often known by another name: environmental racism.