YOUTH VOICE: Everyone has right to safe air, water, food

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms should include a right to a healthy environment, writes youth columnist Japreet Lehal

We have an opportunity in Canada to further support the environment by including in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms a right to a healthy environment.

This includes a right to clean and safe air, water, land and food.

Recently, there has been greater progress and awareness about the environment, both at the international and national level. A charter right can further support this.

Clearly recognizing such a right in our charter can help in the fight against contaminated water, air pollution and dangerous substances. In fact, this is long overdue, as many have already suffered the consequences of these problems.

We need to take action to ensure that no Canadian has to face these issues.

While an existing right in the charter can be raised in a legal context to help support victims of environmental injustice, having a clearly stated right would show a greater commitment. It could help communities prevent and respond to violations of the law which effect their environment by giving them stronger support in the form of a charter right.

According to environmental lawyer and author David R. Boyd, more than 140 countries make “environmental protection” mandatory in their constitutions, of which 98 countries have “a constitutional right to live in a healthy environment” (David Suzuki Foundation, Paper #1, The Importance of Constitutional Recognition of the Right to a Healthy Environment, 2013).

Countries that have taken such action have seen positive results.

According to Devon Page of Ecojustice and Peter Robinson of the David Suzuki Foundation: “These nations rank higher than others on environmental performance, leave smaller ecological footprints and have reduced toxic emissions that impact the health of their citizens.”

They also stated that in our country, there are communities where people do not have clean drinking water. According to a team at Ecojustice, where countries have added protections in their constitution, “there is more citizen participation in environmental decision-making and a reduction in environmental injustices, like exceptionally high levels of pollution in poor and marginalized communities.”

All levels of government should support this initiative. One hundred and forty-two  municipalities across the country have already made declarations for a healthy environment, according to the Blue Dot campaign by the David Suzuki Foundation, which is leading the effort to include this right in the charter.

A healthy environment helps ensure the overall wellbeing of society. A constitutional amendment will require broad support and multiple steps. Motivation and commitment from Canadians and government will help make this idea a reality.

Having a charter right to a healthy environment could help ensure that each and every one of us is able to live in a clean, healthy and safe environment.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursuing a law degree. He writes monthly for Peace Arch News.

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