Environmental justice for Canadian cities?

TheCityTalks-logoOn October 16, 2014 CEHE Director Jeff Masuda delivered a public lecture in Victoria, B.C. hosted by the University of Victoria’s CityTalks series. The linked video provides the full recording of this lecture http://youtu.be/jJP5mLo-vk8 in which Jeff discusses the relevance and shortfalls of environmental justice as a lens for understanding urban inequality in the Canadian context, highlighting the difference between top-down and bottom-up definitions and approaches.

According to Jeff, environmental justice is often dismissed as less relevant in Canada, where civil rights activism has not been as prominent and racial segregation is not as visible as in the United States. However, Jeff presents arguments from Canadian scholars that Canada has a “long legacy of colonialism, racial prejudice, and the persistent abrogation of government in its constitutional responsibilities to Indigenous people in Canada.”

For example, he draws parallels between the emblematic case of Warren County, North Carolina and the more recent activism surrounding toxic pollution in Aamjiwnaang, Ontario, near Sarnia’s “Chemical Valley.” He also highlights the value of the participatory ethos of justice-driven research, including three positive implications of adopting environmental justice as a research lens: methodological (novel way to assess local conditions at a city scale), conceptual (uncovering root causes of injustice that had previously been ignored), and practical (prompting direct community-driven action to address problems).

Jeff goes on to point out three urban priorities that can benefit from justice-driven research: the coerced residential churn exacerbated by gentrification and increasing socioeconomic polarization, urban bodies marked by place-based stigmas based on racial prejudice, and the deficit “fix” of prevailing planning and public health interventions. He suggests that environmental justice can be seen as “an effective instrument in bringing together Canadian environmentalism with Indigenous and social activism” and that it has an important role to play in creating healthier environments for Canadians.

Other lectures from the Environmental Justice and the City series were delivered by Dayna Scott from York University (Ecological Citizenship? Aspiring to a Good Green Life in the City) and Julie Sze from the University of California, Davis (Fantasy Islands: Environmental Justice in China and Beyond).

The City Talks series provides an outstanding model for public discussions of research issues related to the city. Videos of all three lectures in the series, as well as past lectures, can be found athttp://www.thecitytalks.ca/lectures.php