Augy Jones to head panel to address environmental racism in Nova Scotia
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Augy Jones has been selected to chair a panel that will explore Nova Scotia’s checkered history of environmental racism.
“My main role is putting a team together and also getting the community involved, specifically the African Nova Scotian community and the Indigenous community and the Acadian community and their feelings about environmental racism,” said Jones, the son of civil rights activists Rocky and Joan Jones and the Principal of Nova Scotia Community College’s Akerley campus.
Jones will lead and select a panel tasked with making recommendations to address environmental racism in the province, one of the government’s commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion as outlined in the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act.
dr Ingrid Waldron, a former professor at Dalhousie University and founder and director of the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice, defined environmental racism as “the condition, the problem of the disproportionate exposure of Indigenous communities, black communities, other communities of color, to environmental pressures, pollutants and… contaminants” and the government’s slow response to these problems.
Jones said his immediate responsibility is not to focus directly on the locations of these environmental pressures, the contaminated sites that have historically been near Black and Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia, as described in Waldron’s book There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities” from 2018 detailed the subsequent 2020 Netflix documentary of the same name, co-produced by Waldron, Nova Scotia-born actor Elliot Page and Ian Daniel.
“My job is to put the team together, but I know we want to make sure the communities that have been marginalized can speak freely and give as many examples as necessary of what they think is environmental racism and then how the government address going forward,” Jones said.
The book and documentary show where Black and Indigenous communities are located on a map of the province, and then mark the areas where landfills and toxic industries are being built.
The overlap is shameful and included a long-standing landfill in the settled black community on the south side of Shelburne, the Boat Harbor Lagoon that for more than half a century collected the effluent from pulp and paper mills adjacent to the First Indigenous community of Pictou Landing Nation and Alton Gas’ planned but now-cancelled development to flush salt out of the Shubenacadie River estuary to create underground gas storage caverns and return 1.3 million cubic meters of dissolved brine back into the estuary, a traditional Mi’kmaw fishery, over a period of two to three years.
Section 17 of the Environmental Targets and Climate Change Reduction Act requires the government to set up a panel to combat environmental racism by the end of 2022, with the panel’s recommendations expected by the end of 2023.
Jones, who will be initially assisted in his work by Candace Thomas and Lora MacEachern, the respective deputy ministers of the provincial justice and environmental departments, said additional provincial legislation will likely be needed to enforce the panel’s recommendations.
“My expectation is that there will be more systemic legislation on environmental racism that will be put in place so that it’s not just an isolated incident but something sustainable so that in 2032 we’re not discussing environmental racism in Nova Scotia,” he said .
At the federal level, an environmental racism bill first introduced in February 2020 by former Nova Scotia Assemblyman Lenore Zann was revived this year and passed a second reading in June. It has been tabled in committee and awaits its third reading in the House of Commons.
The bill requires the federal environment minister, in consultation with interested individuals, bodies, organizations or communities, to develop a national strategy to address the harm caused by environmental racism across Canada.
“You have to have something written in the law, in the legislation, on one side, but on the awareness side of it, it speaks to businesses about the implications of creating toxic and dangerous environments for innocent community members,” Jones said.
“It’s a human rights issue. When I live in a community I want to make sure the water I drink, the land I live on and all those things, the environment around me, is safe.”
Jones said the problem goes beyond the burdens on Black and Indigenous communities, although those communities and the Acadian people have been particularly hard hit.
“Then it becomes socioeconomics,” Jones said. “Often people living in poverty are also very vulnerable to environmental racism. When you talk about poverty it is not necessarily related to race, it can be people of European descent who are poorer people who have experienced environmental hazards in their living conditions.
“That would also be on the table.”
Jones said the first step is to recruit a panel of academics, community and government experts to do the work and develop recommendations to present to government.
“I take this very seriously and more than anything I want to make sure the communities are saying he’s working for us, this is having an impact on us. Thank you for improving this situation,” Jones said.
“My focus is making sure the community gives us feedback, that they feel things are better, and not just from a government perspective where the government pats itself on the back and says we’re doing a good job . We need to hear feedback from the community, after this body is established, after we make recommendations, after we roll out programs and support, we need to make sure the community feels a positive impact.”