When speaking of environmental racism, Ingrid Waldon said that "for those who argue that environmental racism is an issue of class and not race, I maintain [...] Race makes class hurt more” (Tillerman, et al., 2003, p.68). In Canada, people of African descent have been disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards, such as toxic air pollution, due to industrialization and colonisation, forcing Black communities into hierarchal systems of abuse and into depreciated environments. This is the reality for many Black Communities much like the African Nova Scotian South End Community in the city of Shelburne.
For decades, the city of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, housed the Morvan Road Landfill where residential, industrial, and medical waste had been burned until its closure in 2016. The dump was located in the South End of Shelburne, the primary home of African Nova Scotian residents. Most homes in the South End Community are located downwind from the dump with a handful of homes being within 500 metres of the facility. For 75 years, the dump created dark, suffocating smoke as a community member described that the “[the smoke] stunk so bad [...] you could not breathe.” As a result, residents of the area have become worried about the effects the long-term smoke inhalation has had on their health.
A local resident, Louise Delisle, discovered that the dump had been the number one health concern for women in her town. Women now comprise the majority of the community as many of the men in the community died of cancer — which the locals have attributed to the air contaminants. Despite the lack of data directly tying the dump to health issues in the community, communities that are within proximity to environmentally hazardous projects — such as landfills that burn garbage — are more likely to suffer from higher rates of cancer and respiratory illness as a result. Projects much like the Morvan Road Landfill also result in increased rates of liver and kidney diseases, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and skin rashes.
The Government of Canada has noted that the burning of garbage poses significant health risks to those directly exposed due to the numerous pollutants the smoke may contain. Pollutants like arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide can be carried by dangerous air pollutants and cause health issues including headaches, nausea, rashes, and heart disease. Smoke may also carry pollutants such as dioxins and furans. Exposure to these toxins can cause certain types of cancer, liver problems, impairments to the immune system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions, and affect the developing nervous system.
The placement of the dump in proximity to the African Nova Scotian South End Community was an act of environmental racism — the disproportionate siting of an environmentally hazardous facility in close proximity to the Black community. The government continues to take advantage of the South End Community by allowing the presence of environmental hazards through air pollution, ignoring the complaints of the communities impacted, and exploiting the systemic oppression faced by the community.
The Morvan Road Landfill is one of many environmental hazards imposed on racialized communities in Canada and demonstrates the necessity of a comprehensive solution to environmental injustice. The proposed amendments to the Canadian Environmental Act, 1999 are insufficient to address the harms faced by the African Nova Scotian South End Community of Shelburne. For Louise Delisle, justice for the South End Community requires a “total clean-up and removal of the contaminants” and compensation for the “racism it experienced, and the illnesses and cancer that come with the contaminants [they] have been exposed to." This requires that the community’s well-being supersede all else in order to protect their well-being and repair the physical and psychological damage experienced.
Megan Cormier is originally from New Brunswick but moved to Ottawa last year to study Law at the University of Ottawa with a specialization in Environmental Law. Outside the classroom, Megan is currently working on a small-scale, zero emission farm in Kemptville, ON learning about sustainable and ethical farming practices.