The United Nations in Geneva is a daunting place filled with diplomats, protocols and grand hallways that open onto meeting rooms with microphones, earpieces and translators. But there's comfort in knowing that most people here are trying to make the world more peaceful and equitable.
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I'm participating in a review of Canada's human rights obligations under the UN treaty on economic, social and cultural rights. I told committee members that Canada has some work to do to make sure our environmental regulations protect our right to a healthy environment. If Canada wants to be recognized as a human rights leader, I argued, it must legally recognize a healthy environment as a necessity of life.
We are the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, but cultural practices around food and the appreciation of nature are also fundamental to our humanness. Canada signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights forty years ago. By not protecting our environment, we're falling short of meeting those obligations.
I encourage you to read the Foundation's submission to the UN committee.
Meetings continue in Geneva this week. The world's eyes are on Canada. I'm hopeful that committee members will agree that Canada must do more to protect our environment.
Here are my words to them:
I would like to acknowledge that this committee has adopted many concluding observations recognizing the connection between the environment and human rights
Canada, over the past decade, has weakened environmental protections fundamental to the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, in breach of its obligations under this Covenant.
This past summer, I travelled with the David Suzuki Foundation across the vast Pacific coast of Canada, visiting a dozen communities in the traditional territories of 12 indigenous First Nations.
We were welcomed into homes, auditoriums and longhouses, with feasts that embodied the intersection of nature, food and culture.
We recorded over 1,500 profoundly moving interviews from a diverse group of indigenous and non-indigenous people, expressing fear that their way of life is threatened, and that industrial projects with catastrophic impacts on the environment and livelihoods are being approved with little or no consultation.
They worried for themselves, their children, grandchildren, and all people. Youth questioned in this context whether it is responsible to have children at all.
And what are they worried about? Imagine the loss of an underwater world with 26 thousand kilometres of winding shoreline, home to trillions of plankton, billions of fish, millions of seabirds, and thousands of whales among forests of kelp and eelgrass.
This globally significant ecosystem is not just a backdrop; it's the architecture, the food store, the economic lifeblood, and the essence of the people who live along its shores, providing the air they breathe and the food they eat.
Climate change, ocean acidification, and industrial pressures make this a critical moment. And because Canada has the longest coastline of any nation, it holds deep responsibilities to its citizens and the world.
We urge Canada, first, to join over one hundred nations in constitutionally recognizing the right to a healthy environment.
Second, to take immediate steps to restore and enhance robust environmental protection.
Third, to fully respect indigenous rights to title and consultation.
Fourth, to act urgently to protect ocean ecosystems from degradation and climate change.
Finally, the disproportionate impacts on indigenous and vulnerable people, the threats to the rights to food, culture, and health, are best described in the words of coastal people found in our written submission.
I leave you with a quote from one of them.
"When we think of human rights, we think of equality, freedom, democracy. But what good are any of those if we don't have clean air, soil and water? It has to start with nature."