VANCOUVER — Coastal British Columbians see environmental rights as essential to human rights, according to a report from the David Suzuki Foundation, released this morning to mark World Oceans Day. Coastal residents' concerns and hopes for their communities and ocean environments are central to the report, Charting coastal currents, which makes a compelling case for considering environmental rights as a foundation for human rights.
"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," said one respondent who participated in a coastal tour the Foundation held last year that collected more than 1,500 comments from a dozen communities in the traditional territories of 12 First Nations. Residents described the Pacific coast as the architecture, food store, economic lifeblood and essence of the people who live along its shores, providing the air they breathe and the food they eat.
"Climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and industrial pressures — combined with economic and social challenges in coastal communities — make this a critical moment for coastal residents," said David Suzuki Foundation Western Canada director Jay Ritchlin. "This report tells decision-makers they must do a better job of responding to and protecting B.C.'s coastal communities."
Report comments focus on observations about climate change impacts on oceans and wildlife, loss of traditional ways of living and proliferation of industrial projects with potentially catastrophic impacts receiving government approval with little or no community consultation. They also reveal a sense of hope, pride and the need to take action to encourage sustainable practices in fishing and renewable energy production.
"We're taking these poignant observations with us to provincial, national and international audiences to let them know what people from this region are experiencing, with the hope that governments will act on their concerns," Ritchlin said.
Earlier this year, the Foundation delivered a submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights — a body that monitors Canada's compliance with international human rights obligations — as part of Canada's first periodic review in 10 years. The Committee's recommendations mirrored the concerns of coastal residents and validated their observations that their human rights have been violated.
The next step is for the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia and other levels of government to enact policies that protect a healthy environment. Report recommendations address marine planning and climate change, implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations and re-instating legal environmental protections.
Jay Ritchlin, Director for Western Canada, David Suzuki Foundation
Theresa Beer, Senior Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation