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Will Mount Pearl lead on right to healthy environment?

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On Wednesday a group of engaged youth are going to ask their city to be the first in Newfoundland and Labrador to adopt a declaration recognizing the right to a healthy environment.

Joining the nationwide Blue Dot movement, initiated by David Suzuki last fall, Mount Pearl Senior High School Grade 12 student Alex Hayward and others from her school’s Environment Club have joined forces with Mount Pearl’s Youth Action Team to encourage their city council to formally acknowledge a clean environment as a fundamental human right.

They have been collecting signatures from Mount Pearl residents on a petition and will present the list to Mount Pearl City Council on Wednesday as part of the city’s Municipal Awareness Days Activities, this year’s theme being “Youth Involved”.

The Blue Dot movement has been gaining traction across Canada since Suzuki introduced the idea in a nationwide speaking tour that kicked off in St. John’s last Sept. 24.

In an interview with The Independent prior to that event, Suzuki said the Blue Dot Tour was an attempt to “celebrate what we have and then say we have a responsibility to protect that into the future for future generations.”

He pointed out that Canada is “the envy of the vast majority of people on the planet…yet one out of every two Canadians lives in an atmosphere where the air is considered dangerous to their health.”

Hayward said the group is trying to spread the word among students at their school and among Mount Pearl residents broadly.

“We have a Facebook page and a website that we’re trying to spread around through social media, and we’re also canvassing in our schools and just getting up in front of our classes and explaining what it’s all about and then asking our classmates and teachers to sign the petition,” she told The Independent.

Goal: Change Canada’s constitution

Beginning at a grassroots level, the movement aims to have as many towns and cities across Canada as possible adopt the declaration of the right to a clean environment as laid out by the Blue Dot movement. The next step, once momentum has built among the municipalities of a province, is to get the provincial government to adopt right-to-a-healthy-environment legislation. And finally, the ultimate goal, Hayward explained, is to see the right to a clean environment enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I think it’s so important,” she said. “I know other countries have [right to a healthy environment legislation] and it’s surprising that Canada doesn’t, especially when we think of ourselves as people who pride ourselves on our natural environment and the beautiful landscapes that we have here — and we don’t even have that right. I just think it would be really important for if there is any environmental issue that is important and we want to tackle, that we can say that it is our right to a healthy environment; it’s a more powerful argument when you can say that it’s your right.”

Community organizer Kathleen Parewick, who helped organize the Blue Dot Tour kick-off in St. John’s last fall, said it only makes sense that municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, and eventually the provincial and federal governments, would embrace their residents’ right to a healthy environment.

“A number of nations around the world have gone this route, or have had it enshrined in their constitutions otherwise,” she said. “And it seems like a pretty fundamental consideration, one perhaps so fundamental that it was overlooked when we were focused so much on human right and charters that would look after the language on that end of things. But in the highly legalistic world we live in now, to not have enshrined environment and given it equal weight to a lot of these other sorts of rights and freedoms is highly problematic because of course we are seeing … water being delisted [from environmental protection] with the stroke of a pen. And these are the sorts of things that absolutely have to change, and we shouldn’t be subject to the whims of any particular government coming in and making those sorts of changes.

“The environment should be given a little more status and protection in the context of our constitution, and that’s really the bottom line,” she continued. “It’s going after a level of ultimate legal protection that we don’t have in this area currently.”

St. John’s not far behind

City of St. John’s Councilor Dave Lane told The Independent on Monday that the capital city’s Environmental Advisory Committee is working on bringing a similar motion—inspired by the Blue Dot movement—forward to council in the coming months.

“We’ve met a couple of times about what we’d like to do, whereby we would sign on to the declaration of the right to a healthy environment, and also identify some commitments that the city could make,” said Lane, who chairs the committee.

“We believe that people are part of the environment, so a healthy environment is really a core component of having a high quality of life, and that if we sign on to a declaration that says we have a right to a healthy environment it’ll help shape our policies so that we can make decisions that keep the environment as a core component of what makes this a great place to live, and that we’ll make better decisions that way,” he continued, sharing the committee’s perspective on the movement and declaration.

Lane said the city is taking a step in the right direction in making the environment a “foundational consideration” in its new municipal plan.

“Your natural environment is a core component of your identity,” he said, adding if city council keeps the environment as a foundational priority it could do a better job of developing St. John’s.

 We’re the start of something that could become bigger in the province. We’d like for other communities to follow suit…  — Alex Hayward, Mount Pearl Senior High School

Lane said areas of concern like transportation, drinking water and food security could all benefit from right-to-a-healthy-environment legislation.

“The way we have it drafted right now, we would basically declare that people have the right to a healthy environment — clean air, clean water, safe food. But also there’s a section we’re proposing that would be a call to other governments, basically saying, hey, as a country we should be doing this because we’re one of a very few who haven’t made this declaration,” he said. “It’s almost an affirmation of something we already believe in.”

In the meantime, however, the spotlight is on Mount Pearl to lead the way in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hayward said everyone she has spoken to about the declaration has supported the idea.

“Nobody’s said, ‘No, I don’t believe we deserve that right,’” she laughed.

“We’re just going to say why it’s important to us personally, and why we think it’s important for everyone, and then just ask for it to be signed,” she said, explaining how the group will approach city council on Wednesday.

“We’re the start of something that could become bigger in the province. We’d like for other communities to follow suit, and hopefully what we’re doing will inspire other places to do the same thing — and then eventually the province will get on board.”

For more information on the local movement visit the Mount Pearl Blue Dot Movement Facebook page. If you live in Mount Pearl and want to sign the peition, click here. If you don’t live in Mount Pearl but want to learn more about the Blue Dot Movement, watch the video below or visit the Blue Dot Tour website to learn how you can start a campaign in your own community to have the right to a healthy environment recognized.

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