Mount Pearl declares right to a healthy environment

The province’s second-biggest community has joined St. John’s and more than 70 other municipalities Canada-wide in acknowledging its residents’ right to clean air, water and soil.

The City of Mount Pearl has become the second municipality in Newfoundland and Labrador to recognize its residents’ right to a healthy environment.

During its July 28 council meeting, Mount Pearl City Council adopted a motion put forth by Councillors Lucy Stoyles and Dave Aker that guides council to “support the principle of the right to a health environment and approve the following declaration” (click here to read full declaration).

As part of a growing national movement initiated by David Suzuki last year, the Blue Dot declaration acknowledges that people are a part of nature, and that Canadians have an inherent right to clean air, water and soil.

The movement’s purpose is to mobilize enough Canadian municipalities to adopt the aspirational statement so that adequate pressure can be put on provincial governments to legislate the right to a healthy environment, with the end goal being to have the federal government enshrine Canadians’ right to a healthy environment in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In June St. John’s became the first community in N.L. to declare the right to a health environment, in doing so joining, to date, 77 other Canadian municipalities.

Alex Hayward, a recently-graduated student from Mount Pearl Senior High, along with other members of the school’s environment group, brought the proposal to Mount Pearl City Council in May, but the council wasn’t aware of the movement and needed time to consider whether it should endorse the declaration, Hayward told The Independent Wednesday.

“It was a bit later than we expected, but either way it got done,” she said.

Next up on Hayward’s list of municipalities is Portugal Cove-St. Philips, where next week she plans to make a presentation to the town’s environmental committee in an effort to persuade them to follow in the footsteps of St. John’s and Mount Pearl.

“I think other communities, when they see the two biggest municipalities doing this, might say, hey, maybe we should follow suit,” she said, adding that in light of St. John’s and Mount Pearl’s populations, a significant number of people in the province already have their right to a healthy environment recognized by their municipal governments.

Though the Blue Dot declaration isn’t legally binding, its potential resides in forcing government to constitutionalize the right to a clean environment the same way it acknowledges and protects other human rights, Suzuki told The Independent last fall before kicking off his final cross-Canada tour in St. John’s to support the movement.

“I’ve been saying as environmentalists we’ve fundamentally failed to shift the way that we see our place on the planet. These battles were just, who’s stronger? Who can marshal the most effective argument? But we didn’t see that what [the battles were] talking about was how we live on this planet,” he said. “And I think the Blue Dot Tour really focuses in on that frame, saying that our very health and well-being are absolutely tied to the quality of the air, the water and the soil that gives us our food. So those ought to be guaranteed in our legal system, in our Charter, in the same way that we guarantee the rights of gay people, or Asians and African Canadians, and women.

“These are all things that at one time weren’t enshrined in our Charter, our constitution. But a lot of people fought for them and got them enshrined. And what they reflect are the values of the society we live in.”

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