May 2009 PROJECT UPDATE

Environmental Health, Equity and Law: Making the Links

This is a collaborative project of CELA and the Environmental Health Institute of Canada. 

Making Connections in Communities - Interest in the Making the Links Project being undertaken by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (“CELA”) and the Environmental Health Institute of Canada (“EHI Canada”) has been growing since the Project’s commencement in January, 2009. We have been overwhelmed by the positive reception we have received from legal service providers, health service providers, community groups, individuals, and local government representatives.

Our Steering Committee has agreed to focus upon gauging interest from, and engaging with, individuals and groups in the following six areas: north Hamilton, north west Windsor, communities in and around south Sarnia, south Brantford, North Glengarry, and one or more First Nations communities in the District of Kenora.

Funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO), our Project is premised on recognition of the fact that low income families and other populations such as First Nations communities, pregnant women, the elderly, and young children are often disproportionately exposed to and affected by environmental contaminants. Furthermore, due to a range of institutional and other factors, groups such as these are often most likely to lack the legal and health information and services necessary to address their exposures and health outcomes. Our Project is broadly aimed at enabling and empowering communities to reduce these environmental inequities.

We also recognize and appreciate the importance and unique nature of Aboriginal communities’ perspectives and relationship with the land and their local environment.

Our aim is to work with communities in which there is both a high pollution burden and incidence of environmental health issues, and a high percentage of low income and sensitive populations in order to build capacity to reduce exposures. Our approach to community capacity-building will be largely in the form of an exchange of knowledge and expertise between legal and health service providers, and individuals and groups living and working in these communities.

In the coming months, we will continue to contact and build relationships with individuals and groups with an interest in the Project. We will also continue informal discussions about each community’s particular environmental health concerns. We will then begin to have more formal meetings and establish community-specific oversight teams to identify the types of activities that may be desirable in each community.

We feel it is crucial that decisions about priority issues and means of effectively working to address local environmental health concerns are left to individuals and groups living and working in communities. We look forward to continuing to form and strengthen relationships with local individuals and groups as the Project unfolds.

Conference on the Intersection of Poverty and Health - We will be delivering a workshop at this year’s Association of Ontario Health Centres (AOHC) Annual Conference. The AOHC is the policy and advocacy organization for non-profit, community-governed, multidisciplinary primary health care organizations. Its members are Ontario's Community Health Centres, Aboriginal Health Access Centres, and Community Family Health Teams.

The Conference, entitled: “At the Intersection of Poverty and Health: Where Every One Matters”, will take place in Toronto on June 5th and 6th, 2009. A main theme of the Conference will be the significant impact of the social conditions in which we live and work on our health.

Our workshop will focus on the Making the Links Project, and will examine the issue of the intersection of poverty and health from an environmental law and health perspective.

Traveling to Communities: An Important Learning Experience - Over the past few months, members of our Project team have traveled to Brantford, Windsor, Hamilton, and Sarnia and Aamjiwnaang First Nation to meet with individuals and groups in those communities to discuss the Making the Links Project. Though our telephone conversations with people in these communities have been an extremely useful source of information and input to-date, our in person meetings have proved invaluable to our understanding of local environmental health issues.

We have met with a range of individuals, including legal service providers, public health doctors, occupational health advocates, environmentalists and community activists, health service providers, local government representatives, and academics. Traveling to communities has allowed us to observe first-hand many of the environmental health issues regarding which communities have expressed concern.

Some of the issues that have been brought to our attention to-date include industrial air pollution, indoor air quality, equitable access to local and sustainable food, odour and other concerns pertaining to sewage treatment and waste pelletization facilities, air pollution from transportation corridors, and contaminated sites. We have had the opportunity to visit southern Ontario brownfields sites (see photo) in order to get a first-hand look at one of the major issues facing a number of communities.

We look forward to our future travels both to the communities to which we have already traveled, and to those which we have not yet had the opportunity to visit.

Thanks to all those who have made the time to speak with us about the Project both in person and on the phone.

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CELA is a non-profit, public interest organization that uses existing laws to protect the environment and advocates environmental law reforms. It is a specialty Legal Aid Clinic that serves as a free legal advisory clinic for the public, acting at hearings and in courts on behalf of citizens or citizens’ groups who are otherwise unable to afford legal assistance.

EHI Canada is a charitable foundation that works to enhance and coordinate efforts at various levels to learn about, prevent, and manage chronic environment-associated illnesses, as well as to understand their underlying mechanisms.

LFO is a grant-making organization with a long tradition of funding programs that promote and enhance justice for all Ontarians. It was formed under an amendment to the Law Society Act and receives interest on lawyers’ mixed trust accounts to fund worthwhile programs for law-related activities.