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People, planet, prosperity: Working together towards a sustainable future
Innovation Issue 35: Fall 2021

Supporting the efforts for a national environmental racism strategy with research

In Our Community 

Supporting the efforts for a national environmental racism strategy with research

As momentum builds to address environmental racism in Canada, including coverage of the topic by mainstream media, a Ryerson professor is contributing ongoing research efforts to a national coalition that seeks to impact public policy about the issue. 

Environmental racism is a term to describe a form of systemic racism enacted by policy and practice where racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by health hazards. A general example would be a toxic dump site located near a racialized neighbourhood. In Canada, environmental racism can take many forms, says sociology professor and department chair Cheryl Teelucksingh. It can occur in both rural and urban settings, spanning from the struggle to have clean water on First Nations reserves to access to green spaces in affordable housing developments in major metropolitan centres. 

To help promote dialogue about the topic and policies to address environmental racism, professor Teelucksingh is collaborating with communities to have an impact. That includes connecting with groups like the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in order to bring the environmental justice movement together with an initiative for social change. She has conducted ongoing research into the relationship between the environmental justice movement and concerns about social inequalities, publishing her findings about the benefits of collaboration between BLM and the environmental justice movement through a Canadian lens in the journal, Kalfou. Another previous project was The Green Gap: Towards Inclusivity in Toronto’s Green Employment, where she explored social inclusion and environmentalism in Toronto’s green economy.  

Recently, her efforts have led to other groups contacting her, wondering if their local challenge could be considered environmental racism. A recent example was community members from Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood reaching out to her about the plan to build a Metrolinx railyard which would displace a mosque and stores that serve the area’s large Muslim population. 

Professor Teelucksingh and other members of the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice are using Geographic Information System (GIS) maps and tapping local knowledge to show where there are known areas of concern. In addition, professor Teelucksingh is interviewing different stakeholders and talking to policy members and community members to ensure concerns are heard. 

The Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice brings together academics, environmental non-governmental organizations, environmental lawyers and communities across Canada, and was founded by Dalhousie University professor Ingrid Waldron and the Black Environmental Initiative’s Naolo Charles. Professor Teelucksingh says the environmental justice movement and the coalition are an opportunity to do research that responds to the needs of communities and to work collaboratively with other groups. “So it’s not about the academics jumping in and solving the problems, or even the environmental activism piece or the lawyers, it is all working in tandem,” she said.

The Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice supported Bill C-230, a private member’s bill brought forward by Nova Scotian Liberal MP Lenore Zann that passed two readings during the 43rd session of Canadian Parliament. Bill C-230 sought to create a national strategy to redress environmental racism, but did not become law prior to the 2021 election call. 

The coalition will continue its efforts, says professor Teelucksingh. Bill C-230 would have helped to address the need for more integrated systems discussions, rather than siloed conversations about inequalities, environmental problems and racism. “These types of laws and groups are about basically saying we do need more complicated frameworks for talking about how we bring about change environmentally and socially,” she said.  

Professor Teelucksingh’s research on BLM and the environmental justice movement has been published in journals such as Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, external link. Her work on environmentalism and inclusivity in Toronto’s green economy can be read in Environmental Sociology. 



It’s not about the academics jumping in and solving the problems, or even the environmental activism piece or the lawyers, it is all working in tandem.