This page is a repost of an article that appeared in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor ( March, 2013).
How to Eradicate Ecocide in Canada: An Action Agenda
A three-step solution
We need to get the right legal building-blocks in place to make ecocide a crime.
The first order of business is to get the U.N. General Assembly to adopt Ecocide as the Fifth Crime against Peace under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. This will establish ecocide as a superior law that will override national laws and create a global level playing field for all.
The International Criminal Court is a court of last resort. We need to establish ecocide as a violation of Canadians’ basic beliefs.
Unlike most countries, Canadians do not have a legally recognized law that clearly establishes our inherent right to a healthy environment. As a result, our legal arsenal is inadequate to protect Canadians from dangerous industrial activities and prevent decisively pollution of our air, land, water and food.
David R. Boyd, one a Canada’s leading environmental lawyers has written an brilliant book , The Right to a Healthy Environment, where he advocates the reforming of Canada’s Constitution to better reflect Canadians’ cherished beliefs, to establish citizen’s inherent rights, and to clarify the responsibility of all governments to protect the environment .
Boyd writes, “Although the difference may not be readily apparent, constitutional and legislated environmental rights are like Siberian tigers and Siamese cats – related, but with dramatically different degrees of strength.”
To best protect our environmental rights a constitution amendment is required. David Boyd suggests, as a possibility, this rough draft:
The Canadian Charter of Environmental Rights and Responsibilities
The people of Canada understand that:
The beauty, vastness, and diversity of Nature are at the heart of the Canadian identity;
We are the stewards of a sacred trust, safeguarding Canada’s unique and magnificent natural heritage on behalf of the world;
The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat make us part of, and dependent upon, the environment;
The choices we make to meet our needs must not compromise the capacity of future generations and other peoples to satisfy their own needs;
Our future health, well-being, and prosperity depend on reducing our pressure on the Earth’s ecosystems and living graciously within Nature’s limits:
Therefore, we proclaim:
- Everyone has the right to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, including clean air, safe water, fertile soil, nutritious food, and vibrant biodiversity.
- Everyone has a responsibility to protect and, where possible, restore the environment.
- Everyone has the right to information about the state of the environment, the right to participate in making decisions that affect the environment, and the right of access to judicial remedies in response to violations of their right to live in a healthy environment.
- Governments at all levels, according to their jurisdiction under the Constitution Act, 1867, are trustees who share the responsibility for protecting and restoring the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations.
- Government laws, regulations, policies, and decisions shall apply the polluter pays principle, so that any individual, private enterprise, or public entity that damages the environment is responsible for paying the full costs of restoring, rehabilitating, or paying compensation for damages inflicted.
- Government laws, regulations, policies and decisions shall follow the precautionary principle, so that where there is evidence of potentially significant environmental harm, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used to avoid or delay the implementation of effective and efficient measures to prevent or mitigate the harm.
- Governments shall ensure that the costs of pollution and environmental damage are fairly distributed, that existing environmental injustices are alleviated, and that the benefits of environmental goods and services are enjoyed equitably.
- Educational programs at all levels, from preschool to university, must contribute to the implementation of the rights and responsibilities defined by this Charter.
- The rights of future generations and Nature shall be respected by governments when enacting laws or regulations, making decisions, developing policies, and implementing programs or budgets.
- Canada shall comply with the principles articulated in this Charter when engaged in negotiations or actions at the international level.
We need to develop and pass The Ecocide Act of Canada. The Ecocide Act of Canada will allow everyone “the right of access to judicial remedies in response to violations of their right to live in a healthy environment.” [see Charter above]
We need to modify the Ecocide Act of Canada so that it sits easily with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The strict liability provision to establish liability in the international Ecocide Act would have to be abandoned and modified so that any person with principal responsibility would be deemed guilty of ecocide if he knew or ought to have known that his action would result in ecocide.
Taken together, The Ecocide Act, The Canadian Charter of Environmental Rights and Responsibilities, and the Ecocide Act of Canada, would finally protect Nature and lead directly to a more peaceful, abundant, and sustainable Earth for its inhabitants both, now and in the future.
Finally, these measures along with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will establish Canada as a world leader in human rights.
Ron Hart is the former Executive Director of Relatives and Friends of Dead and Dying Smokers (RODDS), a group that advocated charging tobacco executives under Canada’s criminal code.