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Wellesley backs call for environmental rights to be included in Constitution

Wellesley council  is on board with David Suzuki’s “Blue Dot” movement, which aims to enshrine environmental rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Councilors meeting Tuesday evening in Crosshill voted in favour of supporting a declaration on the topic put forward by the Region of Waterloo earlier this year.

The declaration says, in part, that “the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and its constituent area municipalities, have for many years striven within their respective areas of jurisdiction to maintain a healthy environment for all our citizens through initiatives including, but not limited to, official plan policies and bylaws protecting agricultural land and natural areas, making efficient use of urban land and infrastructure, the provision of clean and safe drinking water, sustainable use of water and energy, air quality and climate action plans, waste reduction strategies, transit and active transportation, promoting food safety, and providing outdoor recreational opportunities.”

Supporting the movement was a no-brainer for Mayor Joe Nowak.

“I supported this at the region and I am certainly willing to support it here,” he said. “Coun. (Herb) Neher raises the possibility that this could open some legal challenges, but to me, that would only be an indication that it is working properly, because if somebody is taking advantage of our clean water or our safe food in any which way, they should be challenged. So to me, this is an obvious decision.”

Ward 3 Coun. Peter van der Maas agreed.

“We don’t have the right to clean air or the right to clean water, at the moment we really don’t have these rights assured to us,” he said, noting how little private companies pay for access to massive amounts of water, as an example of what these rights could address in the future. “(There is a) tremendous amount of water that has been taken out of the aquifer, even in this region, to be used by private concerns. They are taking the water that we have a right to drink and turning it into a profit through plastic water bottles and there are incredible amounts of water being wasted that way. That’s our water and our rights to that water have been absconded (with).”

Neher abstained from the vote after raising concerns about the potential citizens could use the declaration as the basis for litigation against the township.

“My concerns are with the long-term implications of this, because everybody is concerned about health and all of these things and we have organizations out there that are concerned about health and the environment and the air and I’m not too sure what I’m declaring here; that it’s a part of human rights? When you get into that, my concern is that somewhere down the road we are going to open up a Pandora’s box of legal actions coming down the pipe.”

Ward 4 Coun. Carl Smit voted in favour, while Ward 1 Coun. Shelley Wagner was not present.

Local representatives of the Blue Dot movement are visiting municipal councils across the country, looking to build a consensus that environmental rights, like the right to free air and clean drinking water, need to be added to the charter. Jim Marston spoke to council on behalf of the organization.

“There are 149 nations across the world that currently recognize their citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment,” he said. “In over 80 per cent of those countries, having entrenched those rights at a national level has led to stronger environmental laws and improved protections for the environment. Canada isn’t one of those nations and that really is the goal of the Blue Dot movement, to protect Canadians’ environmental rights at the national level, ultimately through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is a part of our Constitution.”

The name “blue dot” comes from the way the Earth looks to astronauts in space.

Wellesley is the first township in the region to officially support the cause, joining Waterloo and Kitchener as well as the Region of Waterloo as proponents of the movement.

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