Environmental discrimination in Canada’s proposed oil pipeline

by Sherry Stanczyk

The term ‘environmental inequality’ is defined as the unequal allocation of pollution across the globe that unfairly falls onto poorer communities. Take for example landfills being built close to poorer neighbourhoods, or the construction of environmentally unsustainable factories in poorer countries where environmental regulation is not as strict. I also believe that the destruction of the environment by businesses or the government at the expense of indigenous populations also falls under the category of environmental discrimination and injustice. The majority of indigenous populations still choose to live off the land, and many times the devastation of the environment comes at a cost to their livelihood and the lands that they own and live on.

This issue can be seen currently in British Columbia, Canada, where the proposal to build an oil pipeline from neighbouring province to Alberta’s oil sands is currently on the plate. The creation of the oil pipeline would bring in a large amount of money into the Canadian economy, create jobs, and strengthen trading ties with Asia. However, because a large portion of the pipeline will be built on native land, and the chance of an oil spill could destroy the habitat of fish, the construction of the pipeline has been met with protest from native groups.

Although the construction of an oil pipeline and the chances of a possible oil spill are environmental issues that affect everyone in the area, the pipeline still effects and causes the most damage to the minority group of natives more than it does the typical Canadian. If the pipeline directly affected more people, it’s very likely that there would be more opposition, and that the idea for the pipeline would maybe not have been proposed in the first place. Is it fair to sideline a minority group for the ‘greater good’ of the economy? Just like discrimination of any other nature, overlooking the rights of a group of people is unethical. Utilitarianism may seem like the better option, but it’s not necessary the best choice for the long run. One could argue that the money from made from the pipeline could go back into programs and support to the effected native populations, but there is no guarantee this payback will be sufficient or will make up for the environmental damage to their lands. Instead, we need to protect our environment and vulnerable groups of people, and look into plans that are more sustainable for the long term.

It’s good to see that the protests against the pipeline in British Columbia have been fairly successful, and others are also adding their voices to the protest alongside the native bands. As of now the whether the project will go through is still up in air, and there is a chance it may never come into action.

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