Katie Perfitt fell in love with Halifax after a road trip to the city from her hometown in the Ottawa Valley with her mother. After that adventure, she decided to move to Halifax to do her masters in resource and environmental management at Dalhousie.
Now, Perfitt is one of six community organizers (the others are in British Columbia, Winnipeg and Montreal) with Blue Dot, a campaign of the David Suzuki Foundation. Its goal is to get environmental rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Blue Dot’s campaign involves passing declarations with municipalities that will recognize humans’ rights to a healthy environment. Blue Dot can help lift those declarations to the provincial level where they can be used as a model for provincial bills of rights on the environment. Enshrining environmental rights in the Charter is the final step.
“[The goal is] to have an inherent right to environmental rights: fresh air, clean water, and safe food, and access to information about the decisions that affect our health and have that enshrined in Canadian law,” Perfitt says. So far, 28 municipalities have passed declarations and 68,700 Canadians have joined their local Blue Dot movement.
Tell me about Blue Dot’s declarations.
The basic principles are the idea that the municipality supports the rights to air, water and soil, access to pollutants in our atmosphere and say about decision-making processes that affect our health. It is an aspirational piece so the declarations aren’t legally binding, but they are incredibly important for lifting the profile at the provincial level. What’s really exciting about Halifax is it could be the first community in Atlantic Canada that could really point to that, the fact that no Atlantic Provinces have provincial bills of rights, which are more meaty legislation.
So what is the action? You have the declaration, but is there community involvement?
Many communities have passed the declarations and are now looking at ways they can actually change their bylaws or regulations at a municipal level to achieve some of those pieces in that declaration… In Halifax we spent the fall coming together as a group. It was a totally new group of volunteers so we were learning about each other, establishing relationships. We organized a kick-off event at the end of November and we had 100 people come out. We had a big community art piece. We had some municipal councillors out… Coming up we have three events where we are going to be inviting the public to come. Two of the events are here. We will set up and have a postcard writing station, so not only sign the petition, which is really important, but also handwrite a letter to your local councillor saying why you want them to support the declaration.
Can the declarations be customized to the city, depending on a particular city’s environmental needs?
There is a model for the declarations developed by EcoJustice Canada [a non-profit organization that funds lawyers who go to court to defend the environment] and it’s very basic and does not apply to every community. So what we’re seeing is while some communities are keeping the declarations as is and just changing the name of the city on the document, some communities are adding pieces, modifying or taking away small aspects of it. Right now we presented the declaration to the HRM Environmental & Sustainability Standing Committee. City staff is now reporting on and they will likely come back with a draft that will fit the needs of the city.
How does the Blue Dot movement differ from other environmental movements?
In Halifax I find, for this project specifically, I am working a lot with parents, which is a new dynamic for me, but it’s a really special one. They are already busy enough, but this is the first time they are deciding they will be active on an environmental campaign because they are doing this to protect their children’s future…We have meeting where we have parents bringing their kids to the meetings and it’s an amazing dynamic.
Does that say something about the environmental movement overall?
This shows there is an appetite for something different in Canada. I feel like those people who have never stepped up before have never had an opportunity. I don’t know this is causing a shift. I think the shift has already happened, but people are just waiting for the opportunity to get involved and take action. There are so many things happening in our country that I think make people cringe and this is just such a positive message that people are willing to step up.
So how can people help?
The first thing to do is go to bluedot.ca and sign the petition. If you want to be involved with organizing in the local community you click the volunteer button and you go right to my inbox. Right now we are organizing for an event on Earth Day for a part of Earth Week on April 19. So we will be planning what that is. We will also be starting to support communities across Nova Scotia, so while we are doing local events we will be helping to get volunteers for other communities.
What is your hope for the city?
Halifax has such a leadership role. It’s the hub of the Atlantic region, and for us to sign on for this declaration would cause a domino effect in the Atlantic provinces where other communities would start picking up on this message and passing declarations of their own. I was just thinking about how the Atlantic region is frack [hydraulic fracturing] free right now. All of the Atlantic Provinces have some prohibition on fracking, and there’s a reason for that. People want a different narrative. In the way we have a frack-free region, we could really be leaders on environmental rights in Canada as a region.