A City of Surrey declaration enshrining a public ‘Right To a Healthy Environment’ – unanimously endorsed by council Jan. 11 – is receiving qualified praise from Terry McNeice, spokesperson of the South Surrey Ratepayers Association.
But McNeice – whose association has been fighting Ebco Metal Finishing LP’s proposed galvanizing plant in the 18600-block of 24 Avenue over potential pollution from emissions – said that while the language of the declaration is commendable, its true measure will be judged by council actions.
“We are anxiously awaiting to see if the city upholds many of the items covered in the declaration,” he told Peace Arch News.
The document is in line with the grassroots ‘Blue Dot’ movement – led by the David Suzuki Foundation – which is encouraging municipalities across Canada to make similar declarations, with the ultimate aim of amending the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the right to a healthy environment.
The Surrey declaration follows presentations by local Blue Dot representatives to both the city’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC) chaired by Coun. Mike Starchuk, and council in committee last summer.
“We’re happy we can support the movement and look forward to working with it in future,” Coun. Judy Villeneuve, who was among those who spoke in support of the declaration when it was adopted, told PAN.
“The City of Surrey will be recognized for taking a leadership role – we want to continue to be a progressive city and we’re trying to build on our record.
“We take (environmental concerns) very seriously and we want to do our due diligence to make sure we acknowledge the concerns the community has and that community voices are heard.”
The declaration states that “all people have the right to live in a healthy environment, including the right to breathe clean air; drink and access clean water; eat safe and healthy food; access nature; know about pollutants and contaminants released into the local environment; and participate in decision-making that will affect the environment.”
The declaration also says that by June 30 of this year the city will specify “objectives, targets, timelines and actions” it will take – “within its jurisdiction” to address residents’ right to a healthy environment.
In the preamble to the declaration, however, the city states that it is “articulating public policy principles” rather than creating or guaranteeing legal rights and obligations, and that where it differs from already established city bylaws, the bylaws will take precedence.
McNeice noted the declaration includes recognition of the importance of protecting citizens from environmental hazards.
This should include emissions from hazardous chemicals Ebco will use in the galvanizing process at its plant, McNeice said, adding that if Ebco does not keep to a past promise of zero emissions from the plant, the city could withhold or revoke its business licence “until the zero-emissions promise is fulfilled.”