Developing a long-term strategy for CJTO!

Developing a long-term strategy for CJTO!

Why long-term strategy? 

We’ve grown a lot as an organization and embarked on many exciting projects since our founding in 2019. Something we felt was missing was a clear long-term goal around which we can orient and ground our daily work and individual campaigns, projects, and actions. In May, we formed a strategy committee that decided on a flexible year-long timeline to develop our long-term strategic plan. 

The strategy development process consists of four stages: a preparation stage, a design stage, a review stage, and a final organization-wide vote. We are currently in the preparation stage, which includes intention setting and reading together about past and contemporary social movements, theories, and strategies. 

Current timeline of the strategy development process (dates may shift as we move along)

A year can seem like a long time to develop a strategy – this is something we wrestled with as a committee. Ultimately, we decided that a year-long comprehensive process is worth it to set ourselves up well for 5, 10, or more years of incredible and necessary climate justice action! While the strategy committee is doing this slow and important methodical work, CJTO will also be keeping up other short-term projects and actions.

What have we learned so far?

As part of the preparation stage, we have developed a strategy committee syllabus. We meet weekly to discuss as a group, with rotating facilitators who create summary sheets on the readings in order to make participation in the discussion easier for anyone interested.  

You can check out our syllabus and follow along with us!

We’ve now completed the first theme in our syllabus “Histories: How Have successful organizers worked in the past?”. Here’s what we read and some big ideas:

Week One: Civil Rights & Black Liberation Movements

  • Payne, Charles M., I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (2007)
    • Chapter 8 – “Organizers and Organizing” p. 166-184
  • Self, Robert, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (2005)
    • Chapter 6 – “Black Power” p. 217-242

Big ideas: practical, immediate, and impactful actions show communities that the movement is real

Key concepts from this week were “deep organizing” or “spade work.” These involve organizers integrating into the local community via slow, patient, and deeply personal canvassing AND providing material needs outside of formal institutions. Deep organizing is predicated upon listening. It also involves building relationships. Deep organizing often serves both a practical function, by helping to meet the needs of our communities, and a performative or theatrical function, by drawing public attention to tangible issues affecting our communities. 

Doing deep organizing effectively would mean geographically grounding the scope of our activities to the municipal or even neighbourhood level, and scaling up from there to build solidarity between municipalities (and beyond). 

Week Two: Labour Movements

  • Heron, Craig, The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History (2012)
    • Chapter 4 – “The New Resistance” p. 94-119
  • Friedlander, Peter, Emergence of a UAW Local, 1936-1939: A Study in Class and Culture (1975)
    • Chapter 3 – “Offensive” p. 38-52

Big ideas: early union organizing was politicizing everyday life

The rise of neoliberalism has seen North American union organizing suffer from increasing centralization and bureaucratization. This has largely alienated union activities from the actual political needs of their members (i.e. unions now tend to fight only for wage and benefit contracts for their own industries, abandoning broader class struggle). In periods when it has been more successful, union organizing was employing those same “deep organizing” strategies we learned about in week one. Day-to-day relationship-building combined with performative “structure tests” created a deeply politicized workplace at the level of everyday experience, which fostered a sense of urgency and immediacy that is often lacking today.

Week Three: Other Political & Social Movements

  • Uetricht, Micah, Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity (2014)
    • Chapter 1 – “CORE” p. 20-43
  • Knapp, Michael, Anja Flach, and Ercan Ayboga,  Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan (2016) 

Big ideas: gradual transformative change that is not reformism means orienting ourselves at the neighbourhood and municipal level and building relationships that make it possible, when the conditions are right, to have structures outside of the state emerge

What does it mean to “reform” without being “reformist”?

We tend to think in binaries: i.e. there can either be a violent workers’ revolution OR we must work within and for the system (often the state via electoralism). The directly democratic councils and committees in Rojava, which implement gradual change completely outside the institutions of the nation-state, are an example of an alternative that uses decentralized, bottom-up political organization. 

Having “the right people in power” is not enough; often, leadership revolutions (whether of elected union officials or state politics) simply lead to consolidation of power in the hands of another party, and not to democratization. In both the Chicago Teachers Union and Rojava, we saw people making huge revolutionary moves, but doing it slowly and intentionally through deep organizing. 

Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved!

Deep organizing necessitates a combination of the practical and the performative in order to build strong relationships and embed ourselves in our communities. Deep organizing also necessitates a strong focus on the local; i.e. municipal or neighbourhood-based organizing. Being anti-capitalist/anti-statist in principle does not mean that we cannot strategically engage with the state, but it does imply the importance of building bottom-up political and economic structures outside of the state.

We always welcome new or old CJTO members to join the strategy committee at any time. To get involved, join #strategycommittee on our Slack channel or email us at!

Building a better future from the inside out: CJTO’s restructuring process

Building a better future from the inside out: CJTO’s restructuring process

By CJTO members Anna, Dani, Julia, and Brook


Climate Justice Toronto’s (CJTO’s)  roots can be traced back to February 2019, at the “Powershift: Young and Rising” gathering in Ottawa. A few members from Toronto started a group for organizing, and eventually founded Climate Justice Toronto in April, with the main organizing members forming an informal “Core”. Later in the spring, CJTO began electoral organizing with the Our Time campaign (centered around electing Climate Champions for the 2019 Federal election). As the organization expanded into various working groups or “pods”, regional hubs, and in membership, Core continued to add new members based on involvement and personal relationships. 

In December 2019, members raised a number of concerns  about Core. As the main decision making body for the rest of the organization, Core tended to centralize power, and this centralization brought with it an unsustainably and inaccessibly fast pace of work, anti-Blackness from members not being adequately addressed, and struggles with accountability. These issues led to longer Core meetings where conflict arose, a poor allocation of resources, which in turn led to burnout from Core members. These issues that originated in the earliest days of the organization’s existence that had been consistently acknowledged but never fully addressed are indicative of a challenge that many leftist organizations find ourselves repeatedly and frustratingly coming up against: the learned instinct to internally replicate structures and behaviours which fundamentally support the processes of capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy that we claim to be attempting to dismantle. 

This sort of systemic conditioning has risen to the surface several times in the two years since CJTO was founded, and in this particular case, the instinct to be constantly acting “with urgency” (i.e. at the burnout limits of members’ capacity) was driven primarily by two factors: firstly, CJTO’s organizational culture was shaped by the fact that it had always existed in relation to one massive mobilization campaign after the other (first the September Climate Strike, immediately followed by the 2019 federal electoral campaign, and finally the ongoing Wet’suwet’en crisis) and had therefore never known any other mode of work than a constant state of clamorous demand. 

Secondly, decision-making power had been centralized to the point of being bottlenecked into a handful of individuals, which worked to encourage this frantic pace in a cyclical way; not only were new members who joined CJTO informally directed to look to these individuals as leaders, and therefore examples of how one was expected to work within the organization, but they had also somewhat formally established a practice to only “invite” new members into “Core” who demonstrated a similar level of “committed” activity. In turn, as CJTO grew its membership, the pressure to maintain the organization’s activities at high capacity only served to reinforce this centralization, making it seemingly more and more difficult to distribute decision-making power without entirely ceasing operations. In fact, the forced cessation of most of our activities was, ultimately, what it took to actually begin to meaningfully acknowledge and dismantle these harmful structures, despite repeated attempts by CJTO members to call out the racism and ableism inherent in these elements of the organization’s operations.

In order to be able to work towards a world that was in alignment with our political principles, we felt that our organizational structure had to reflect the sort of political organization that we would want to see enacted in the world. This led to a series of strategy sessions that began the restructuring process. In March 2020, Core formed the Structure Committee to draft the initial structure proposal and one month later, shared this draft and solicited feedback. 

Throughout the summer of 2020, the Structure Committee gathered feedback on the proposal from membership; also during this time Core was dissolved. In the fall, feedback from members was organized into categories for discussion by the Structure Committee. The Structure Committee met weekly to discuss solutions to all the concerns raised in the feedback process, and implemented changes by the end of the year, which were presented back to membership for ratification in early 2021.


Structure Summary

Our new structure consists of four decentralized “Branches”. The Branches include “Campaigns and Mass Mobilization”, “Public Education and Storytelling”, “Community Care, Mutual Aid and Access”, and “Systems and Admin”. Each branch has a unique function in our organization and provides structure to our operations, while being rooted in our overarching political principles.


As autonomous entities, the  Branches are meant to decentralize power in CJTO. Branches are free to choose how they operate, including their own meeting schedule, decision making process, regular operations, and overall structure. Each Branch has a number of “pods” or working groups that operate under them. All pods are also autonomous and work within the parameters of their respective Branch.

Steering Committee

CJTO-wide decisions and report backs from each Branch are presented at a monthly Steering Committee, where each Branch is allocated a minimum of 2 and maximum of 4 Branch reps to represent its interests. All CJTO members are welcome to attend Steering Committee meetings and participate in discussions, but it is only Branch reps who are able to vote on behalf of their Branches.


For certain key decisions made at Steering Committee, quorum must be met. Quorum has two conditions: that every branch is represented by a minimum of two and maximum of four Branch reps; and that there is a minimum number of total reps present, which is: 50% + 1 (i.e. 9 total reps for quorum). A Steering Committee can still be held if there is no quorum (e.g. for report backs), but no decisions can be made without meeting quorum.

Decision Making

Decisions at Steering Committee (SC) are made using a numbered consensus model. In this model:

1 = Full support; 2 = Support with reservations; 3 = Abstain; and 4 = Block.

The consensus process involves the following steps:

  1. A proposal is brought forward to the SC meeting (this proposal will have already been provided to the Branches ahead of time, so that the Branches and their Reps can discuss their stances on it prior to the SC meeting).
  2. Branch Reps, caucuses, and any other CJTO members present at the SC discuss the merits and concerns of the proposal.
  3. After conversation has been exhausted, the original proposal OR the newly amended proposal is brought forward to a vote.
  4. All present Branch/caucus/regional hub Reps vote using the numbered consensus scale as outlined above.
  5. Outcome:
    1. If ⅔ of the votes are 1 or 2, the proposal passes.
    2. If over ⅓ of the votes are 2 or 3, the proposal does not pass, and we return to step 1. 
    3. If there are any number of 4’s, the proposal does not pass, and we return to step 1.
  6. Proposal passes.

SPECIAL CASE: for decisions involving a proposal to veto an action that may directly violate CJTO’s principles, a consensus-minus-one model would be used. In this case, 4’s from the Rep/entity in question cannot block the proposal.
See this instagram post for an infographic on this decision making model!

Orientations and Trainings

Orientations and Trainings are the proposed touchpoints for new members, replacing general meetings as the first point of entry to CJTO. These touchpoints ensure all members are aligned with our principles and have the skills to organize on their own in our decentralized Branches. 

Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

At Annual General Meetings (AGMs) all CJTO members — not solely the Branch reps — have voting power. During an AGM, a super majority of ¾ of voters will be required for decisions to pass, as opposed to the consensus model used at SC.


A first draft of the above structure was developed in early 2020 by a small committee of CJTO members. A workshop was planned for April with the intention of approving this structure proposal. This first draft was presented as a proposal to Core two weeks before the workshop, and to general membership  one week before the workshop for members to review. The workshop consisted of a majority of Core members and a few general members. During the workshop, it was clear that how the proposal was presented lacked transparency and was inaccessible, as members did not have adequate time to review the structure proposal, and the document itself was dense and included jargon. As a result of these concerns, the proposal was blocked during the voting process and did not pass.


Over the course of the few months after the new structure was originally presented, several CJTO members consistently advocated that any new structure we adopted could only possibly be as democratic as the process we took to implement it. In other words, the amount of thoughtfulness and care that we took to lay down each brick would end up being reflected in the quality of the house we were building together, and unless we worked to make the restructuring process itself as accessible and transparent as possible, the new structure would likely reflect all of the same problems we were trying to solve.

That summer was challenging; in many ways, it felt like there was quite a lot at stake, not least the relationships that we had built with each other, which were already strained by social distancing. Conversations were sometimes heated, and during this period several members stepped back from CJTO altogether, sharing ways in which they had been harmed over the course of the past several months.

The restructuring process continued into the fall, but was operating very differently than it had been. The Structure Committee designed a slow and deliberate feedback solicitation and implementation process which, over the course of six more months, solicited feedback from our members as democratically and accessibly as possible, through townhalls, small workshops, one-on-one meetings, and online feedback forms. The Structure Committee took every single piece of feedback that was received and implemented it into the structure proposal, then engaged in a second round of feedback solicitation, this time also meeting with trusted local organizers outside of CJTO for their perspectives as well. 

We were, for the first time, engaging in this work slowly and intentionally, making every effort that we could think of to meaningfully connect with all of our members and incorporate their thoughts and perspectives, and what happened when we started moving slower? CJTO did not crumble. Our work did not suffer. 
Quite on the contrary; the intentional nature of this new process produced a structure proposal that was far better than the one originally proposed. The more democratic nature of the restructuring process produced a structure that was itself more democratic – who could possibly have predicted that? Ah yes, all of those individuals who had consistently laboured to advocate for these changes within CJTO could, and did, predict that.


Just over one year after our first Structure workshop we hosted our inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM) on May 3, 2021 with the main goal of reviewing and passing our amended structure. The AGM happened over zoom, and included guest speakers Paul Taylor (anti-poverty activist, Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, and federal NDP candidate for Parkdale-High Park), Michelle Woodhouse (Program Manager of Freshwater Protections and the Great Lakes at Environmental Defence and CJTO member), and Pam Frache (labour, student, and social movement organizer, and Ontario Coordinator at Justice for Workers: Decent Work for All – previously Fight for $15 and Fairness). We presented our revised and accessible Structure proposal at the AGM and put the proposal to a vote. Spoiler alert: it passed unanimously! 

To ensure a successful implementation of the new Structure, and a stronger organization, we allocated representatives as Branch transition reps to put together a Branch mandate with their Branch members, organize any logistical transition materials, and host a first Branch meeting before our first Steering Committee meeting. We also started a Principles Committee, to solidify our political principles that have been in draft; a Conflict Resolution Committee to build out a process to CJTO members to hold ourselves accountable and safe; and a Strategy Committee to design the strategy process for CJTO. All of these committees have now been implemented and are starting this work, which will be presented at a future  Steering Committee or Annual General Meeting.


The systems we’re living and organizing in–and trying to resist–impose constant pressure to produce quantifiable results.  In forcing us to confront the fact that CJTO has been far from immune to this deeply-internalized drive, the structure process demonstrated that if we want an anti-capitalist political structure, the work itself needs to be infused with anti-capitalism at its core; it isn’t enough to have the “right” principles if we aren’t adhering to them in the process of doing the work. This means that, as an organization, we need to take the full time necessary to do in-depth structural work: we need a structure that reflects the kind of world we want to see, and the only way to build and maintain that structure is to be open to continually being challenged–sometimes through conflict–and to create a space where those challenges can be worked through.

Tied up with this pressure to be constantly productive is a pressure towards toxic positivity–to be good friends with everyone you organize with, and therefore to “get along” and avoid conflict.  This was probably always going to be especially true for a group consisting entirely of young organizers who gained a large platform relatively quickly: many of us have tended to quickly attach our organizing work to our identity and sense of self, so that when our ideas are challenged, it feels like a challenge to how “good” we are as people, as well as a threat to the friendships we’ve built doing the work.

But the relationships we build in organizing aren’t going to be the same as all of our friendships–we can, and often have to, be comrades with people we aren’t friends with and may not even like.  And when we’re building these relationships with the specific intention of working together to strategize and fight for the world we need, conflict is not only inevitable, but generative.  It shows up when we reach the most critical questions, questions we need to work through if we’re going to do anything more than continually gather a bunch of friends with similar politics.
More broadly, this process taught us that CJTO is ultimately not a specific group of people.  The group of people most involved with the structure process changed drastically over the months, with some stepping back and others who entered partway through and made essential contributions. The fact that, early on, we kept clear, accessible records and worked to make the process transparent to the organization as whole, however, meant that the structure process continued despite this turnover.  Assuming we do this kind of groundwork, the movement we’re building has its own irresistible spirit that can survive when any one person needs to step back and rest.

Other Resources:

Disassembly line

Disassembly line

By Julia DaSilva

Julia DaSilva (she/her) has been organizing with CJTO since the spring of 2019. When she’s not working on the CJTO blog, she can be found writing poetry and fantasy, studying magic systems, or baking muffins.

(Pictured above: Artwork by Maia Grecco. Check out her work on her website:

manual for the dis-assemblage / of a peak efficiency / that has pulled you apart.

use a power drill to pull out the nails of the golf course.

they’re there under the grass.  You can think of it as weeding

the clumps of linear machinery that insist

on popping up.

this portion of collective space unpackaged,

look around for the clock-

adjacent sense of time that makes life here

possible. the clock hovering in the barn and none

when you carry your sweater outside. outside

learn the names of the roads.

pedal up and down a new one each day until

you’ve gear-shifted past every conveyor

on which you’ve every trailed behind 

a faceless form:

the borders that assemble scarcity

by checkpoint, the logistics

of fortressing obscured

as storm-proofing for the hurricane.

rename them after

the cats slipping out of your way.

if you reach the shoreline,

as you must, take note of its erosion

by the notion that there is an original

to this simulacrum of natural border. the corrosion happens

by wheels of offshore clockmaking:

they churn up sand and weed

the ocean with oil rigs and all those sterilizing

forms of gardening.

bike to the next town and

the next until you meet someone

who can fill in the fields between

with the whisper of their name. ask,

should we make the preserves today?

back at your workstation,

have someone with a basket

to collect all the parts.

they might not all be worth salvaging,

but at the very least you can avoid cutting your feet, later

on the bells that drop

from the cat’s collar.

money-commodity-money those bells have jingled

your whole life. you have been sequence

after sequence.

the long shop’s ever-present balancing

problem: the cat takes the claws she has used to knead

affection into your lap and

works off her obligatory tinkling alarm and soon

it’s hard to tell if you’re an endangered flying squirrel

or the object of someone’s love.

the right balance will return your affection to her.

it’s not even her fault.

but you need to have someone there.

the collar tightens around your neck too

until it snaps.

and you can’t be alone when it does, even if you are, in fact

the last thing in your inventory.

between shifts, learn to sleep

on both sides of the bed

until you’ve worked on the line long enough

to put yourself back together with

non-interchangeable parts.

survey the patch of weeds

left on your heart. there’s a way to deal

with these tiniest remnants.

undermine them with a fork. if

there isn’t going to be rain you can just

let them dry there,

but that’s a big if; here, there are

heartfuls of rain. best to scrabble

with your fingers until you get most

of them. assure yourself it won’t always be like this:

you have to circle back but if you do it right

new strawberries should poke their heads

from the mulch bed under your ribs.

take your jar of strawberry jam all

weeded and sealed and sterilized against

the only real storm,

and go straight to the shore,

just this once. 

Food justice and community mutual aid in conversation with FoodShare Toronto’s Director of Advocacy and Programs, Katie German

Food justice and community mutual aid in conversation with FoodShare Toronto’s Director of Advocacy and Programs, Katie German

By Sabrina Michael

Sabrina Michael is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, part-time student, and collector of library fines. She writes about labour, culture, and politics anywhere she can. Her work has been featured in The Pigeon and TRNTO. You can find her on Twitter at @sabrinammich.

Edited by Natalie Wee.

(Pictured above: Artwork by CJTO member Brook,

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the inequalities inherent in food systems worldwide. A CBC article published in November 2020 highlighted the fact that in Toronto, low-wage workers took the brunt of worsening food insecurity, a majority of these being Black, Indigenous, and people of colour. According to the Toronto Fallout Report, Statistics Canada reported 14.6% of Canadians were food insecure as of May 2020, a 39% increase from 2017–18. Food insecurity means that people do not have reliable access to enough affordable, healthy food to eat. 

Understanding these statistics requires a holistic approach. Food access in Toronto is situated within a broader global ecosystem that is itself impacted by systems of power such as capitalism, colonialism, and systemic racism. Food access is also deeply connected to land justice. One cannot consider Indigenous sovereignty without also addressing food justice; white settler colonialism has created a system in which food is more connected to capital than the land. Deconstruction of these capitalist settler ideals of who is worthy of food access and land ownership is an essential component of food justice. 

Food justice as a framework and social movement seeks to respond to the problem of food insecurity by adopting such a holistic view, and responding with solutions that remove structural barriers to accessing healthy food. This is done by promoting actions and projects in sustainable agriculture, labour rights, anti-racist policy, and Landback actions. Food justice organizers are often also involved in mutual aid groups, which work to provide food to those in need and fill gaps in political policy while fighting for communities’ rights to grow, sell, and access healthy and culturally appropriate food. 

In Toronto, there are many groups doing this type of work. Some of them include: Community Fridges Toronto, an initiative where community fridges are stocked with free food and necessities; The People’s Pantry Toronto, which offers home-cooked meals and groceries to food-insecure folks around the GTA; and FoodShare Toronto, which aims to develop long-term solutions for an equitable food system centered around food justice values. Although these organizations have laudable goals, they are often expected to fill gaps in policy when what’s needed are long-term, structural solutions. 

Climate Justice Toronto caught up with Katie German, FoodShare’s Director of Advocacy and Programs, to talk about food justice and explore what FoodShare does in the community. 

As Canada is built upon stolen Indigenous land, any conversations about food justice must include Indigenous justice and land justice.

“The idea that people can consider food without considering soil, without considering land, without considering whose land it is, like,” German considers for a moment before concluding, “you just can’t.”

The question of land and colonialism is being taken up in an emerging global Indigenous social movement mobilizing under the banner of “Land Back”. Broadly, land back campaigns work to get Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands. More than this, they also seek to restore a different, more sustainable relationship to land. In so-called Canada, we saw an example of a Land Back campaign in July 2020, when Haudenosaunee land defenders occupied a housing development that was to be built on unceded Six Nations territory, creating what is now known as 1492 Land Back Lane. Their Facebook page notes that they are growing a community garden and “an orchard of cherry, apple and pear trees” on the land, as noted on spokesperson Skyler Williams’ Facebook page, as part of “[t]aking care of the land and one another.”

Care for one another through mutual aid is also a driving tenet for what food justice can look like in the city. 

“Our vision is a Toronto where everyone can feed themselves and their loved ones and their communities with dignity and joy,” German says. “Something we’re really focused on is trying to see some movement on realizing the right to food. The right to food is legally recognized federally, and legally recognized by the municipal government—and yet, what do you see?”

The City of Toronto actually has a Food Charter which was created in 2000 as a commitment to the United Nations’ Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, which includes the right to be free from hunger. The Food Charter states that Toronto City Council will, among other things, “champion the right of all residents to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious, culturally-acceptable food without the need to resort to emergency food,” and “advocate for income, employment, housing, and transportation policies that support dignified access to the food people need.” 

It’s clear that the City Council is aware of the role structural inequity plays in food insecurity, given their 2000 Food Charter, but their willingness to act on these proposed solutions is less clear when one looks into their current policies. Data from 2019 shows that 1 out of 5 Toronto households experiences food insecurity,  and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, City food policy has heavily relied on emergency food

Explaining FoodShare’s work in relation to emergency food, German explains emergency food relief is an immediate lifeline, it is not a long-term solution. “We’ve never done food banking or free food because it’s really difficult, almost impossible, to do that in a way that supports agency. […] It’s that self-determined community power piece that’s really important, and it’s also why FoodShare has never done emergency food relief.”

Instead, FoodShare prioritizes community-determined projects like their Good Food Markets program, which supports and trains community members to create independent food markets in neighbourhoods where farmer’s markets may not be viable due to low sales. As German explains, “Part of the reason why [Good Food Markets] works so well is because it’s entirely determined by the community, what food they’re going to be making available. […] So it’s all about the community having control and taking back some of the power in how that food system works.”

FoodShare’s Good Food Markets connects community leaders with fresh produce vendors and the resources necessary to coordinate and organize their own independent markets. 

German says, “In recent years we’ve really tried to really focus on who we’re working with—where are we allocating resources, whose voices are getting amplified, who’s getting access to resources. […] We’re intentional about asking: ‘how do we support community leaders that are already doing this work, already identifying solutions, and already know what’s best for their community?’”

She explained that, all too often, charities have good intentions but end up exacerbating the same issues they are attempting to fix, as governments assume they are doing the work that should be addressed through policy. 

“A lot of these organizations—FoodShare included—were set up to address a broken food system, but then ended up replicating a lot of the really crappy structures that exist out in the world.”

Food justice does not exist within a vacuum. Systemic injustices throughout society play a role in access to food and in food agency. As German explains, “One [element] is adequate income, and that means also, how do people live if they’re not working. The way that food security gets fixed is through income, and it’s primarily an issue of money— but even if we fixed income inequality, there’s still systemic racism that exists within the food system.”

Racial disparities in food inequality are another element of the racism and structural inequality that Canada was built upon. Black households are 3.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity than white households—even when taking factors such as homeownership, immigration status, and education levels into consideration.

“The second [element] is that we address systemic racism and for people to know that, fundamentally, the food system was designed and built and is currently maintained by the exploitation of Black people, Brown people, and people of colour. That exists both in agriculture, but also […] in all of the sorts of precarious, dangerous jobs that exist across the food system.”

There is an increasing death toll among migrant workers in Canada, who make up approximately one-fifth of the Canadian agricultural workforce and are subject to exploitative work and housing conditions, which they are often hesitant to report for fear of being blacklisted from the industry. Gig workers working for food delivery apps such as UberEats and DoorDash often face exploitative algorithmic pay rates with little protection or ability to unionize. Social response to injustice in these areas includes Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a member-led organization of migrant workers fighting for labour and immigration justice, and Gig Workers United, a community union of gig workers across apps and employers that aims to fight for labour rights and protections. 

German tells Climate Justice Toronto that a holistic government approach is necessary, explaining that, “The thing that we need is real investment from government and policy responses that look at income distribution, wealth redistribution, income policies, and how food is deeply connected to the environment.”

For example, she argues, “Any nutrition you get from food comes from soil.”

Soil health is massively important in managing carbon emissions. Agricultural practices such as growing mono-crops (repeatedly growing the same type of crop in a field), using excessive pesticides and fertilizers, and overgrazing are practices that can cause unhealthy soil to release carbon into the atmosphere. 

Regenerative farming aims to improve and replenish the ecosystem and improve soil health, causing the soil to become a “carbon sink,” with carbon stored in the soil instead of released into the atmosphere. The exact methods vary from region to region depending on the ecosystem but can include crop rotation, minimizing soil tillage, and rotational livestock grazing.  

Food comes from land and soil, from individuals’ labour, from dozens of factors working in tandem to create our food system. Ultimately, food justice is not possible without a holistic, long-term approach, but the solutions are out there. 

To learn more about FoodShare, visit:

Wiisagendam aki: Indigenous body as a site of environmental violence

Wiisagendam aki: Indigenous body as a site of environmental violence

by Annie MacKillican

Annie is a graduate student at Trent University and is Algonquin from Mattawa North Bay First Nation with mixed Scottish ancestry. Annie’s current research project involves an examination of sexual violence against Indigenous women in the Albertan tar sands region. Annie is also a beadwork artist and performer.

Edited by Alexandra Simpson.

(Pictured above: “My Body is Not Terra Nullius” by Erin Marie Konsmo.)

otigwaan (the head) 

When colonization began in the late 1400s, a variety of constructed systems were imposed on Indigenous communities by Europeans hoping to Christianize the territory and by extension, those who had occupied it since time immemorial. Hetero-patriarchal systems of governance and relations, white supremacy, and most notably, capitalism, have all been working to sustain settler-colonialism for the past several hundred years, and have incidentally contributed significantly to the destruction of the land, and to serious harm done to Indigenous women, girls and queer or Two-Spirit folks and their bodies.

To see how this desecration of the land has impacted Indigenous women’s bodies, we must begin at the birthplace of the harm; the mind. Capitalism, as it has settled on this land, has convinced us that our relationship to the land must be one of extraction, of greed, and of amassing wealth at all costs. Alongside settler-colonialism and white supremacy, capitalism has convinced us that this is the only way to relate to our more-than-human relatives, and to our land. Capitalism has transformed our lands, relations, and kin into resources to be extracted. As Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson points out, there is no capitalism in traditional Nishnaabeg ways of living; the accumulation and hoarding of capital is offensive to the greater-than-human relations who also occupy this land.1 Capitalism has also become the primary support for the persistence of settler-colonialism on Turtle Island, and globally. It has made Mother Earth into a resource from which to extract, as opposed to a relative. It has poisoned our minds to make us believe there is no other way to live, but this is not the case.

opan (the lungs)

Lubicon Lake Cree Nation in so-called Alberta has asserted since the arrival of Europeans to their lands that their territory has always been unceded—meaning they have never participated in any historical or modern treaty process, and Canada has no legitimate claim to pillage their lands.2 Despite this, the ancestral lands of the Lubicon Cree has undergone massive oil and gas development without the consent of the community for the last thirty years. More than 1400 square kilometres of the territory are in use for development with over 2600 oil and gas wells sitting in the territory. According to Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a climate activist and member of Lubicon Lake Nation, almost 70% of the remaining land has been leased to extractive agencies for future development.

With further development comes a high risk of pipeline leaks and disasters. In 2011, the Rainbow Pipeline leaked 4.5 million litres of oil onto the territory, causing not only the devastation of the environment, but also several physical symptoms that continue to plague the community.3 Members of Lubicon Lake have seen this disaster manifest in their respiratory systems, with the community developing elevated rates of lung cancer, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. Children and elders have been especially vulnerable to the poor quality of air which has become commonplace in the region. Lubicon Lake is not an exception, it is the rule. Communities near oil sands projects are facing devastating respiratory problems across all generations. Ultimately, this is because governments and corporations do not manage the tar sands to protect people or to protect the land. Their only priority is to protect profits and to mitigate the culpability of the state

omisad (the stomach)

On February 6th, 2020, the RCMP moved into raid Wet’suwet’en territory at the Unist’ot’en camp, arguing that they were enforcing an injunction which would allow Coastal GasLink to begin construction of a natural gas pipeline which would cut directly through the unceded yintah, or the land. The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, land and water defenders, and community members opposed the construction of the pipeline (as well as two other pipelines) on the grounds that it would cause irreparable harm to the area’s watershed, as well as the plants and animals who depend on the health of the water.4

The Coastal GasLink pipeline, Pacific Trails pipeline, and the Northern Gateway pipeline all pose a threat to the traditional hunting, trapping and fishing territories which are necessary to allow the community to sustain their lands in a way that not only considers the longevity of the earth, but also allows them to participate in traditional food patterns.5 In a time when grocery prices in northern or remote areas are often inaccessibly high, access to traditional foods are essential for the survival of a community. Food sovereignty contributes significantly to the political sovereignty of a nation, and this is what the Wet’suwet’en people are trying to protect. However, food sovereignty does not grow profit or capital, and is therefore not in the interest of the state or of extractive companies. The destruction of food sources is an attack on Indigenous nations.

oniijawin (the womb)

Women are the first environment. Their bodies create and sustain life, their future generations experience the world in the same ways that they do. Through pregnancy and during infancy, women nourish the future generations of the nation. Children develop relationships to Mother Earth in the same way that they relate to their own mothers. For these reasons, the struggle for environmental justice cannot be separated from Indigenous women’s reproductive health. Katsi Cook, a Mohawk elder and midwife, urges us to consider environmental toxins as a direct threat to the future of Indigenous nations through the harm they cause to the reproductive system.6

A fetus can carry up to seven million eggs before its birth; this means that we all lived inside our maternal grandmothers for a short time. The generational links between women and their children and grandchildren is innate; this also means that the future of Indigenous nations is very vulnerable to environmental harm. Women in proximity to extractive projects can pass down contaminants and toxins to their children through their bodies. An attack on nature must be seen as an attack on the women, and by extension, an attack on the children.7 However, the mitigation of these attacks is not a priority of the state. Indigenous women, Black women, and women of colour more broadly, are seen as a threat to a capitalist, white supremacist society because they hold the power to produce future generations of non-white children. Indigenous women are a threat to Canadian sovereignty.

omiskwiim (the blood)

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Reed Paper mill dumped nearly nine thousand kilograms of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River, which flows downstream into Grassy Narrows First Nation. The mercury had a grave effect on the fish population, which made up a large portion of the community’s diet. Once mercury enters a species’ system, it is there forever through a process called “bioaccumulation”.8 Over the past several generations, the mercury poisoning has plagued both the fish population and the community in Grassy Narrows, materializing in the blood of each generation through the placenta during pregnancy.

As the mercury poisoning has continued to plague the community, Grassy Narrows has seen a serious deficit in healthcare options, and a serious increase in health problems arising from the toxic chemicals lurking in the bodies of most of the community members. Children and elders face the most serious health problems, as they have more vulnerable immune systems, but the community’s women bear the burden of empoisoning future generations through childbirth. Why, over fifty years since the pollution began, are the people of Grassy Narrows still fighting for clean water and medical care? Their survival as a community is a threat to Canadian nationalism.

ojichaagwan (the soul)

Settler colonialism and capitalism rely on the connections between Indigenous women’s bodies and the land in order to operate across Turtle Island and elsewhere globally. Women in Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to colonial violence at the hands of the resource extraction industry because they are the ones tasked with holding and protecting the land for the next several generations.9 In breaking the spirit of the women, girls and queer or Two-Spirit folks in the community, the core of the Nation is destroyed, and colonial governments or corporations can more easily access the land for exploitation.

In Fort McMurray, as well as near all other extractive projects globally, the presence of man camps, or workers camps, have increased the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against Indigenous women significantly. In Fort McMurray, the ratio of men to women has climbed as high as two to one, creating an intense patriarchal culture which has normalized violence against the land and against Indigenous women’s bodies.10 By working to protect capital instead of human lives, colonialism and capitalism have authorized this assault on the body, the land, and the spirit of Indigenous communities across the globe.

Despite the collective hurt that capitalism and settler-colonialism have caused across Turtle Island, Indigenous women and queer people have demonstrated time and time again how much resilience is to be found in their communities. Indigenous people continuously face environmental and state violence with a deep desire to heal the damage caused to the body and the land, and to protect Mother Earth for the next seven generations to come. Indigenous communities hold fast to the truth that they have been caring for these lands long before capitalism and settler-colonialism, and they will continue to care for them long after settler society has collapsed. In the meantime, Indigenous women put their bodies on the front line of land and water defense movements, risking their own safety for the survival of their communities. They reclaim control over their bodies and as a result, reclaim the ability to nurture and protect their lands.11

[1] Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Nishnaabeg Anticapitalism,” in As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 71–82.

[2] Melina Laboucan-Massimo, “Awaiting Justice: The Ceaseless Struggle of the Lubicon Cree,” in A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice, ed. Toban Black et al. (Toronto: Between The Lines, 2014).

[3] Keith Stewart and Greenpeace Canada, “The Rainbow Spill: A Case of Crime and (No) Punishment,” 2018,

[4] Lee Wilson, “RCMP Move in on Wet’suwet’en Territory in Early Morning Raid,” APTN News, February 7, 2020,

[5] Unist’ot’en Camp, “NO PIPELINES: Background of the Campaign,” Unist’ot’en: Heal the People, Heal the Land (blog), 2017,

[6] Katsi Cook, “Powerful Like a River: Reweaving the Web of Our Lives in Defense of Environmental and Reproductive Justice,” in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, ed. Melissa K. Nelson (Rochester: Bear & Company, n.d.).

[7] Andrea Smith, “Rape of the Land,” in Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (Duke University Press, 2015), 55–78,

[8] Jody Porter, “Children of the Poisoned River,” CBC News, accessed May 25, 2021,

[9] Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network, “Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence,” 2016,

[10] Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

[11] This article cites Andrea Smith, a well-known scholar who has long claimed a false identity as a Cherokee woman. Smith’s work, Conquest, which was cited in this article, chronicled the experiences of abuse and violence suffered by many Indigenous women across Turtle Island at the hands of the state which should not be invalidated by Smith’s false claims, despite the harm that Smith has caused herself to Indigenous communities both within and outside of academia. I encourage those who wish to learn more about Smith’s false claims to read the open letter published by Indigenous women scholars following the discussions about Smith. This letter can be found at:


Cook, Katsi. “Powerful Like a River: Reweaving the Web of Our Lives in Defense of Environmental and Reproductive Justice.” In Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, edited by Melissa K. Nelson. Rochester: Bear & Company, n.d.

Laboucan-Massimo, Melina. “Awaiting Justice: The Ceaseless Struggle of the Lubicon Cree.” In A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice, edited by Toban Black, Stephen D’Arcy, Joshua Kahn Russell, and Tony Weis. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2014.

Porter, Jody. “Children of the Poisoned River.” CBC News. Accessed May 25, 2021.

Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. “Nishnaabeg Anticapitalism.” In As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, 71–82. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Smith, Andrea. “Rape of the Land.” In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, 55–78. Duke University Press, 2015.

Stewart, Keith and Greenpeace Canada. “The Rainbow Spill: A Case of Crime and (No) Punishment,” 2018.

Unist’ot’en Camp. “NO PIPELINES: Background of the Campaign.” Unist’ot’en: Heal the People, Heal the Land (blog), 2017.

Wilson, Lee. “RCMP Move in on Wet’suwet’en Territory in Early Morning Raid.” APTN News, February 7, 2020.

Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network. “Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence,” 2016.

Paid Sick Days Save Lives

Paid Sick Days Save Lives

by Gaibrie Stephen

Gaibrie Stephen is an Emergency Physician working in the Peel Region and a member of Decent Work and Health.

Edited by Alexandra Simpson.

“Doc, I can’t stay here— I have to go home. I have to work in the morning.” These are the words I’ve heard more than once as an emergency physician both while I was in training and now as an independent emergency physician. It is usually what’s said by my patients before I brief them on the risks and benefits of leaving against medical advice (AMA). I’ll run through the list of risks: worsening disease, incomplete diagnosis, disability and potentially even death. My patient will then look at me and say something along the lines of, “I know. I have to leave because I can’t afford to miss work”. Some of my patients will manage to keep well at home. This would be the best case scenario. Many return to the emergency department in a worse condition than they left. 

I’m trained to identify medical emergencies. Every time a person I’ve identified with an emergency signs out of the ER because they “can’t miss work” it’s clear— our system is built not for workers to thrive, but for workers to barely survive while big corporations continue to benefit from their labour.

The situation I have just described does not have to be the case. Access to paid sick days means workers would be afforded the dignity to take time to recuperate from illness. Paid sick days, quite literally, could save lives. 

COVID-19 has accelerated the movement for paid sick days and this has been justified by how much workplaces have been a hotspot for transmission. In Peel, where I practice emergency medicine, over 66% of COVID-19 cases from September to December 2020 were linked to a workplace outbreak. One in four individuals went to work with symptoms1. Just in the past month we saw the shutdown of Amazon’s factory in Peel region because of an outbreak of the virus. 

It isn’t difficult to appreciate how paid sick days might have an impact in the pandemic. The ability to take time off from work without economic impact empowers workers to stay home. Early COVID-19 infections can be minimally symptomatic and can present with a headache, a scratchy throat or a small runny nose. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), the federal program for income support, requires that workers miss 50% of their work week in order to be eligible. For workers who are living paycheck to paycheck, losing a day or two of income might mean they won’t be able to pay rent or feed their families. Furthermore, CRSB has been known to have weeks of delay before payments are made to workers. 

The idea that paid sick days curb pandemics isn’t radical. The World Health Organization recognizes that, “the absence of paid sick days forces ill workers to decide between caring for their health or losing jobs and income”2. We know that workers without paid sick leave are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with an illness. An analysis of the H1N1 pandemic from 2009 found that an absence of paid sick leave likely contributed to an excess of seven million infections in the pandemic and over 1300 deaths. 

Despite the evidence for paid sick days, 58% of Canadians do not have access to a single day of paid sick leave. As few as 10% of low income workers have paid sick leave and we know that the majority of these workers are of racial minorities3

The pandemic has also drawn attention to the lack of value assigned to unpaid care work of which women disproportionately bear the burden. Full time Canadian women took approximately 1.5 times more days off from work than men in 2020 to fulfill caregiving responsibilities4. The feminist economic recovery plan for Canada identifies that paid sick days is a gender disparity issue and includes legislating paid sick leave as a key recommendation in closing the disparate outcomes in women in this pandemic5

Not only will paid sick days save lives during the pandemic but it will have a strong impact on decent work for years to come. The reality is that many people living in Canada have been keeping their head just barely above water financially, even prior to the pandemic. For many of my patients who are barely surviving pay-check to pay-check, one brief day of illness is all it takes to collapse their financial security. It is really difficult in Canada to achieve a decent quality of living on the current minimum wage, especially considering the increasingly unaffordable housing market and soaring student debts. As a result, people are experiencing more economic hardship than the generations before them. 

Paid sick days are the absolute minimum with regards to decent work standards, especially in a pandemic where we are telling people to “just stay home”. Despite the overwhelming evidence and the ongoing spread of Covid-19 in the workplace impact of a lack of paid sick leave, the movement for paid sick leave has been met with inaction at every level of government. My practice of medicine has made this abundantly clear; that paid sick days are fundamental to protecting individual and community health in this global health crisis. 

Want to get involved in advocating for paid sick days? Here’s some resources to learn more.

1. Decent Work and Health

Before It’s too Late: How to close the paid sick days gap during COVID-19 and beyond

2. Fight for $15 and Fairness (Sign up for updates)

1 1 in 4 Covid Cases Found Through Contract Tracing in Peel Were Those Who Went to Work Sick. Data Reveals How Ontario’s Lack of Paid Sick Legislation Fails Vulnerable Workers.

2 The Case for Paid Sick Leave. WHO. (2010)

3 “Before It’s too Late: How to close the paid sick days gap during COVID-19 and Beyond”.

4 “Work Absence of Full Time Employees by Geography”.

5 “Feminist Recovery Plan”.

An Introduction to UNDRIP: Understanding the Declaration and its implementation in Canada

An Introduction to UNDRIP: Understanding the Declaration and its implementation in Canada

by Ella Hartsoe

(Pictured above: Poster with UNDRIP’s name at winter 2020 protests. Photo by Jansher Saeed.)

More and more at demonstrations and in organizing spaces, discussion about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has become common. But what is UNDRIP, and what is Bill C-15, the most recent attempt to incorporate the principles of the international Declaration into domestic policy and law? Here, I provide an overview of the Declaration and its history in the context of Canadian settler politics. 

What is UNDRIP? 

UNDRIP is the culmination of decades of international Indigenous activism and solidarity at the highest levels of global governance. While the list of failures of the United Nations is long – particularly in the face of the on-going climate crisis – generations of Indigenous Peoples from across the world have appealed to the international community through the UN to seek justice when it has been denied at home by settler states. Representatives from Indigenous communities from across the world came together to envision the document and its core principles with a variety of histories, legal and political backgrounds, and goals. Special attention should be given to the work of Wilton Littlechild, Cree lawyer and former Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, who worked diligently on drafting the Declaration, as well as George Manuel, Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood which is known today as the Assembly of First Nations. Manuel was a visionary political leader of the Neskonlith Indian Band of the Shuswap Nation who originally proposed the idea of drafting the international declaration in 1977. 

Thirty years later, on September 13, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly voted on and adopted UNDRIP by a majority of 144 states. It is noteworthy that only four states voted against UNDRIP: Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada, all of whom are settler states. In fact, Canada sent delegates to try to convince other countries to vote against UNDRIP, attempting to whip up fears that the message of the Declaration would undermine newfound sovereignty after decades of decolonizing struggles in much of the Global South. Canadian advocacy against UNDRIP failed, however, and although they initially voted against the Declaration, Canada has now reversed its position along with the US, Australia and New Zealand. 

What does UNDRIP say? 

UNDRIP attempts to outline a basic universal standard that must be upheld and prioritized in domestic policies, legislative frameworks and development programs. While UNDRIP is a declaration and does not constitute law like an international treaty, it still provides a vocabulary and a series of core principles for global society, individual states, and grassroots communities to work with. 

Some noteworthy articles from UNDRIP are: 

  • Article 3: “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” 
  • Article 10: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” 
  • Article 25: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” 
  • Article 29: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.”

Especially relevant is what the Declaration refers to as free, prior and informed consent (often called “FPIC”) and its interaction with domestic frameworks of Indigenous consent. As Dr. Pamela Palmater, Mi’kmaq lawyer, professor, activist and politician, explains, Canadian courts have long issued decisions which say that the Canadian government must obtain the consent of Indigenous people when implementing laws, policies, projects, and other changes that might affect their communities. This unique right of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples is guaranteed in section 35 of Canada’s 1982 Constitution Act as “the duty to consult.” In practice, the duty to consult is often not a true form of Indigenous consent and does not advance reconciliation, as the government would like to claim. This duty to consult is often treated as a box to be checked in the development of new policies and projects and is almost always bureaucratic, rushed and disingenuous – when it is implemented at all. Overwhelmingly, the duty to consult fades into the background and is dismissed when it is convenient for the Canadian government, which is usually when it matters most. As Palmater writes, “At every turn, Canada chooses the path of injustice when it comes to Indigenous peoples.” A large part of this injustice is denial of true consent. 

The duty to consult is even undermined by Canadian decision makers in their public statements and actions. One example of this is from Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign. When asked, “would no mean “no” under your government?” Trudeau replied, “absolutely.” Soon after, however, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould stated that consent does not ensure Indigenous peoples’ refusal will be respected by the Canadian government. Consent is not consent if people cannot say no. And yet more recently, Trudeau’s practice of consent has exclusively meant listening to concerns from Indigenous leaders and then forging ahead with destructive policies anyway. 

Free, prior and informed consent cuts through the noise of debates on the duty to consult in Canada today, holding the government to a real standard with which to measure its consultation and respect for Indigneous communities’ wishes. FPIC joins and bolsters other sources of law applicable in Canada that ensure Indigenous veto power, including Indigenous law, Aboriginal rights, treaty rights and Aboriginal title, international human rights law, and the inherent rights of Indigenous governments to govern traditional territories, which is also enshrined in UNDRIP in the concepts of autonomy and self-determination.

Additionally, UNDRIP stresses the utmost importance of the wisdoms and practices of Indigenous Peoples worldwide in protecting the environment in an ever increasingly catastrophic climate crisis. 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity lies within Indigenous peoples’ territories. Forests in Canada are the most intact, carbon-dense in the world and that is because of the work, advocacy, and protection of Indigenous nations. Stressing relationality, humility, reciprocity, and respect for the land and waters many Indigenous people know to be kin, these communities have been forced to stand as the final line of defense against a government and private enterprise set on destroying the planet. Trudeau and his allies pretend to care about the future of the Earth that we and our children and grandchildren will live on, but by tracing the government’s breaking of Indigenous peoples’ consent we see that this is an on-going lie with devastating consequences. 

What is Bill C-15? 

Calls for the implementation of UNDRIP have been growing louder for almost a decade. Even before its final report in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement UNDRIP as the framework of reconciliation in Canada, and then again during its final stages and 94 Calls to Action

While the Harper government called the Declaration “aspirational” with explicit concerns over the provisions on land and natural resources, Trudeau was elected on his promise to implement these Calls to Action, including the implementation of UNDRIP. So far, the results have been lackluster. Initially, the 2016 Bill C-262 was proposed by NDP member Romeo Saganash and nearly became law, but delays in the Senate killed the bill before the 2019 federal election. During the first Trudeau administration, development projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline continued despite incredible opposition by Indigenous communities and their allies. In the words of Saganash, the Liberal party said that “Canada will not be able to accomodate all Indigenous concerns [on the pipeline]. What that means is that they have decided to willfully violate their constitutional duties and obligations.” 

The current Liberal government introduced new UNDRIP legislation in December 2020 in the form of Bill C-15. The bill is a failure to fully implement UNDRIP, as well as an underwhelming piece of legislation or even policy, as it focuses exclusively on high level commitments rather than actual strategy or implementation to ensure its promises are kept. Ultimately, Bill C-15 strives to enforce rather than change the status quo. 

There are a number of serious issues with the Bill, which are only the beginning of the problems with the proposed legislation. These include:  

  • While Bill C-262 had a powerful preamble, this has been cut from Bill C-15, watering down the language and powerful context of the earlier bill 
  • Justice Minister David Lametti conducted only a single phone call with First Nations on the draft of Bill C-15, which is completely inadequate 
  • The bill fails to cite or consider systemic discrimination or racism in Canada against Indigenous people 
  • The bill focuses only on future action instead of the ceasing of and reparation for present and past violence against Indigenous people 
  • The bill allows the federal government three years to put in place an action plan, which puts it at risk for failing like the earlier Bill C-262 
  • Bill C-15 does not acknowledge or try to curb the negative impact of Liberal policies on the environment and does not truly place sustainability leadership in the hands of Indigenous communities, who continue to do the most work in protecting the land, water and air 
  • While the bill requires consultation on an action plan, it requires no consultation for the future reporting on the federal government’s adherence to that action plan, which could be a problem if the action plan is not being fully implemented but the federal government says it is
  • While there is an obligation to align all future laws with UNDRIP, the bill’s implementation is not retroactive, meaning that laws can continue to exist in Canada that violate UNDRIP
  • Noticeably absent is real consideration of free, prior and informed consent or self-determination, and what respecting these concepts would mean in terms of actually doing the work to review current programs, projects, and policies in Canada 

What does UNDRIP offer us?

While implementation of UNDRIP has so far failed, the Declaration does offer us a means to imagine a future pathway to reorienting the Canadian government’s priorities when it comes to policy, law, and politics in Canada. UNDRIP can be cited by organizers and used as leverage in the face of government inaction and violence, particularly because of its accessible language and short length. The Declaration also serves as a reminder of international and long-term Indigenous activism – UNDRIP is the product of decades of worldwide solidarity, which activists can turn to for lessons and inspiration. 

The story of UNDRIP is a useful one for those concerned with environmental justice and policy, which necessarily must focus efforts on justice for Indigenous communities across so-called Canada and respect for Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination and consent. While the Canadian government loudly praises Indigenous communities when it suits their needs, the state resists the implementation of global principles that they have agreed to promote on the global stage. UNDRIP is one tool we can use to imagine and motivate our future work.