Winning a Just Recovery for Health, Community and Climate

Organizations all across the country, including Toronto350, want to prompt changes coming out of the pandemic that confront inequality and systemic racism, to ensure safety and health, and to seize the window of opportunity we have now, to turn the corner away from harmful practices that destroy our climate and the living world around us.

Toronto350’s Just Recovery teachin presents a way that we can win this safer, greener and healthier future. Here is a recording! Toronto350 Teach-in. There are also some things listed near the end of the blog, that we can do now.

The Moment We’re In

To begin the teachin, Abrah reminded us that COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis that exacerbates existing inequalities such as racism and poverty” and that All forms of racism and marginalization are tied directly to who is most impacted.” In Toronto, for example, low-income, racialized communities where people live in multi-unit residences, work on the frontlines and have to take long, busy bus rides, face a higher risk of contracting the virus. The pandemic shows us just how poorly the existing social and economic structures work for so many of us. (See Reference 1 for the stats on the picture below).

Many of the same communities hit hardest by COVID-19 have always and continue to be on the receiving end of environmental racism. They are targeted for undesirable land uses such as polluting industries and, thus, disproportionally exposed to toxic pollutants which effect respiratory and heart health, putting people at greater risk from COVID-19.

Regulations passed during COVID-19 clear the way for construction of what is deemed essential infrastructure, including work on the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory. Going even further, Bill 1 - The Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, lays bare the links between colonialism, racism and environmental destruction. It gives police the authority to imprison (up to 6 months) or fine (up to $25,000) anyone who they deem interferes with pipelines, oil and gas production, highways, railways and lines. The bill is a direct attack on Wet’suwet’en land defenders. It will increase the threatening police presence on Wet’suwet’en lands and elsewhere, and criminalize Constitutionally-protected activities including the rights to hunt, fish or gather on traditional land.

In Toronto, the Board of Health voted unanimously to recognize anti-black racism as a public health crisis. The reasons cited include policing, the criminal justice system, housing, employment and education. To create a Just Recovery, in Abrah’s words, we must [talk] about white supremacy, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and police brutality.” (See References 2 for the stats on the picture at right).

A Just Recovery from COVID-19 and a movement for climate justice is tied tightly to the fight for racial justice and against anti-black racism and colonialism. To sideline anti-racism and anti-colonialism is also to sideline Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and their foundational and ongoing work to find solutions to the climate crisis.

See this excellent webcast, “Why a Just Recovery Must be Anti-Racist"

“There is no climate action without climate justice and there is no climate justice without attacking the underlying systems of oppression….we must, as climate activists, always be thinking about the actual roots of the situation. Like a nesting doll, we can’t examine the crises and reconstruct our world without looking at all of the pieces and how they interrelate.” - Meghan

Respond, Recover, Rebuild - Canada 350’s Just Recovery 3-Phase Plan

In the respond stage, we need to be here for each other, to contribute in whatever ways we can, to support those impacted the most, including frontline organizations. Many of the social and environmental justice groups who signed on to the Just Recovery principles have ongoing campaigns and actions. See the COVID19 Just Recovery Yellowpages for some of these.

As we move through the recover stage, corporations will pressure government to return to a status quo that benefits the wealthy few while it harms people and destroys the planet! Oil and gas lobbyists will continue to request massive amounts of money and concessions to laws that protect the environment. See Indigenous Climate Action’s response to a leaked memo from the Canadian Petroleum Industry here. Instead, the recovery must mean increased government action that provides relief directly to people and meets our communities needs, especially those most impacted by the crisis.

In the rebuild phase, the elite and politicians will claim we spent too much and propose cuts in line with austerity agendas, including rolling back and privatizing critical public services. The vast majority of Canadians, however, expect a recovery from COVID-19 to result in a broad transformation of our society and for this transformation to benefit all of us, not just the wealthy few.

We need to come together and push for a world that puts people before profit. As Tony, the second presenter explained, we cant and wont go back to normal. We need to fight for a new normal….[All] of our social movements can strengthen each other and make major gains, from anti-racism to disability rights, but we need to amplify the voices of justice seeking communities and keep insisting no one gets left behind." 

Just Recovery Principles pictured below, found at JustRecoveryForAll.ca

We can mobilize to put forward a vision of what the world should and could be! The Just Recovery principles are a great place to start and a comprehensive Green New Deal, that encompasses the social and environmental reforms we need to see, is a good end goal. This movement will start online, but then move into the streets once again. 

On the Toronto level, as part of C40 cities, city council endorsed a statement similar to the just recovery principles, the Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, that aims to improve public health, reduce inequality and address the climate crisis. As Tony states, we “need everyone to know about the commitment [the mayor] made, to have serious conversations about what it means to put that commitment into action and what vulnerable communities need right now.” We also need the city to back us up on our demands and push the federal government to implement a Just Recovery where no one gets left behind.

As Canada 350 articulates in the video found here, it’s time to win the "transformative change we need", "[respect] Indigenous rights, [create] millions of good jobs" and ensure "dignity and justice for all". Our greatest strength lies in collective action for a just recovery. That way, we can come together and rebuild "a world that works for all of us." 

Four things we can do….

1. Target the elected officials responsible for COVID-19 Recovery Plans:

2. Host a teachin to reach local networks across the country and help build the kind of mass, people-powered movement that we need to win. Find all of the resources you need at: https://350.org/jr-teachins/

3. Talk to 5 friends - we need to make the idea of a Just Recovery understood by everyone.

4. Make some chalk side-walk art and spread the message on social: #JustRecovery  #JustRecoveryforAll  #BuildBackBetter

— Words from 350 Canada, Meghan, Abrah, Tony, Colleen. Chalk drawings by Mary.


Some ideas from the Q & A:

Defund, unwind and shift away from systems that are harming people and planet, including the police and the fossil fuel industry. Move this money and remake these systems into life-sustaining systems and remake our world. We have the money and resources we need. We can no longer nickel and dime the things we need to save our lives. It is inspiring that suddenly, there was money to face COVID-19, the pandemic has shown us there could be money for social programs, to support people.

Fossil fuel companies will want even more subsides and de-regulation and a really strong thing that has to be said by everybody right now is no. We just have to say no. There are a lot of good reasons for saying no - saving the planet is a great one - but also, those companies don’t have economic potential. Their assets consist of digging more out of the ground and burning up the climate. Their business model is based on the destruction of the planet, it is not a real business model. Those assets deserve to be stranded - cut the fossil fuel companies off.

Support the sovereignty of Indigenous people on their own land. This will go a long way toward preserving biodiversity and carbon sinks.

Change the way we subsidize agriculture, precipitating a move away from large agri-business and back toward farmers who are farming on a smaller scale, respectful of land, animals and workers. Farm operators should be subject to legal requirements that respect the rights of migrant labourers, including the implementation of strict measures to protect them from exposure to COVID-19. For more demands to protect the rights of migrants see: https://migrantrights.ca/covid19/.

Divest Teacher’s Pension Plan other institutions, like universities.


Reference 1 - “53% of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque, A fifth of those surveyed are struggling to get by,” By IE Staff, January 8, 2019, investmentexecutive.com, https://www.investmentexecutive.com/news/industry-news/53-of-canadians-live-paycheque-to-paycheque/

References 2 - “Race, Crime and Justice in Canada,” John Howard Society of Canada Blog, October 19, 2017, johnhoward.ca, https://johnhoward.ca/blog/race-crime-justice-canada/

Black Toronto residents 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police, study says, Black people made up 61% of cases where police used force that resulted in death, Ontario human rights commission report said,” Leyland Cecco, December 2018, theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/10/toronto-black-residents-more-likely-shot-dead-ontario-human-rights-commission-report

“More than one-third of people shot to death over a decade by RCMP officers were Indigenous,” Colin Freeze, November 17, 2019, theglobeandmail.com, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-more-than-one-third-of-people-shot-to-death-over-a-decade-by-rcmp/


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