Augy Jones selected to head environmental racism panel

    DARTMOUTH: A panel tasked with making recommendations to address environmental racism has been established by the provincial government.

    The provincial government said Agassou (Augy) Jones was appointed as the first panel member and his initial duties are to recommend other panel members and develop terms of reference.

    Jones is the principal of the Nova Scotia Community College, Akerley Campus and he has held leadership roles in the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Education, as well as at StFX University, the province said, noting he is the son of civil rights activists Rocky and Joan Jones.

    “My job is to bring together the right people and the right team.” he told the Reporter. “I don’t claim to have expertise in environmental racism but I do have expertise in community engagement and in bringing teams together.”

    Jones said he will be working with the Deputy Minister from the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Candace Thomas, and Lora MacEachern, Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to put together the team.

    “We’re not sure how many people it’s going to be; too big of a team is not functional, too small of a team doesn’t represent the province,” said Jones. “I do know that it’s going to be a panel of community experts, of academic experts, and of government experts. That will be the team that we’ll choose within the next month.”

    The panel is expected to provide recommendations by the end of February, the province said, noting the panel will make its recommendations by Dec. 31, 2023.

    “We have to open it up to communities and do town halls because community could be the smallest community in Yarmouth, it could be somewhere in Cape Breton, near Sydney. We want to open it up to the community so that we do have a database of incidents of what people would consider environmental racism from around the province from as far back as we have to go,” he said. “Community consultation and hearing first voice from communities around environmental racism is very important. We’re not going to sit around in a panel of how many people and make decisions in that little room; that’s not what it looks like at all.”

    Noting his familiarity with local examples of environmental racism – like the location of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough’s landfill near the predominantly African Nova Scotian communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville, and Upper Big Tracadie – Jones said there are many examples across Nova Scotia.

    “There’s way more examples where organizations, or big companies, or even towns have done to other towns where they give a toxic situation to a group of people, and it’s often marginalized people,” he said. “The Indigenous community, the African Nova Scotian community, the Acadian community, and even from a socio-economic point of view, often people in poverty are also suspect or vulnerable to environmental racism or inequity.”

    In a press release issued on Dec. 29, the Department of Environment and Climate change noted these are the “first steps” towards fulfilling the government’s commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act.

    “To me, it’s to look at the past and honour the past, but of course the legislation systemically is supposed to set up laws and legislation so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Jones. “My main thing is that we don’t want in 2032 that we’re still having the same conversation.”

    According to the province, Section 17 of the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act requires them to set up a panel to address environmental racism. They said the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act includes an equity principle which requires that work done under the act recognize people’s differences, and use fairness and justice to address unequal opportunities.

    “We have to unpack how this happened, and that’s the systemic part of it. We can’t say that Mr. X did this to me, because as a matter of fact, it was a whole group of powerful people in organizations that allowed it to happen. We have to be very meticulous in unpacking how it happened in the past so that it doesn’t happen again in the future,” said Jones. “There’s a certain point where even this particular government has to own its role in it, some companies have to own their role in it, certain towns have to own their role in it before we can go forward.”

    The province said the act also includes the principle of Netukulimk, defined by the Mi’kmaq as using nature to support the individual and the community, by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity, or productivity of the environment.

    “There’s got to be an ownership of the past and a documenting of the past, in order for us to go through into the future authentically,” added Jones. “Anytime that a community, because of the colour of their skin, or their culture, or their lack of money, are having garbage dumped in their areas, or toxic water, or toxic waste; these are all the things that we’re going to address in an inclusive fashion.”