Bill C-69 has received royal assent, quietly making history in Canadian environmental legislation. While vociferous opponents and supporters of the bill have garnered heated media coverage on legislated timelines and ministerial powers under the new Impact Assessment Act, there has been little coverage of Senator Mary Jane McCallum’s success in introducing to Canadian environmental legislation, for the first time, provisions requiring involvement of Indigenous women, specifically.

Minister McKenna introduced Bill C-69 in February 2018 after extensive national consultations through an expert panel. The purpose of the bill is to reform environmental assessment processes of industrial projects to gain a fuller understanding of the positive and negative effects of industrial projects and to restore public confidence in assessment processes and decisions. Among many other reforms, Bill C-69 will require early engagement with Indigenous peoples and consideration of project impacts on the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors (read “Indigenous women”). 

While these are significant strides forward in ensuring decision-making related to industrial projects respects the rights of indigenous peoples, there remained a gap in ensuring the voices of Indigenous women were heard in these processes. Because Indigenous women experience disproportionate risks of sexual violence, environmental contamination and social-economic harms, it is important that impact assessment processes take these risks into consideration so that the proper conditions can be put on projects to reduce or eliminate these harms.

In an effort to ameliorate protections for Indigenous women and girls under Bill C-69, Senator Mary Jane McCallum introduced amendments at the Senate standing Committee on Energy and the Environment. While it was clear that many senators were uncomfortable making specific reference to Indigenous women, Senator McCallum successfully advocated for these provisions and secured, for the first time in Canadian environmental legislation, language specifically referencing Indigenous women.

This is a significant victory for Indigenous rights and feminism in Canada. Including the voices of women in impact assessment processes will ensure that their knowledge, experience and concerns are properly heard and considered. This will lead to better decision-making for industrial projects and a more just society. 

Regardless of where one stands on the debate around legislative reform of environmental assessment, there is no doubt that the inclusion of the voice of strong Indigenous women, such as Senator McCallum, in public discourse and law reform are making much needed and long-awaited changes.