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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Environmental justice and the enforcement of air pollution laws in Canada Ewing, Claire


Ambient air pollution is one of the leading health and environmental concerns worldwide, including in Canada. To manage air pollution and its impacts, Canadian governments create and enforce various laws and regulations. Most areas in Canada usually experience good air quality, but some communities are disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution, constituting an environmental injustice. While these concepts of ambient air pollution, environmental enforcement, and environmental justice have each been studied either in isolation or in pairs in Canada, no research has examined the three together. In particular, patterns of enforcement of air pollution laws are understudied, and it is not known whether enforcement varies according to the characteristics of different communities. This study seeks to address these gaps and investigate the nexus of air pollution, environmental law enforcement, and environmental justice in Canada by examining the following research questions: RQ1: How do enforcement data availability and quality vary between and within provinces? RQ2: What are the demonstrated models of enforcement? How do they vary across jurisdictions, time, or other factors? RQ3: What types of violations or offenders appear to be prioritized for enforcement action in Canada? RQ4: How are the sociodemographic characteristics of areas in which enforcement actions occur different from the provincial averages of those characteristics? I created a dataset of enforcement actions against air pollution law violations using data gathered from eight provinces and the federal government, which I then analyzed using descriptive statistics and geospatial techniques. I developed a rubric to evaluate and compare jurisdictions’ data availabilities and qualities and found that all were generally poor and incomplete, which violates the community right to know and the individual right to information. Through descriptive statistics, I observed that across provincial and federal jurisdictions, regulators appear to employ a cooperative approach to enforcement. Environmental priorities and enforcement outcomes do not seem to align on several levels, especially regarding large emitters and repeat offenders of air pollution laws. Finally, geospatial analyses revealed some environmental injustice patterns related to the location of enforcement actions. I offer several recommendations to improve enforcement strategies within and beyond existing policy systems.

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