When we think of racism in the continent of North America, we almost always think of the country that elected a ‘stable genius’ reality show star with multiple failed businesses as its president. A man whose microaggressions and racist views and actions are well-documented. But we usually don’t think of its polite neighbours to the North.
Although Canada is one of the most progressive countries in the world, and certainly offers better opportunities to its minorities than the United States, it’s far from perfect. For example, the country’s historic treatment of its indigenous population has been nothing short of cruel. While modern Canadian governments have tried to make amends, to this day the indigenous Canadians suffer from less education, fewer economic opportunities, higher levels of incarceration, and higher rates of suicide. They also suffer from poorer health, in part due to environmental racism, which is a form of racial discrimination that disproportionately affects minority groups with forms of pollution.
Likewise, black people in Canada also suffer from social exclusion, structural racism, and environmental racism. There’s Something in the Water is a flawed yet powerful Canadian documentary, available in many territories on Netflix. Made by Ellen Page and Ian Daniel, it examines the impact of environmental racism on black Canadians and First Nation people in Nova Scotia. The First Nation people, of course, are one of the most predominant indigenous peoples in Canada.
Through moving imagery, the film takes us through minority communities that suffer from spikes in deadly diseases such as cancer because of toxic landfills, where tribal elders are poisoned by toxic waste in the local harbour, and where tribal activists stand up to local establishments accused of poisoning drinking water and sacred rivers.
There’s Something in the Water is a flawed yet powerful documentary by Ellen Page and Ian Daniel which examines the impact of environmental racism in Canada
We learn that their pleas to their so-called progressive leaders, who enjoy rock-star status on the international stage, have so far fallen on deaf ears. This reminds me of Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, where he showed how the black community in Flint, Michigan was poisoned for years by the toxic local water, and when President Obama finally showed up, he delivered a condescending speech and pretended to drink the water he insisted was drinkable, to the dismay of the African American onlookers.
Although There’s Something in the Water deserves to be watched, if only for a glimpse at how rural communities populated by minorities suffer, even in Canada, the documentary has an amateurish quality. Some of the editing could have been sharper, while the voice-overs from Page aren’t always clear. Moreover, the music can be far too naked in its attempt to tug at our heartstrings. Page should have let her material do more of the talking.
Likewise, Page is on camera far too often. While the X-Men star is undoubtedly earnest about her passion project, shoehorning herself into the film gives her something of a saviour feel. Still, many wouldn’t have been aware of these issues had it not been for the Canadian celebrity. And she wisely chose an all female-activist cast for a project that highlights a serious problem in Canada.
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 21st, 2020