Water service agreements: Another possible solution to the contamination crisis

This blog was written by Elsie Richmond, an undergraduate student at Guelph University. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of GreenPAC.

From Aamjiwnaag in Canada’s ultra-polluted “Chemical Valley” to Neskantaga, a First Nation on its 22nd year of a boil water advisory, environmental injustice and legal discrimination are intersecting at an issue that plagues First Nations across the country: contaminated water.

Human Rights Watch has deemed the lack of safe drinking water for First Nations within Canada to be a violation of fundamental human rights. According to Health Canada, as of May 31, 2016, there were 126 Drinking Water Advisories in effect in 84 First Nation communities across Canada.

Contaminated drinking water in First Nations communities has garnered significant media attention over the last year. When Human Rights Watch published their report, the scale of the issue became more apparent to Canadians. Beforehand, during the 2015 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to end boil water advisories on reserves within the next 5 years.

The Legal Environment

First, there is regulatory work to be done. Today, enforceable drinking water standards do not exist at the federal level. Water provision is a provincial responsibility but First Nations are under federal jurisdiction, and are not governed by provincial water legislation. This institutional discrepancy prevents First Nations from accessing provincial expertise and regulations.