Water Voices http://www.watervoices.ca promoting solutions to ongoing crisis. Fri, 11 May 2012 14:41:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Background – The Infamous Political Gray Zone http://www.watervoices.ca/?p=24 http://www.watervoices.ca/?p=24#comments Wed, 09 May 2012 13:53:17 +0000 http://mywatervoice.wordpress.com/?p=24 The Canadian government has made it a priority to not formally acknowledge water as a human right (Boyd 2011).  The Canadian constitution does not explicitly mention a right to water nor has there been any federal legislation or documented Canadian court case granting it (Boyd 2011).  However, under the Canadian constitution all citizens are afforded

“The right to life liberty and security of the person (under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Charter], the right to equality (under section 15 of the Charter], and the federal and provincial governments commitment to providing essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians (under section 36 of the Constitution)(Boyd 2011).”

These protections under the constitution provide every Canadian citizen (First Nations included) the inherent right to water, as water is essential to survival.  In Canada all but a few rural communities are provided with access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. First Nation Reserves are those communities without ‘essential public services of reasonable quality’ and this represents failure of the federal government (Boyd 2011).

The Federal government provides guidelines on dinking water standards, as well as monitoring programs, nationally.  Provincial governments maintain responsibility of water and wastewater through legislation and laws governing the provision and distribution of it.  Ultimately, local municipalities, empowered by the provinces, hold the responsibility for the provision of water and wastewater treatment (Government of Canada 2011).  This is the situation for Canadians that have the privilege of being protected and serviced by municipal water and wastewater utilities supported by their provinces.

First Nations Reserves

The situation for Canada’s First Nations population is far grimmer.  First Nations reserves in Canada are not serviced by the same legislation, infrastructure, or utilities.  The provision of water and wastewater treatment on reserves exist in a political grey zone where Provincial Governments defer water provisions on reserves to the Federal Government who assume, but do not embrace, responsibility.  “It is of interest to note that Aboriginal Peoples are the only population group in Canada that is dependent on federal jurisdiction and government for water treatment and delivery policies and programs”(McCullough 2011).

Federal responsibility for water on reserves is distributed between three departments, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC)[1], Health Canada, and Environment Canada.  However, “There are no federal regulations to apply to First Nations drinking water systems” (McCullough 2011).  AANDC provides funding (up to 80 % of total cost) to First Nations reserves that meet stringent guidelines.  Health Canada is tasked with providing guidelines and monitoring, they have no enforcement or inspection authority (McCullough 2011).  Environment Canada’s responsibilities pertain mainly to source water protection and the disposal of wastewater into federal water bodies.

While the protocols, Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, and procedures outline requirements for operation of First Nations water and wastewater systems, these standards cannot be legally enforced. The provinces have regulations related to water but these do not apply on reserve land. As a result, there is a regulatory gap between communities on reserve and those communities off reserve. Legislation is required in order to create a legal basis for compliance and enforcement on reserve (INAC 2011).

From 2006 – 2010 INAC (AANC) has provided $1.25 billion to First Nations reserves for water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nations (INAC 2011).  “The general perception on funding is that much has been provided, but little has been gained (McCullough 2011).  The bottom line is that the Federal government has no legally enforceable responsibility to provide water and wastewater services to First Nations reserves.


[1] On May 18th 2011 the department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, become Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.  This was done to make the title more inclusive.

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