In 2010, former Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Minister Chuck Strahl introduced Bill S-11: The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, which would impose regulations for First Nation communities to mirror provincial standards, but without any meaningful consultation with NAN First Nations.
Most Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) communities would be unable to meet these regulations due to a critical lack of infrastructure and resources, and NAN Chiefs-in-Assembly have rejected Bill S-11 as a misguided attempt by the federal government to download its legal obligation to ensure that First Nations have access to safe and healthy drinking water and wastewater systems.
In July 2011, the Government of Canada release of the National Assessment of Water and Wastewater Systems in First Nation communities, which measured risk categories for water systems and wastewater systems, and largely confirmed what NAN and First Nations across Canada have been telling the federal government for years – that there is a critical lack of infrastructure in First Nation communitiesand a looming threat to health and safety.
TheGovernment of Canada is using the National Assessment to bolster support for Bill S-11. But regulating drinking water in First Nations fails to address the fact that many NAN communities still do not have access to an adequate supply of clean, safe drinking water. Bill S-11 will impose regulations on First Nations that do not have the resources to meet them and completely fails to address the key issue - the critical lack of infrastructure.
NAN presented a cursory overview of water and wastewater systems in NAN First Nations to the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in March 2011. The submission highlighted widespread concerns such as staffing and technical issues as well as illustrating common issues and service gaps including:
- Nearly all 49 NAN communities have been subject to a boil water advisory in the past five years.
- Nearly every community’s water plant needs replacement or major repairs.
- Nearly all communities lack proper funding to hire and train qualified staff for the safe operation of water systems.
In July 2010, The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights. This affirms that water is a basic human right.
The governments of Canada and Ontario must uphold their legal obligations to provide adequate support and resources to immediately address the need for safe water and wastewater infrastructure for NAN First Nations. Continued failure to address the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure will only lead to more boil water advisories and evacuations, and poseshealth risks to the people of Nishnawbe Aski.
NAN will continue to oppose Bill S-11, which is expected to be reintroduced in late 2011.NAN supports the development of water quality standards, but only if these standards are developed in consultation with First Nations and are fully funded by the federal and provincial governments, including water and wastewater infrastructure as well as staffing and training.