Drinking Water Advisories: Current Problems


December 23, 2021

Class Action Lawsuits

Federal Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench approve an agreement to settle class-action litigation

APTN – Yesterday, the Federal Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba issued a joint decision approving an agreement to settle class-action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities. An appeals period of approximately 60 days will follow the courts’ approval of the settlement agreement. The class-action lawsuits could see approximately 142,000 individuals from 258 First Nations compensated, along with 120 First Nations.

October 22, 2020

Drinking Water Emergency

Neskantanga First Nation

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) – Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias have demanded a coordinated response to the State of Emergency declared by the remote community as immediate heath threats from the water system has forced the community to evacuate its members.

Indigenous Services Canada has refused to acknowledge the severity of the situation and classify it as a public health crisis despite the following facts:

  • ongoing leaks depleting the water reservoir
  • the water distribution system fully shut off from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily since October 8 to allow adequate time for the reservoir to replenish and prevent the pump from being overworked.
  • after the system shut off for the day an oily sheen was found on the top of the water within the community’s reservoir.
  • water distribution system will remain shut off until the substance can be identified and addressed. This has left the community without any running water.
  • With the water being completely shut off, the reverse osmosis unit (the drinking water machine) is not functional
  • The new water treatment plant cannot become operational until it passes a 14-day test run.
  • The school is shut down because the plumbing in the school is not working properly due to constantly turning the water off and on in the community. Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

“In a remote community, a major infrastructure failure is a crisis, and even more so in the middle of a global pandemic. Community members are living in dehumanizing condition and cannot bathe or flush their toilets. This is a health emergency crisis, plain and simple. It is unacceptable that government officials refuse to declare this as an emergency. The people of Neskantaga need to be supported in every way possible, and we will do everything we can to help”.

Neskantaga has not had safe drinking water since 1995 – the longest running boil water advisory in Canada. A water treatment plant was constructed in 2016 but there have been numerous delays, equipment failures and related infrastructure failures. The system failed in 2019, and the long-standing boil water advisory was replaced with a Do Not Consume warning.

Indigenous Services Canada refused to evacuate the community.

Evacuation Status

  • The community has initiated the first phase of an evacuation of their most vulnerable members.
    • 56 people were flown to Thunder Bay Tuesday evening and are lodging in local hotels.
    • 120 people are expected to arrive in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

In 2016, Carolyn Bennet, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs promised to have the Neskantaga water system problems fixed by 2018.

August 7, 2019

Long-term DWA

Shoal Lake

Maclean’s – Shoal Lake 40 grabbed national attention when its members used a brassy campaign tactic, protesting outside Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2014 to point out a glaring contradiction: the water flowing through the museum’s taps came from an isolated community without clean water and a road. Hundreds marched on the city’s streets, supported by dozens of churches and the popular Christian musician, Steve Bell. In 2016, the three jurisdictions agreed to cost-share the $30 million road.

June 2, 2019

Long-term DWA

Shoal Lake: Finally gets a road after Winnipeg aqueduct cuts them off

CBC – It took the federal and provinvial governments 100 years to re-connect Shoal Lake # 40 First Nation to the mainland after construction of an aqueduct in 1919 resulted in flooding that cut them off from the mainland and eventually from their own source of drinking water. Winnipeg gets its drinking water from Shoal Lake who have been under a boil water advisory for 22 years. All 3 levels of government are finally financing the construction of a $40M all season access road to Shoal Lake.

In the meantime, 9 residents have died after falling through the ice in the winter (their only access to the mainland)

December 2, 2019

Drinking Water Emergency

Tataskweyak Cree Nation proposes class-action lawsuit

National Post: A chief of a Manitoba First Nation is proposing a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of her community and other reserves that have experienced long-term boil water advisories. Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence said in a statement of claim filed last month that people are unable to practise their traditions, have become very ill and have moved away because of issues with drinking water.

The Tataskweyak Cree Nation’s traditional territory was vast, following caribou herds in northern Manitoba. But its reserve was created in 1908 about 48 kilometres northeast of Thompson on the shore of Split Lake. Much of southern Manitoba’s water drains to Hudson Bay through the Nelson and Burntwood rivers, which converge in the lake. The court action alleges that as upstream land use and hydroelectric development increased, water quality in the lake significantly declined and the community suffered.

The lawsuit says the federal government has refused to find an alternative source for drinking water, despite the community recommending a nearby lake.