Drinking Water Advisories: Current Problems

Class Action Lawsuits

December 23, 2021

Fed. Govt., MB

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.

June 29, 2021

Fed. Govt., ON

Marten Falls First Nation

Marten Falls First Nation – has agreed to join the class-action litigation on drinking water advisories in First Nation communities, which will be led by Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend (OKT) LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP. Marten Falls has decided to participate in this class-action lawsuit because it has been under a boil water advisory for over 20 years. The lack of potable water in the community has resulted in illness, an unnecessary loss of opportunities amongst community members, and a burdensome distribution process.

Bottled water is flown into the community and distributed to community members at the airport. Marten Falls is responsible for paying the upfront costs of these water resources and their transportation, which can cost up to $40,000 per month. Although the federal government reimburses Marten Falls for these expenses, the cost of buying and transporting water puts a significant strain on the community’s limited financial resources. The reimbursement process is also slow and partial since the community shares water with non-band members in the community like teachers, contractors, and guest workers who are not covered. To put this into perspective, from 2014-2015, Marten Falls had to wait an entire fiscal year to be reimbursed for its bottled water.
The objective of this class-action is two-fold.

  • First, it sets out to obtain compensation for First Nations affected by drinking water advisories
  • Second, it endeavours to obtain a declaration from Canada that it will work with First Nations to provide access to clean water, which includes requiring Canada to construct and fund water systems for communities.

The Chief and Council of Marten Falls believe that by participating in this legal challenge, the community’s water crisis can finally come to an end for the long-term. Marten Falls has suffered enough, and the community’s infrastructure issues need support and long-term operations and maintenance commitments.
Marten Falls faces other long-standing issues that relate directly to the neglect of infrastructure in First Nations communities, as the boil water advisory example illustrates.

One of the greatest challenges that Marten Falls faces to date is a lack of critical community infrastructure. The community has faced many challenges associated with its water treatment facility and lack of transportation infrastructure, housing, communal buildings, and community-based apparatus. Although issues with the water treatment facility are being resolved and transportation infrastructure is slowly being addressed through community participation in the Ring of Fire infrastructure projects, Marten Falls continues to chronically lack housing and firefighting infrastructure.

These are systemic issues, and they require the attention of Canadian governments and Indigenous organizations. The governments of Canada and Ontario must come to the table on these issues with our governments.

October 15, 2019

Fed. Govt.

Okanagan Indian Band : Other First Nations join lawsuit

Water Canada – Ermineskin Cree Nation, Sucker Creek First Nation and two other Alberta First Nations have joined forces with Okanogan First Nation to coordinate legal actions to confirm First Nations’ – and other Canadians – human right to safe drinking water. Ermineskin Cree Nation will also be presenting to the Assembly of First Nations Water Symposium in late November, following the federal election, to encourage other First Nations across Canada to push for recognition of the First Nations’ human right to safe drinking water, including new legal actions across the country.

August 19, 2019

Fed. Govt.

Okanagan Indian Band files suit in federal court over drinking water

Water Canada – Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) filed a suit in Federal Court against the federal government over its failure to ensure the safety of drinking water. An expert assessment commissioned by the federal government in 2010 by firm Neegan Burnside produced a startling result. All of the drinking water systems were ranked an 8 out of 10 on a scale of potential risk to human health. After 9 years of determined and good faith efforts on the part of the OKIB, the federal government has made upgrades to only 1 of 7 systems. Okanagan felt no option was left, apart from legal action. We are stuck in limbo between federal policy that underfunds our system and provincial infrastructure resources we cannot access. The suit simply asks for confirmation that First Nations have the same access to safe drinking water as other Canadians. That would compel the federal government to ensure water infrastructure that meets safety standards – with a timeline.

July 30, 2021

Fed. Govt., ON

Tataskweyak, Curve Lake and Neskantaga First Nations sign an historic Agreement-in- Principle

“Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation, together with the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, announced that an historic Agreement in Principle has been reached through a successful negotiation process to resolve national class action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.

This Agreement in Principle addresses important concerns identified by First Nations represented in the class action lawsuits.

The agreement includes the following:

  • $1.5 billion in compensation for individuals deprived of clean drinking water;
  • he creation of a $400 million First Nation Economic and Cultural Restoration Fund;
  • a renewed commitment to Canada’s Action Plan for the lifting of all long-term drinking water advisories;
  • the creation of a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water;
  • support for First Nations to develop their own safe drinking water by-laws and initiatives;
  • a commitment of at least $6 billion to support reliable access to safe drinking water on reserve;
  • planned modernization of Canada’s First Nations drinking water legislation.”

April 28, 2022

Fed. Govt.

Update to Safe Drinking Water Settlement Agreement

Indigenous Services Canada: Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation, Chief Doreen Spence of Tataskweyak Cree Nation and Chief Emily Whetung of Curve Lake First Nation, along with the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, provided an update on the progress underway and announced that the claims period is open for the historic settlement agreement resolving national class action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.

Additional details on how to apply are available on the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement website.

Canada continues to work with partners to repeal and replace Canada’s First Nations drinking water legislation. As part of the settlement agreement, the Government of Canada is committed to making all reasonable efforts to repeal the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, and to develop and introduce replacement legislation, in consultation with First Nations, by December 31, 2022. The repeal of the Act is included as part of Budget 2022 measures and we hope that Parliament will review this legislation expeditiously.

The Government of Canada will continue to work with Neskantaga First Nation, Tataskweyak Cree Nation and Curve Lake First Nation to address and fulfill all aspects of the settlement agreement.

We continue to make progress in many important areas that First Nations and their members have told us are essential to supporting their communities. We remain focused on capacity-building and have increased operations and maintenance funding to 100%—up from 80%. This means First Nations are able to:

  • improve water operator salaries and better retain qualified operators in their communities
  • train new operators to build water maintenance capacity
  • improve or maintain asset condition ratings, and
  • ensure longer lifecycles for water assets.

Furthermore, the government’s commitment to ending all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves remains a top priority. As of April 28, 2022, First Nations—with support from Indigenous Services Canada—have lifted 132 long-term drinking water advisories since November 2015. In addition, 215 short-term drinking water advisories have been prevented from becoming long term. Work continues to address the 33 long-term drinking water advisories that remain, affecting 28 communities on public systems on reserves.

Other Current Problems By Theme

Long-term DWA

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Reports on Drinking Water Issues

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Drinking Water Emergency

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