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VIEW: ‘Canada’s stand on right to celan water is all wet’, says Hume

Long-time Victoria Times Colonist political columnist Jim Hume writes, “In late July, when the United Nations finally got around to asserting clean water and sanitation were basic human rights, it declared the decision unanimous. But was it? It’s true not one of 192 UN member nations voted against the resolution, but 41 nations abstained from voting, which is usually the coward’s way of registering a negative vote. One of the nations avoiding the vote was Canada.”

“Postmedia News reported that Melissa Lantsman, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said Canada’s sovereignty over its natural water supply was the key to Canada’s abstention: ‘We remain of the view that the general right to water is not codified under international human rights and … currently there is no international consensus among states regarding the existence, scope or content of a possible right to water. Canada alongside [40] others abstained in that regard.’ But if Canada believed the resolution threatened Canada’s rights over its vast fresh water sources, shouldn’t it have voted against it and explained why to the assembly?”

“The same Postmedia News story informed us Maude Barlow, who once served as senior adviser to the UN General Assembly on water matters, was saddened by her country’s failure ‘to vote on this historic day in favour. They abstained and gave no reason and that was the only bad and sad note for us.’ Barlow made it clear that in her view the fears expressed by Ottawa lacked validity: ‘The resolution is very clear in that it doesn’t … touch the sovereign right of Canada or any other country over its water. What it does do is require each country’s government to start implementing a program toward this new right. In Canada, that would mean First Nation communities that are in serious trouble in terms of drinking water and sanitation now have a new tool and argument to say Canada must provide clean water and sanitation.'”

“It will be interesting to see if Ottawa, faced now with a UN resolution approved without a single negative vote, will respond as Barlow prays it should. True, the resolution declaring clean water a basic human right passed with 122 nations in favour and was strong in idealistic intent, but had one fatal flaw: It was non-binding. That means Ottawa can continue to ignore the needs of First Nation communities lacking ‘the right to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation’ and probably will until we get another Walkerton tainted-water scandal (2,300 sick, seven dead in May 2000) or, God forbid, a Zimbabwean-scale disaster (where it is estimated that in a recent cholera outbreak 3,000 people died and 60,000 suffered dangerously because their drinking water was contaminated, usually by hopelessly inadequate or non-existent sewage disposal systems).”

Jim Hume’s column can be read at http://www.timescolonist.com/health/Canada+stand+right+clean+water/3374109/story.html. The Victoria Times Colonist has a circulation of approximately 73,000 readers.