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VIEW: ‘First Nations water crisis no reason to vote against right to water’, says the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star editorial board writes that, “At the very time Canada was voting against a UN resolution making water a human right, more than 100 aboriginal communities across the country were facing drinking water advisories requiring them to boil their water or rely on emergency deliveries.”

Their editorial continues, “That stark statistic has hit home for the 900 Cree and Ojibwa members of the Constance First Lake Nation in northern Ontario, where a state of emergency has been declared because an aging purification plant is unable to ensure a safe water supply. Across Canada, 49 water systems have been classified as ‘high risk.’ At Constance Lake, the three-decade-old purification plant does not comply with Ontario regulations that (are supposed to) protect everyone in the province.”

The Toronto Star concludes, “These events may explain the federal government’s refusal last month to back the UN’s declaration of water as a human right, given the abysmal situation in our own back yard. But that’s no excuse for having the right position on the global stage, and doing the right thing on First Nations reserves.”

A Toronto Star article by Linda Diebel earlier in the week quoted Constance Lake Chief Arthur Moore saying, “Access to a safe and useable water supply is a right of every person living in this country. My community is suffering and I fear the lack of clean water will lead to despair and ill health. No one should have to live in these kinds of conditions.”

“Moore noted the irony of his community declaring a state of emergency on July 28, the same day the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing water as a basic human right. Several powerful nations, including Canada, abstained.”

Diebel adds, “Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians national chair who fought for the UN resolution, urged all First Nations to start using the resolution in their struggles to get the federal government to honour its commitment to provide clean water to aboriginal peoples. She said the resolution is non-binding, but that global organizations are working towards stronger legislation that would be binding. ‘In the meantime, there’s a strong moral imperative for the government to redress this terrible injustice,’ said Barlow, in an interview. ‘If this were happening in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, you can be sure the government would be using all the power it has to fix the problem and provide safe drinking water.'”

And as we note on our website, “Water must be recognized as a human right at every level of government. This will ensure that all people living in Canada, without discrimination, are legally entitled to safe, clean drinking water and water for sanitation in sufficient quantities, and that inequalities in access are addressed immediately. The recognition of water as a human right will give communities lacking access to clean drinking water a legal tool to exercise this right. It will also provide legal recourse if a water source is damaged by industrial activities. The recognition of water as a human right in international law would allow the United Nations to monitor the progress of states in realizing the right to water and to hold governments accountable. The Canadian government has consistently opposed the recognition of water as a human right at key UN meetings.”

The Toronto Star editorial is at http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/844522–water-as-a-human-right. The Toronto Star article by Linda Diebel is at http://www.thestar.com/article/844034–first-nation-community-of-900-in-northern-ontario-without-clean-water.

For more on the Council of Canadians campaign for the right to water, please go to http://canadians.org/water/issues/right/index.html.