Canada blocks right to water in international document at upcoming meetings in Marseille

March 2, 2012
Media Release

The Canadian government is trying to short-circuit vital progress on the human right to water and sanitation at an upcoming international meeting, continuing its long-standing opposition to these fundamental rights.

CUPE and the Council of Canadians have learned that Canadian government representatives blocked important language committing countries to concretely deliver on the human right to water and sanitation services in the draft Ministerial Declaration of the 6th World Water Forum.

According to a statement from Amnesty International and WASH United, Canada and a few other countries successfully pushed to remove language directly affirming the human right to water and sanitation in a World Water Forum preparatory meeting. The forum takes place in Marseille, France March 12-17.

Before the Canadian government watered it down, the declaration was in line with resolutions from the United Nations Human Rights Council, General Assembly, and the World Health Assembly. These resolutions affirming the human right to water and sanitation are binding under international law, and require countries like Canada to implement a national action plan to ensure everyone has access to drinking water and sanitation services.

Experts interpreting the new draft say the watered-down version of the ministerial declaration inserts new loopholes for countries like Canada to dodge their financial obligations to deliver these rights. The new language, while inserted in a non-binding statement, is a dangerous move away from an unequivocal commitment to treat water and sanitation as legally binding rights which can be enforced against governments.  The ongoing on-reserve drinking water and sanitation crisis is a prime example of the human right to water and sanitation not being upheld.

“This is emblematic of the non-transparent nature of the World Water Forum where policy discussions take place behind closed doors," says Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow. "Here we have an example of a country like Canada that is using the World Water Forum, a non-democratic forum  run by multinational water corporations, to try and negate what has been achieved at the United Nations General Assembly,"  says Barlow.

“There can be no room for interpretation or watering down of these fundamental rights – internationally, or here at home. It’s just shameful,” says CUPE National President Paul Moist. “The UN resolutions give Canadians a powerful tool to challenge the federal government to deliver much-needed funding to help end the ongoing water crisis in many First Nations communities. It’s time Canada lived up to its financial and social responsibilities on the right to water, under international law,” says Moist.

The Council of Canadians, CUPE and other Canadian groups and individuals are traveling to Marseille to intervene in the forum and participate in the Alternative World Water Forum, organized by global civil society groups. CUPE and the Council are demanding that the Canadian government recognize the human right to water and sanitation and fulfill its international obligation to deliver on this human right in Canada.

The Council of Canadians, CUPE and other members of the global water justice movement are calling on UN member states to implement the human right to water and sanitation and move international water policy discussions out of the World Water Forum to a democratic, transparent public forum under the auspices of the United Nations.

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