Council of Canadians raises concerns about Senate bill on First Nations water safety

Media Release
March 1, 2011

Ottawa - The Council of Canadians has raised several concerns with the Safe Drinking Water For First Nations Act (Bill S-11) in a submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

With 117 communities under water advisories in December, the Council of Canadians strongly supports the creation of legislation that recognizes First Nation communities’ right to water and ensures safe drinking water for First Nation communities.

“Water is a human right, public trust and global commons,” says Council of Canadians national water campaigner Emma Lui, who prepared the submission. “We are extremely concerned that the Bill as it stands lacks funding commitments and could open the door to water privatization in First Nation communities. The Bill also currently gives the Canadian government the power to force a community to allow a private, for-profit entity to build, operate and/or manage its water services.”

The UN passed two resolutions last year recognizing the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, with the second resolution making the right legally binding. The Council’s submission highlights that several clauses in Bill S-11 are inconsistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (DRIP), which Canada endorsed last November. In developing Bill S-11, many First Nation communities were not consulted and the bill does not require consultation in developing regulations on safe drinking water for First Nation communities.

The UN DRIP requires free, prior and informed consent to any decisions affecting indigenous lands and resources. Any bill or regulations involving safe drinking water in First Nation communities should be developed alongside First Nation communities and must include their concerns.

“It’s deeply troubling that several clauses affirm that the regulations made under Bill S-11 take precedence over aboriginal and treaty rights and First Nation laws or by-laws,” says Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow.

Last December, the Council released a report entitled Public Water for Sale: How Canada Will Privatize Our Public Water Systems warning of the potential impacts of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on Canada’s water systems. The report noted that, “The private sector will have the ability to enter First Nations as owners and operators of water and wastewater facilities due to a lack of infrastructure, resources and training within First Nations.” CETA and Bill S-11 combined could prevent First Nations from building, owning and operating their own water and wastewater plants.

The Council of Canadians is urging that any legislation on safe drinking water for First Nations include funding commitments, the explicit recognition that First Nation communities have a right to build, own and operate their own water systems, clear responsibilities for governments and private companies and a clause on free, prior and informed consent on any decisions affecting water systems.

The full submission is available here.

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