Canada legally required to take action on human right to water: Report

Media Release
June 20, 2011

Ottawa – As the first anniversary of the UN General Assembly's historic recognition of the human right to water and sanitation draws near, the Council of Canadians is releasing a new report today by chairperson Maude Barlow, titled Our Right to Water: A People’s Guide to Implementing the United Nations’ Recognition of the Right to Water and Sanitation. The report is available here.

The report finds that Canada is legally bound to respect the UN vote, and therefore to address the pressing issue of access to water and sanitation in First Nations communities.

While the July 28, 2010 General Assembly resolution was not binding, two months later the Human Rights Council also recognized the human right to water and sanitation in a similar resolution, setting out exactly what this new right entails for governments. Because the Human Rights Council resolution is based on two existing treaties, it rendered the first right to water resolution binding. In other words, as the UN acknowledges, “The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable.”

“All governments are now bound by these historic UN resolutions. Whether or not they voted for the two resolutions, every member nation of the UN is now obligated to accept and recognize the human right to water and sanitation and come up with a plan of action based on the obligation to respect, the obligation to protect and the obligation to fulfil these new rights,” says Barlow.

“Even though the Harper government shockingly did not vote for the right to water and sanitation, it is bound now by this obligation. We are calling on the government to recognize these new rights and let Canadians know when it will be tabling its plan of action with the UN.”

“Canada has very good public water systems and enough water to supply everyone in Canada with safe and clean drinking water. Unfortunately not all Canadians equally enjoy the human right to water and sanitation,” says Council of Canadians national water campaigner Emma Lui.

“This is apparent in indigenous communities, as illustrated by the recent report by the Auditor General of Canada. Canada has already been put on notice by the UN regarding the conditions in First Nations communities. The government is now legally bound to move to remedy these human rights violations."

The Council of Canadians is calling for immediate action from the Harper government on these longstanding violations to the right to water in Indigenous communities. The organization will be releasing an additional report on the situation in Canada soon, which will set out its expectations of the federal government at home and internationally to fulfil this commitment.

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Download the report here (1.35 MB)