First Nations Start Legal Action Against Canada Over Unsafe Drinking Water

TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF TREATY NO. 7, CALGARY, June 16, 2014 /CNW/ - Four Alberta First Nations; Sucker Creek First Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Kainai Nation (Blood Tribe) and the Tsuu T'ina Nation filed an action in Federal Court challenging the deplorable state of drinking water in First Nation communities.

Speaking on behalf of the four First Nations, Chief Jim Badger of the Sucker Creek First Nation stated:  "In this day and age, it is disgraceful that the Harper government has failed to make sure First Nation communities have safe drinking water like other Canadians.  They spend billions on prisons when crime rates are at historic lows but safe drinking water is not a priority.  We are tired of spin, hollow legislation and empty gestures from this government.  Do our people have to get sick, or die, from unsafe drinking water before this government takes real action? "
An engineering assessment commissioned by the Federal Government issued in 2011 identified widespread risks to human health from drinking water in First Nation communities across Canada.  As a result, the report concluded that families and children in many First Nation communities live in constant danger from the lack of safe drinking water. The only tangible response of the Federal Government to the risks posed by human health was to push through the "Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act" in 2013, which protects the government from liability if people in First Nation communities are harmed by unsafe drinking water, with no resources to fix the real problems.

Chief Badger added: "We cannot stand by any longer and let the Harper government avoid responsibility for this shameful situation.  We filed our court action today in an effort to force the Government of Canada to take real and effective action to ensure we have safe drinking water like everyone else in this country".

Backgrounder

The National Assessment of First Nation Water and Wastewater Systems (2011) commissioned by the Federal Government evaluated 801 water systems in First Nations communities across Canada and concluded that 73% of First Nations face medium to high risks to human health from unsafe drinking water.

The Report of the Expert Panel on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations (2006), also a Federal Government study, similarly cautioned that many First Nation water systems are understaffed and substandard, and that legislation alone cannot ensure the safety of First Nations' drinking water. Numerous other reports over the years by Indian Affairs, the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and the Auditor General have reached similar conclusions.

The Federal Government created these unsafe drinking water conditions and has continued to sustain them through its neglect.  After years of failed efforts to work with government officials, the First Nations behind the legal action felt they had no other option.  It is unacceptable that people in neighboring communities enjoy the safety and peace of mind of world-class drinking water systems while the majority of First Nations face health risks from drinking water conditions often only present in third world countries. This inequity must not be tolerated any longer and is unacceptable in a country like ours. 

SOURCE: Tsuut'ina Nation

For further information: Nicole Robertson, Communications Advisor, (403) 616-4999, Nicole.robertson@telus.net

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