Ground Water Canada

Federal government failing First Nations on drinking water promise: report

February 14, 2017  By Ground Water Canada

Ottawa – The federal government will not meet its commitment to end all drinking water advisories affecting First Nations communities by 2020 without significant changes to current processes, according to a new report that lists case studies and makes 12 recommendations to improve conditions for First Nations.

Glass half empty? Year 1 progress toward resolving drinking water advisories in nine First Nations in Ontario, which was written by the David Suzuki Foundation and Council of Canadians with the help of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, assesses the federal government’s progress in nine First Nations across Ontario. With 81 active drinking water advisories – more than any other province – Ontario provides a snapshot of Canada’s First Nations water crisis, the foundation said in a news release.

“We are calling on the government to work with First Nations to make necessary changes to the way it addresses the lack of safe drinking water in First Nation communities,” said David Suzuki Foundation Ontario science projects manager Rachel Plotkin. “At present, it is not on track to meet its promise.”


As of last fall, Canada had 156 drinking water advisories affecting 110 First Nations communities, many of which are recurring or ongoing. Some have been in place for more than 20 years. The 2016 federal budget included $1.8 billion to help resolve the crisis by 2020, in addition to funding it has already invested in First Nations water infrastructure, operations and management.

Of the nine First Nations profiled in the report, three are on track to or have had drinking water advisories lifted; efforts are underway in three others, but there is uncertainty about whether the advisories will be lifted on time; and for the remaining three, it is unlikely advisories will be lifted by 2020 unless current processes and procedures are reformed. One community that had its DWA lifted now faces a new suite of problems, pointing to the need for long-term, sustainable solutions.

The report lists flaws in how the federal government fulfils its responsibility to ensure safe drinking water in First Nations communities, the release said. These include a highly complex funding process full of loopholes, gaps and delays; a lack of transparency and accountability in federal monitoring of progress; and the lack of a regulatory framework to govern drinking water for First Nations.

One bright spot: the Obashkaandagaang First Nation’s Bimose Tribal Council has received some funding from INAC to drill more water wells and purchase additional filtration equipment, and the upgrades are in progress. They are expected to be complete by the end of this fiscal year, and if all goes forward as planned, there may be an opportunity for the First Nation to have its boil water advisory lifted.

It outlines a series of 12 recommendations that the government must implement to get its work back on track.

“This report highlights the need for a more transparent process for how long-term drinking water advisories will be addressed, so that First Nations and Canadians can monitor the government’s progress toward its commitment and, ultimately, toward the realization of the human right to water for First Nations,” said Amanda Klasing of Human Rights Watch.

The complete report is available at

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