2019 demonstration in
Attawapiskat demanding government ensure safe drinking water.
Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan has
issued a damning report on the Trudeau government's failure to keep its
pledge to eliminate boil water advisories
in Indigenous communities by March 2021.
Trudeau government's "commitment" made in 2015 covered about
1,050 public water systems servicing about 330,000 people. Fully
one-third of all households on reserves were not included in that
commitment because they get water from private wells, cisterns, or have
no running water. Many others in remote northern communities are not
monitored at all.
Indigenous Services Canada
acknowledged in December that the
commitment would not be met. The Prime Minister said difficulties
caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had complicated
General, however, concluded that the government never
was on track -- and never will be given its reluctance to actually
address the problem. Fifteen years after her department
first reported on the matter in 2005 (and again in 2011), many
Indigenous communities still do not have safe drinking water. She found
that there is not even a regulatory regime in place for
managing drinking water in First Nations communities.
the findings of the Auditor General's 2021 report are:
The policy and formula for funding the operation and maintenance
of water infrastructure remains 30 years out of date and have not kept
pace with either advances in technology or
actual costs of operating and maintaining infrastructure.
The condition of water systems in First Nations communities, as
measured by annual risk ratings, has not improved at all in the past
five years -- despite more than a $1 billion spent.
Of the total 160 long-term drinking water advisories in effect in
2015, 60 (37.5 per cent) remained in effect in 2020, impacting 41 First
- Last year, of 717 public
water systems on First Nations reserves,
189 lacked a fully trained, certified operator and 401 lacked a fully
trained and certified back-up operator.
Underpayment of Indigenous community operators as compared to
those in non-Indigenous communities was a major contributing factor in operator
The Auditor-General concluded that
access to clean, safe drinking water for
Indigenous communities was a key to the government's reconciliation
commitment and its failure to deliver is
putting the health and safety of First Nations communities at risk.
In the last two decades alone, two-thirds of the First Nations
communities in Canada have had a "drinking water advisory." The ongoing
refusal of the Trudeau
government, like the previous Harper government, to address this
problem is a violation of the basic human rights of Indigenous peoples
and the damage it causes to Indigenous health and well-being should be
considered a crime.
In true Trudeau Liberal fashion
though, the government agrees with
everything the Auditor General recommends. The Minister responsible
pledges not to fix the situation -- seemingly too much to ask -- but to
be "transparent" by "giv[ing] everyone as much information as
possible," and to keep "monitoring progress" and hold firm to a
commitment to "do better." Such high-sounding phrases are a hallmark of
the Trudeau Liberals, the worth of which can be judged by the results
of their 2015 commitment.
colonial polices and practices of the Canadian state and
its governments at all levels in violation of the rights of Indigenous
peoples must be brought to an end.
This article was published in
Volume 51 Number 4 - April 4, 2021