First Nation seeks suit on boil water advisories
WINNIPEG • A chief of a Manitoba First Nation is proposing a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of her community and other reserves that have experienced longterm boil water advisories.
Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence said in a statement of claim filed last month that people are unable to practise their traditions, have become very ill and have moved away because of issues with drinking water.
The government was aware that treatment plants and funding were inadequate, the suit alleges, but did not adequately respond.
“Although Canada was advised of the devastating human consequences of these failures, its response to this human catastrophe was — and continues to be — a toxic mixture of inertia and incompetence,” the lawsuit said. The suit is seeking damages and a court order forcing the government to construct or approve as well as fund appropriate water systems. It is not yet certified.
The allegations have not been proven in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.
Indigenous Services Canada spokeswoman Rola Tfaili said the department is seeking legal advice. The federal government has committed more than $2 billion toward water and wastewater infrastructure since 2016, she added.
The Tataskweyak Cree Nation’s traditional territory was vast, following caribou herds in northern Manitoba. But its reserve was created in 1908 about 48 kilometres northeast of Thompson on the shore of Split Lake.
Much of southern Manitoba’s water drains to Hudson Bay through the Nelson and Burntwood rivers, which converge in the lake. The court action alleges that as upstream land use and hydroelectric development increased, water quality in the lake declined and the community suffered.
Tataskweyak’s first treatment plant was built in 1959 and community members had to get water by filling pails. A larger plant was built in 1987 and remains operational today. The lawsuit says the plant has been plagued by problems due to its original construction. It also cannot not deal with water quality in the lake, which has significantly worsened in recent years by increasing populations downstream and recent floods.
Tataskweyak Cree Nation has been under an official longer-term boil water advisory since 2017. People are advised to avoid swimming in the water, children get rashes after bathing in tap water and most pay out of pocket for bottled water.
The lawsuit says Ottawa has refused to find an alternative source for drinking water, despite the community recommending a nearby lake.
During the 2015 election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to eliminate all long-term water advisories on First Nations by March 2021. Since then, 87 long-term advisories have been lifted, and 57 remain.