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.

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