By Samantha Johnson
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In Canada, being concerned about clean drinking water is not often a daily concern, unless you currently live on or have lived on a First Nation reserve. In 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed by Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP (OKT) against the federal government on behalf of three First Nations, two in Ontario and one in Manitoba, due to a failure to ensure access to safe drinking water on reserves.
All three First Nations had long-term drinking water advisories lasting a year or more before the case was filed. On further investigation, OKT learned 250 First Nations across Canada, including many in Alberta, have had long-term drinking advisors. A total of 130 First Nations joined the class action lawsuit and a settlement was recently negotiated with the federal government.
“Part of the settlement is compensation for individuals and First Nations as a whole but the main part of the settlement is a legally enforceable duty to ensure access to safe drinking water on reserves and a major infrastructure commitment,” said Kevin Hille, a lawyer on the OKT class counsel for this case.
Living under a long-term drinking water advisory is not only an inconvenience, due to having to buy water, but also a hardship. Many live in remote communities and getting clean water is difficult. There are also provisions in the settlement for those who were harmed due to only having access to unsafe water.
OKT wants to ensure everyone who is living on a reserve or has previously lived on a reserve knows about the settlement and are making claims. The deadline to make a claim has been extended until Mar. 7, 2024. Hille explained that there are still many communities struggling with access to clean water and a public commitment is needed to address the issue.
“It’s a great step forward for ensuring First Nations have access to safe drinking water and people living on reserve are treated equally with those living off reserves,” stated Hille. “Their basic human rights are respected, but it’s still an ongoing crisis in many communities. The settlement is a step. As a country we need to commit to ensuring that everybody has access to clean water and that will take time.”
For more information visit the following webpages, https://firstnationsdrinkingwater.ca/ and https://www.oktlaw.com/services/cases/class-action-litigation-on-drinking-water-advisories-on-first-nations-reserves/.
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