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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Feds reach $8B agreement to settle First Nations drinking water class action

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TORONTO — The federal government has reached an agreement in principle to settle class-action litigation regarding clean drinking water for First Nations communities.

“This agreement addresses several important concerns identified by First Nations,” Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said alongside representatives from Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation in the announcement Friday. 

Laying out what the agreement entails, Miller said that it includes “$1.5 billion in compensation for individuals deprived of clean drinking water, the creation of a $400-million First Nation economic and cultural restoration fund to support community-level efforts, a new commitment to Canada’s action plan for the lifting of all long-term drinking water advisories in public systems on reserve.”

A creation of a First Nations advisory committee on clean drinking water was also announced.

Miller said 108 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted since 2015.

The settlement could see approximately 142,000 individuals from 258 First Nations compensated under the new agreement along with 120 First Nations – making it worth nearly $8 billion in total measures.

Compensation will be calculated on a variety of factors, including how long they have lived under an advisory and whether they had suffered health issues as a result.

“For hundreds of years now, Canada has enjoyed vast wealth while Indigenous people lack access to even the basic necessities of life like drinkable water,” said Curve Lake First Nation Chief Emily Whetung in a government press release. “Today, we have come one step closer to reconciling this long history. We can celebrate the Agreement In Principle as a step in the right direction and we look forward to seeing how quickly we can achieve the goal of clean water for all.”

The legal action had been filed on behalf of Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba, and Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, and alleged that Canada has not met its obligations to First Nations and their members to ensure reserves had clean water.

The proposed class action also alleged negligence and a breach of charter rights by Canada.

The class had included all members of First Nations who lived for at least one year under drinking water advisories between November 1995 and the present day. It was filed this past May.

In February 2021, the auditor general Karen Hogan issued a report that found Indigenous Services Canada “did not provide adequate support to First Nations communities” to ensure they have access to safe drinking water.

The report said the federal government needs to make long-term water system improvements, commit to sufficient funding for operations and maintenance and put regulations in place.

Hogan decried the “temporary measures” the federal government had continually put in place for “just push[ing] the issue a little further down the road.”

This past March marked the month that all drinking water advisories in First Nations communities across the country were to be lifted, however, in December 2020, the Liberal government admitted that its promise to lift all outstanding water advisories would be broken.

At the time, Indigenous Services Canada said that lifting all the advisories remained a “top priority” but did not commit to a timeline.

According to the new government website tracking advisories, 51 advisories remain in effect in First Nation communities across Canada. Five in Saskatchewan, two in Manitoba and 44 in Ontario.

In July, the Lhoosk’uz Dené First Nation in B.C. celebrated the end of 20 years of trucking in bottled water, after a partnership with experts at the University of British Columbia finally gave the community clean tap water.

“It seems like forever, we’ve never had clean drinking water.” Chief Liliane Squinas said to CTV News Vancouver. “It’s something that we’ve looked forward to for many years, which we never, ever thought we’d ever accomplish.”

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With files from CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Online Producer Rachel Aiello and CTV News Vancouver 

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