Water regulations still leak across Canada

The governments that Canadian citizens depend on to protect drinking water are failing despite warning signals from places like Walkerton and…

The governments that Canadian citizens depend on to protect drinking water are failing despite warning signals from places like Walkerton and Kashechewan, Ontario, says the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Seven people died in 2000 after ingesting E. coli bacteria through Walkerton’s mismanaged water system, and more than 800 residents of the Kashechewan First Nation in Northern Ontario were evacuated last year after E. coli was discovered in drinking water there.

The discovery of radionuclides in well water in Champagne and E. coli bacteria in Carmacks has eroded faith in the Yukon’s  water supply.

But despite the growing concerns, some provincial and territorial governments — and especially Ottawa — still use patchwork regulations to ensure water safety, said Anastasia Lintner, a lawyer with Sierra Legal who worked on the organization’s recent study, Waterproof 2.

“Why should the location of where a person lives make any difference to how their water is regulated for safety?” said Lintner.

The Waterproof 2 study found that Ottawa has failed to create country-wide drinking water standards, and that different parts of Canada are better off than others for water safety.

For that, the feds received an “F” in the study’s report card.

The Yukon didn’t fare much better.

Along with Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, the territory received a “C-” for water regulation and treatment, second lowest in Canada after New Brunswick, which scored a “D.”

The Yukon fared well on containment standards, and standards for labs that do water evaluation.

But improvement is still needed on water treatment, and the territory still lacks public reporting procedures, said the study.

Still, the Yukon has improved upon its “D” grade in the original 2001 Waterproof study, said Lintner.

“The big change is going to be in all of the proposed changes going on,” she said.

The Yukon government is looking at several proposals including legally binding water regulation, but those have yet to be made into law, she noted.

“If they are all implemented the grade will be even higher,” said Lintner.

Ontario received the highest grade in the study, an “A-,” and Nunavut and the Northwest Territories received a “C” and a “C+” respectively.

The Waterproof 2 study’s focuses on the federal government’s failure to act on water safety and the ramifications that has for First Nations people in Canada.

In the 2005 Auditor General annual report, the Commissioner of the Environment identified regulatory gaps for drinking water across Canada as something that needed to be closed to ensure every Indian Act band citizen has access to clean drinking water, said Lintner.

But despite a federal expert panel that travelled across Canada hearing concerns about water this summer, little more than talk has been the result, she said.

“In response to that gap, the federal government has not acted to fill it directly, they’ve just set out on this process by which they are consulting on what they might do about the regulatory gap,” she said.

“We’re calling on the federal government to take quicker action with respect to what’s going to be done.”

Though water safety issues in the Yukon are clustered in First Nations communities, there is less clarity about the role Ottawa will take in helping solve the problems, due to self-government agreements.

Citizens in Carmacks have had to boil their water for years after discoveries of E. coli in well water.

And seven of 12 wells tested in Champagne in September were found to contain high levels of radionculide contamination.

But First Nations bear responsibility for those services, said Dermot Flynn, associate chief negotiator at the Yukon Land Claims & Implementation Secretariat.

“I think the First Nations took over responsibility for that (water and its testing) with self-government,” said Flynn.

Former municipal-like services delivered by Ottawa to First Nations, like water, are now under the jurisdiction of each self-governing First Nation in the Yukon, he said.

And as part of the agreements, funding from Ottawa is provided to deliver the programs and services, he added.

But the agreements do not spell out what happens if, for instance, a First Nation delivering water to its citizens needs assistance or wants the federal government to re-assume responsibility, he said.

“In the self-government agreement, there is nothing that speaks to what happens in the event — in the worse case scenario, if a First Nation were to financially fail,” said Flynn.

“It doesn’t speak to what would happen then; it’s also silent whether they could ask Canada to re-assume responsibility for programs it has now determined it doesn’t want or can’t deliver.

“The document is forward-looking and doesn’t address those ‘what-ifs,’” he said.

In the wake of the discovery of radioactive well water in Champagne, the responsibility of each level of government — federal, territorial and First Nation — has been bandied about with little clarity, said Lawrence Joe, director of lands and resources for the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations.

“It needs to be addressed — the Champagne situation really brought that to the forefront for us,” he said.

There is a “huge vacuum” of responsibility and regulation for private wells between all three governments, said Joe.

The Waterproof 2 study didn’t look into the particular situation faced by Yukon First Nations, but may in the future, said Lintner.

 “We didn’t investigate that in this particular report, but it’s definitely something very interesting we should think about following up,” she said

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: Another election, another anomaly

Monday’s “double-tie” election is generating some free publicity for the Yukon as Outside news agencies scramble to find someone to interview.

A cyclist rides along the Millenium Trail in downtown Whitehorse on a frigid Feb. 9. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of an e-bike bylaw that would designate how e-bike riders can use city trails. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
First two readings passed on Whitehorse e-bike bylaw

Delegate calls on city to consider age restrictions and further regulations

Whitehorse City Hall at its Steele Street entrance. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Change of plans approved for city hall

Project would see 1966 city hall demolished

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Whitehorse International Airport in Whitehorse on May 6, 2020.
NAV CANADA suspends review for Whitehorse airport traffic control

NAV CANADA announced on April 15 that it is no longer considering… Continue reading

A bulldozer levels piles of garbage at the Whitehorse landfill in January 2012. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Rural dump closures and tipping fees raise concern from small communities

The government has said the measures are a cost-cutting necessity

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit… Continue reading

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Most Read