From have become surreptitious pockets of ‘developing country conditions’

From its avid social progressiveness to its effective stability of government and notably high standard of life, Canada is revered globally as a top-tier nation for a myriad of reasons. Its healthcare system is unparalleled and its people enjoy, in abundance, some of the cleanest, natural freshwater in the world. However, to say that all Canadians retain unhindered access to clean, safe water is to willfully ignore one of the country’s most severe human rights violations: the drinking water crisis in dozens of First Nations communities within Ontario. Not only have the results of this crisis been a series of actual and potential health detriments for these indigenous peoples, they include the crude undermining of their spiritual relationship with water. As of today, there are ninety-one active drinking water advisories, affecting over 140 First Nations, having plagued their communities for decades, and without showing any improvement in recent history, either. These indigenous communities have become surreptitious pockets of ‘developing country conditions’ within one of the most prominently developed nations in the world, a disgraceful but revealing hypocrisy, a stark contradiction to everything that the country allegedly stands for. But this issue is far more than just ethical negligence, violating multiple obligations that Canada has legally ratified in various international human rights treaties, though the root of the problem can be found right within Canada, entrenched into our Constitution, waiting, yet untouched, to be resolved. The unrestricted access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human rights issue at the international level, though generally affecting economically and environmentally disadvantaged countries. Canada has adopted the tenets of, and endorsed a series of international treaties that sanction the importance of water and sanitation. Some of these international legal obligations relevant to this issue include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), , the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and more, along with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Along with the introduction of Canada’s 1982 Constitution Act came the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as a fundamental element of the document. The Charter includes all of the basic civil liberties that are supposedly guaranteed to all Canadians, as detailed in Section (15) of the document, under the subheading of Equality Rights. “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability”. Furthermore, the very first legal right listed in the Charter, section (7), supposedly ensures “the right to life, liberty, and security”, a right which is blatantly violated in the issue of the First Nations water crisis. Water is unquestionably the most necessary element of life, and to willfully allow an already incredibly disadvantaged group of people to spend decades without a clean, sanitary source of water is inhumane, especially when every other Canadian retains access to it unobstructedly. That is where this issue also becomes an issue of inequality, infringing upon the aforementioned Section (15) of the Charter, as out of 105 active water advisories in Canada, 91 of them affect First Nations communities. That is not a coincidence. It is not that their water sources all just happen to be contaminated, because almost all water sources are. The difference is that the rest of Canada’s drinking water is highly regulated, while the water going into indigenous reserves is not. For the rest of the population, drinking water and sanitation are within the jurisdiction of the provincial and territorial governments, but this governance does not extend to First Nations reserves. The apparent regulation of their water sources lies within the hands of multiple different organizations and institutions, including Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Health Canada, environmental health officers, Environment Canada, and more, who all handle separate sectors of the regulation, with little connection or communication between each other. As a result of this, their inadequate system of water regulation is deeply fragmented, and the indigenous peoples of Canada have fallen into the void between the different pieces.