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Bad Water, Bad Life in Ontario: The First Nations' Water Crisis Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by A A, Canada Nov 2, 2008
Environment , Human Rights   Opinions
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To: Hon. Jim Prentice (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians Government of Canada)

Dear Minister Prentice,

A specter haunts Canada. This terrorizing phenomenon is not a new occurrence, it is not a break from the past, it is not an aberration, as it is simply an uninterrupted continuum that has tarnished and tainted Canada’s legacy since its inception. The axis by which Canada’s continued decadence and internal decay seems to intensify the most, and the outlet by which a tipping point of disharmonious discontent seems imminent, is the negligent treatment of Canada’s Aboriginal people. While Canada’s “historical blemishes” has become all too common, we can, Honourable Minister, stop a train, who many say, is a runaway train which has no breaks and no rear gear. According to Thomas Berger, posing as the oldest human rights question in Canada, the violations incurred by the Aboriginals, can be successfully rectified by starting at the grassroots level. The most basic level of life, and what is continuing to be recognized as the basic denominator of human rights, is access to the basic subsistence in life, which is safe drinking water. In this letter, those who signed my petition and I, who have political currency, will speak for the Aboriginals as they are so marginalized from political life that their voice is drowned-out and faint.

Let us start with an old philosophical assertion, propagated by John Locke, which states that all natural resources are held in trust by the State for the benefit of the people. Are the Aboriginals benefiting from clean and safe drinking water provided to them by the Ontario provincial government? Or is there systemic discrimination involved? In Shoal Lake No. 40, the watering system equipment has malfunctioned which has disrupted the necessary chlorination levels needed to make the water safe to drink, which in turn has created an unacceptable microbiological quality and inadequate disinfectant residual. While promises to rectify these impediments to safe drinking water have been promised since 2002 from bureaucrats on all levels of government, various setbacks have prevented successful measures to be implemented, and a new ambiguous deadline has been set for the Spring of the 2008. Similarly, in Moose Deer Point, there has been deterioration of water quality by the lack of disinfectant bacteria culture, making those who drink its water susceptible to a whole array of health risks. Again, construction of a new watering system that is indispensable for clean and safe drinking water are being projected to be finished in March 2010. In Northwest Angle No. 37, similar problems are arising, where new parts have only recently been ordered, and an expected date for completion has yet to be publicly announced. For Kingfisher, they are going through the same cookie-cutter problems that other First Nation communities in Ontario cannot bear, they are also under a Drinking Water Advisory, and the necessary upgrading parts that are needed to clean up water contamination have been delivered at an unsatisfactory pace. In Muskrat Dam Lake, they have an inadequate chlorination filter and high turbidity content in their water supply.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “justice delayed is justice denied.” The whole process is characterized with deceitful political rhetoric, disingenuous deadlines and a colonized people, who cannot demand justice and meaningful improvement in their condition, because they have historically been relegated to the periphery. I rhetorically ask you, would such a delayed response be feasible if the drinking water was unsafe in say, Rosedale area or Post Rd.? Or is there systemic discrimination of a racialized kind here. And if there is, we need to hold accountable those who propagate such colonialistic thinking and rid our society of the ruling class ideology that fosters such a viewpoint. Especially since, this type of government will not honour its fiduciary responsibilities, which not only has an unshakable legal foundation, found in the Highest Court, but it also is packed with an even more powerful persuasion, a moral obligation. The only way to remedy this problematic position that the Ontario government and other levels of government are in, is to solely appeal to the Human Rights framework which can rectify and solve all the present injustices. This prescriptive discourse can be a watershed for a country that has been negligent in safeguarding the human rights of minority groups, who have historically been locked-out of power. Why is the Human Rights the best framework for tackling this unfortunate healthy drinking water crisis of Aboriginals? Firstly, healthy drinking water has taken an elevated position in the Human Rights literature/ forum for the last 20 years, and interlinks water with the highest attainable standard of life and health. It was in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child which stipulated that environmental pollution, especially contamination risks to water supply, was a foremost concern for a healthy life. The United Nations approved General Comment 15 in 2002 which specifically mentioned a “human right to water,” which was followed up by a 2003 WHO publication titled “The Right to Water” which declared that water was a human right, and safe drinking water and sanitation was a prerequisite for a functional life; the ability to live is what makes possible all other rights (i.e. right to freedom of speech etc.). Secondly, the Human Rights approach brings accountability for governments who are negligent in their duties to their inhabitants, and therefore endeavours to improve the overall human condition. The Human Rights framework objectively categorizes governments as states who are upholding their end of the bargain, and those who are not, using the sanitation of drinking water as an indicator of a good Human Rights regime. By standardizing all watering systems across the First Nations community, Canada can help propel its suspect Human Rights reputation. Thirdly, the Human Rights paradigm is pure and free of politic manipulations and arbitrary economic analysis of costs and rewards, which means it has a broad and highly receptive audience, who are naturally inclined to get involved to make necessary changes that resemble their Human Rights wishes. When I was informing people of the currently dismal water conditions of the Aboriginals, they were outraged that such happenings were occurring in Ontario, and promised to look into it. They were naturally passionate about the subject, and I had early premonitions that this issue could mobilize the de-politicized Canadian voter to head into the polling station because of the gravity of this injustice. Honourable Minister, you hold a lofty position, you can politically fight for a people displaced, dissuaded and disowned. I leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, “how wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

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