A proposed settlement agreement worth nearly $ 8 billion was reached in two national class actions brought against the federal government by First Nations affected by drinking water quality advisories.
The settlement, which is awaiting court approval, would provide $ 1.5 billion in compensation to people without drinking water and modernize Canada’s First Nations drinking water legislation.
Approximately 142,000 people from 258 First Nations could be compensated, as well as 120 First Nations. Depending on the details of the final agreement, more people may be entitled to compensation.
Compensation for individuals will be calculated based on their remoteness from their communities, the length of their stay under a drinking water quality advisory and whether they have suffered health problems as a result.
The proposal also requires the federal government to renew its commitment to lift all long-term advisories regarding the quality of drinking water on reserves.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced the deal at a press conference today. He was joined by Curve Lake First Nation Chief Emily Whetung, Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence, and Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias.
Miller told CBC News the government was happy to avoid a legal battle.
“We do not want to be in court. We have said it time and time again,” he said.
“It’s a lot of money, yes, but it reflects a commitment to bringing water to a community that hasn’t been made until now.”
If Ottawa does not meet its commitments under the settlement agreement, the terms of the agreement stipulate that First Nations could turn to a new alternative dispute resolution mechanism with strict deadlines that have not been set. .
The proposal would see the federal government commit at least $ 6 billion in previously announced funding provide reliable access to safe drinking water on reserves, create a First Nations Safe Drinking Water Advisory Committee, support First Nations efforts to develop their own drinking water regulations and initiatives, and make Ottawa responsible for private water systems, such as wells.
The proposal would also create a new $ 400 million First Nations Economic and Cultural Restoration Fund.
Miller announced last December that the Liberal government would not be able to meet its goal of lifting all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves by the end of March 2021.
A CBC poll last October found that some drinking water projects would take several years longer.
Currently, there are 51 long-term drinking water advisories in 32 First Nations, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
Lead counsel in both lawsuits said the deal is the product of months of negotiations with the government.
“We were able to come to what I believe is a landmark deal that will provide compensation for the wrongs of the past and address the future to ensure it doesn’t look like the past,” said Michael Rosenberg, partner at the firm of McCarthy lawyers. Tetrault.
“The objective here is that long-term advisories regarding the quality of drinking water on First Nations reserves – thing of the past. “
Lawsuits Alleged Government Negligence
The lawsuits alleged that Canada had violated its obligations to First Nations and its members by failing to ensure that reserves had clean water.
They also alleged that Canada was negligent and violated both its fiduciary obligations and its Charter rights.
The lawsuits were initiated on behalf of Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba, and Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, by McCarthy Tétrault LLP and Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP.
The class includes all First Nations people whose communities have been subject to drinking water advisories – including boil water advisories, do not drink advisories, and no drink advisories. -use – which lasted at least one year between November 20, 1995 and today.
Class members must have lived for two years before the start of the action to be eligible for compensation. Communities can opt for a class action to assert their rights.
Ontario leader satisfied with settlement agreement
Whetung said she was happy with the settlement agreement.
“I think the comprehensive accord really meets the needs of First Nations across Canada. It was designed to do this, and specifically to ensure that every community has access to safe drinking water, ”she told CBC News. “It is recognized that people have suffered harm from not having access to safe drinking water. “
While the details of the dispute settlement mechanism have yet to be worked out, Whetung said she was confident it would be effective.
“If there are problems, there is a really defined process to move these conflicts and disputes forward quickly and effectively,” she said.
“I feel like we are truly embarking on the journey that will lead our communities to meaningful access to safe drinking water.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told CBC News Network Power and politics Friday that he welcomed the deal, but there is more to do.
“This is a small victory for the Indigenous communities who have suffered boil water advisories, who have suffered without potable water for so long, but it does not release the federal government from its responsibility to ensure that there is potable water. for everyone, ”said Singh guest host Katie Simpson.
Singh said if he was prime minister he would make drinking water a priority.
“Clearly this has not been a priority,” Singh said.