Canada’s Federal Court and Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench have reached a joint decision to approve settlements in two class-action lawsuits against the country’s federal government, which were launched by First Nations communities forced to live under drinking water advisories.
The legal settlement in the two class-action suits was first agreed in July 2021. It requires the government to take quicker action to clean up contaminated drinking water in Canadian Indigenous peoples’ reserves. Under the settlement, the government has committed to spend a minimum of $6.3 Billion USD over nine years to fund water infrastructure on hundreds of reserves.
The government will also compensate First Nations communities for the years they have had to live without access to clean water, by paying $1.2 Billion USD in damages to approximately 140,000 Indigenous people.
In an emailed statement to Canada’s CBC news, Doreen Spence, chief of Tataskweyak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba, said: "This is a historic moment for Tataskweyak Cree Nation and First Nations across the country. First Nations will now be able to work with Canada in a more meaningful way, and have access to water standards on reserve that have never existed before. We look forward to seeing the day where all First Nations have access to safe water, now and forever."
Before he was elected, Prime Minister Trudeau promised to lift all boil-water advisories within five years of coming to office. But the government missed his deadline, of March 2021, to provide Indigenous reserves with adequate water and wastewater systems.
The agreement means that current boil-water advisories will be lifted as soon as possible.
The settlement agreement also includes the creation of a $316 Million USD First Nation Economic and Cultural Restoration Fund and the creation of a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water.