News / Winnipeg

'It’s just mind-boggling': Before Canada 150, more than 150 drinking water advisories listed online

Some of the 153 drinking water advisories cited span more than two decades, most of them occurring in Ontario.

A boy from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation sits on a bridge over a channel in a 2015 photo. The Ontario reserve is under one of Canada's longest boil-water advisories.

John Woods/The Canadian Press

A boy from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation sits on a bridge over a channel in a 2015 photo. The Ontario reserve is under one of Canada's longest boil-water advisories.

As Canada spends a half-billion dollars celebrating its 150th year since confederation, it appears more than 150 drinking water advisories still exist, most of them in First Nations communities.

Of the 153 advisories listed on the federal government and British Columbia’s First Nations Health Authority websites as of Thursday, most occur in Ontario (86), including the oldest boil water advisory, which has been in place since Feb. 1, 1995 (8,184 days) in Neskatanga First Nation.

Some communities have more than one advisory, as water treatment isn’t centred in a single hub. That’s the case for Kinonjeoshtegon and Pinaymootang First Nations in Manitoba, where 15 boil water and do not consume advisories are listed.

For Shoal Lake 40 First Nation—which straddles the Manitoba-Ontario border and provides Winnipeg with access to clean drinking water—2017 marks 20 years (7,436 days) since boil water advisories began.

Chief Erwin Redsky said his community of about 270 people never thought it would take this long to resolve the situation. Youth have grown accustomed to only drinking or using bottled water to wash dishes, cook and do chores.

“It’s just mind-boggling, it’s not right. Every Canadian should enjoy clean drinking water,” Redsky said.

In the lead-up to the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau pledged to end all drinking water advisories in Canada within five years at a VICE Canada town hall.

Peter Huck, a University of Waterloo professor and research chair in water treatment, believes the technology is there to fix the water woes, but points to possible communications breakdowns between First Nations and various levels of government as a potential roadblock.

“In some cases, communities may also be reluctant to use techniques … such as the addition of chlorine (to water),” he said, adding newer innovations like ultraviolet filters could provide a more natural alternative.

Though progress in Shoal Lake 40 is tangible—an all-weather road to the community is under construction and plans for a new water treatment plant are in the works—Redsky believes some of the half-billion dollars from Canada 150 funds should have been allocated to help struggling First Nations communities with water.

“If we’re going to celebrate a rich country such as Canada, some of those funds should be diverted to the communities such as ours and others who are facing daily challenges such as to have clean drinking water,” he said.

“That day will come when just the basic human right is met and there will be reason at that point to celebrate.”

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