5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Drinking Water Advisories in Canada

Clean water is critical to the health and well-being of children. Did you know that all children have the right to clean water under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)? Canada ratified the CRC in 1991, and yet, almost 30 years later, we still see this threat facing far too many young people, particularly First Nations children and youth, in our country.

  1. Currently, there are 56 long-term ‘Drinking Water Advisories’ in First Nations communities, 43 of these are boil-water advisories, and 13 are do-not-consume advisories. This means that across Canada, more than 2,180 First Nations households do not have clean drinking water.* Furthermore, water advisories make it nearly impossible for Indigenous residents to wash their hands regularly amid health crises and pandemics.
  2. Water advisories are found in all 10 provinces and 2 of the 3 territories in Canada, with the highest numbers found in B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland. The Government of Canada has promised to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories by March 2021, but, questions remain whether the government is on track to fulfill its promise to eliminate these advisories in the next 18 months.
  3. Unsafe drinking water affects the ability of children to assert their right to relationships with the land and water, and affects their own physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Children have the right to clean water and sanitation; this access to clean drinking water is essential in allowing children to lead healthy lives.
  4. Young people have ideas about how to end Drinking Water Advisories. This means that it is crucial to include young Indigenous people in all meaningful consultations on water rights. The consent of young Indigenous people is central in ensuring the legitimacy and sustainability of the solutions and actions that the government commits to, in partnership with First Nations, Metis & Inuit. Canada must listen to Indigenous communities, and especially Indigenous youth, as they speak up about water.
  5. There is a connection between climate change and Drinking Water Advisories. In some First Nations, water sources may be contaminated such as in Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (Grassy Narrows) in northern Ontario where a chemical spill in the 1970s led to “do not consume” advisories that still hold today. In other areas, access to clean water is difficult – in Garden Hill First Nation, Manitoba, 180 homes lack running water and indoor plumbing. There are also areas where water sources are at risk due to faulty infrastructure, such as in Shoal Lake 40 First Nation or the Six Nations of Grand River, Ontario.  Child and youth participation is crucial in getting a better understanding of how young people see climate change, and what they think the solutions are. Through our various climate change programs, we see the importance of resilience in the face of climate change and environmental degradation. Prioritizing youth and child voices, we’re able to collect a variety of perspectives on resilience as it relates to water, climate and reconciliation.

At Save the Children, we strive to build a reconciled Canada where all children’s rights are upheld. Working in partnership with First Nations, we promote and listen to children’s voices on climate change, clean water and environmental issues. Realizing the right to participate in decision-making is crucial in all areas of young peoples’ lives, and the environment is no different.

*As of March 2020