Announcement of Engagement Sessions by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (SDWFNA) came into effect November 1, 2013. The Act purports to enable the Government to develop enforceable federal regulations to ensure access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water; the effective treatment of wastewater, and the protection of sources of drinking water on First Nation lands.
On May 29, 2017, INAC publicly announced on its website, it would soon begin engagement on a review of the Act.
INAC has indicated, through their online SDWFNA Engagement webpage, that sessions will begin June 20, 2017, and will include national and regional meetings, beginning in Prince George June 20 and Vancouver June 22. Dates and locations of upcoming meetings will be posted as information becomes available.
In a letter to INAC Minister Carolyn Bennett, I have informed the government of AFN’s concerns about the proposed short timeline for engagement and the need to change the way the government conducts legislative development initiatives, especially in view of Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to a joint law and policy review with First Nations. I have pointed out to Minister Bennett there is an opportunity to work together with First Nations to co-draft appropriate legislation. However, legislation and regulation alone are not enough. Substantial funding must be provided to First Nations to adequately address chronic underfunding, and to ensure sufficient funding for continued operation and maintenance of the drinking water treatment plants.
According to the regional approach for engagement posted on the INAC website: The review will be conducted through region-by-region engagement sessions with each session designed by INAC, with the involvement of a lead First Nation organization and Health Canada.
The objectives of the sessions are to seek First Nations’ input, considerations, and reflections about the current Act and jointly determine how to move forward with the review of the Act.
The Government aims to empower itself to develop new regulations and standards, and does not provide First Nations with any resources to meet those new standards. There remains a concern that without funding, First Nations could face punitive actions for failing to meet regulations.
The Act garnered widespread criticism from First Nations across Canada, and was heavily criticized for lack of meaningful engagement and consultation with First Nations; first as Bill S-11, then as Bill S-8.
The federal government needs to work with First Nations, Regional and Treaty organizations on the development of regulations that impact the management of resources and the health and safety of our citizens.
Through Resolution 76/2015, AFN has direction to advocate for the repeal of the Act. In accordance with this resolution, I will continue to press for repeal, and the co-development of legislation, rather than unilaterally imposed policies; and for respect of the standard of free prior and informed consent articulated in The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
(Article 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states: States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.)