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4 Alberta First Nations groups file lawsuit over drinking water

Alleging that their drinking water is unsafe, the Blood, Ermineskin, Sucker Creek and Tsuu T'ina First Nations groups in Alberta have filed a lawsuit against the federal government in Ottawa. They want their drinking water safety level upgraded to acceptable standards and are also seeking help with the continued safe operation of their water supply. The civil litigation also addresses the matter of a refund for savings because, they claim, the government has not properly done its job over the years. The lawsuit also claims that the facilities on each of the reservations did not meet standards from the start.

The chief of the Sucker Creek First Nation observed that they previously tried to resolve issues with the government. They filed the lawsuit as a last resort because safe drinking water is a priority for their people. Estimates to bring water safety up to acceptable standards stand at about $1.2 billion, and $470 million will be needed annually to maintain those levels. According to the lawsuit, the lack of proper water safety has negatively affected the health of residents and amounts to discrimination. The documentation further claims that Canada has failed to fulfill its duty to the First Nations' people, which has placed them at a serious disadvantage and has broken up communities.

A 2003 report indicated that safe drinking water has been a problem for a long time. The study concluded that at least 75 per cent of the First Nations' water systems were at medium or higher risk of failure. A follow-up study conducted in 2011 showed minimal progress.

A group might try to resolve their differences with another group through mediation. When those strategies do not work, the wronged parties might need to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for their losses.

Source: CBC Calgary, "Alberta First Nations sue Ottawa over safety of drinking water", June 16, 2014

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