EDITORIAL: Water rights

It is almost unimaginable that residents in a populous area of the Lower Mainland could be without a reliable source of safe drinking water.

It is almost unimaginable that residents in a populous area of the Lower Mainland could be without a reliable source of safe drinking water.

Yet this is what is happening – and has been happening for a long time – for people who live on the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve.

The current situation, in which the reserve’s water supplier, the City of White Rock, has put forward an 18-month deadline to turning off the water altogether – as a means, according to Mayor Wayne Baldwin, of jump-starting stalled negotiations over a contentious city-owned pump station on reserve land – is yet another reminder that there are still residents in our community who don’t even have the luxury of mains-connected service.

On the eastern end of Beach Avenue, where White Rock’s pipes don’t reach, some residents truck in water for showering and laundry uses, and buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. Even those on the existing water service have had a boil-water advisory for more than a decade.

The SFN situation is far from unique. In June, a report from the international Human Rights Watch called for urgent steps to be taken by provincial and federal authorities to resolve more than 100 boil-water advisories in First Nations communities across Canada.

The band – seeing White Rock’s Aug. 29 notice as an ultimatum – have been exploring the possibility of connecting to Surrey’s water supply. That could be done within a year, Surrey’s utilities manager says, but at a cost of millions.

Lost in all the wrangling, of course, are residents who have been woefully underserved for years. Critics of the band’s leaders – and their high salaries that made headlines more than a year ago – will not be slow to point accusing fingers in that direction. But that’s only one issue in a problem that should also involve – in a just society – SFN’s municipal and regional neighbour and federal authorities, and which should, by rights, have been fixed decades ago.

The author of the Human Rights Watch report makes the point that First Nations don’t have the same legal protections to ensure safe water as Canadians living off-reserve. And while Canada joined the international consensus on the right to water at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, it still has no comprehensive national water law – only a net of varying provincial policies.

In pre-election campaigning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to end First Nations boil-water advisories within five years. That’s five years too long. It’s time for decisive action on this fundamental right – not the prolonging of local squabbles.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Longtime basketball coach Allison McNeill is worried that the COVID-19 pandemic will adversely affect high-school athletes with university athletic aspirations. (Garrett James/Langley Events Centre photo)
COVID-19: Young athletes scrambling for scholarships, opportunities amid pandemic

‘They lost their whole Grade 12 year’ says Semiahmoo basketball coach Allison McNeill

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
White Rock woman among dozens in Lower Mainland to benefit from Elder Dog program

Dog-care organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but requires more clients to serve

Travis Selje with Rex, the family dog he got to enjoy for the final six months of his life. (Submitted photo)
Defence says evidence ‘compelling, overwhelming’ to acquit Surrey woman in deadly crash

Epileptic seizure caused fatal crash that killed Travis Selje, lawyer argues in final submissions

TEASER
WATCH: Surrey-made anti-bullying video urges youth to #BlockEmDontShareEm

“Break the chain by deleting the image and never forwarding – not even to a best friend’

File photo by Tom Zytaruk
Surrey 2021 tree sale begins Friday

City of Surrey says it’s selling quality trees for $20 each

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

A woman boards a transit bus through rear doors, in Vancouver, on Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
TransLink slow to reveal crucial details about ransomware attack, says union

Union says company took months to admit what info was stolen, including SIN and bank account details

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Most Read