There is no doubt that the single most basic human rights challenge of our generation is access to clean, reliable and safe water.
This is why on World Water Day, today March 22, OPSEU/SEFPO reaffirms its commitment to make it a top priority to fight to protect this vital natural resource. Defending and strengthening this fundamental human right must be at the core of our collective work.
This year’s theme of this 29th World Water Day is: “Groundwater: making the invisible visible”.
Water has become a luxury over the years and it has become more valuable than gold or oil. This is a price tag that many can’t afford with some often paying the ultimate price by putting their health and lives at risk. Under international law, water is protected as a human right. Sadly, corporations and governments continue to treat water as a commodity, or worse, a dumping ground for pollutants. The result is that many communities, particularly Indigenous communities, don’t have clean drinking water. This is a national scandal!
The lack of clean drinking water in Indigenous communities amounts to colonialism in the form of environmental racism. Take the Dryden Paper Mill’s dumping of untreated mercury into the English-Wabigoon River. This went on for six decades. And there is a full generation of young people in Neskantaga who have never experienced access to safe and clean drinking water. This would never fly in places like Toronto, Ottawa, Sudbury or Windsor.
It’s been 20 years since the Walkerton tainted water tragedy, but roughly 1.6 million Ontarians still use private wells that are not protected under provincial laws that flowed from Walkerton.
We need stronger laws to protect waterways and ecosystems. Bill-286 , the Inherent Right to Safe Drinking Water Act, 2021, must be passed. Our province needs legislation with teeth that includes serious consequences for those who violate these laws. We can’t settle for anything less. When our planet loses, we all lose.
But every level of government has a role to play and we need action on the federal level as well.
While Indigenous peoples are the caretakers of this land, the stewardship and conservation of water is all of our responsibility. We must be wise and efficient in our use of water at home, at school, in the community, and in recreation. We must hold each other accountable, including corporations, polluters and governments.
OPSEU/SEFPO is doing our part in working with the Indigenous Circle’s Water Campaign Committee in their efforts to address the water crisis. Over the course of the next few weeks, join the Water Campaign Committee through their calls to actions. They are holding a two day Water Summit this week, which will develop a concrete action plan that includes putting the water crisis on the agenda for the upcoming provincial election on June 2.
To learn more about the campaign and find out ways you can join the fight to address the water crisis stay tuned for updates via OPSEU/SEFPO Communication.
Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo ‘Eddy’ Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Krista Maracle, OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle, Chair
Paige Malcolm, OPSEU/SEFPO Water Campaign Committee, Chair