In 2019, three First Nations took the Canadian government to court to address drinking water advisories in their communities and in First Nations communities across Canada.
A landmark settlement agreement was approved by the courts two years later, and a claims process was set up. Details about the terms of the $8 billion settlement, including how settlement funds are being allocated, can be found here.
The claims process is now open, and the deadline to submit a claim is March 7, 2024. The full list of First Nations that are included in the settlement can be found at the dedicated settlement website here, along with details on how to submit an individual claim based on specified injuries, which are also listed at that link.
The dedicated settlement website also states: “Compensation is available for Impacted First Nations and eligible individuals subject to a drinking water advisory that lasted at least one year between November 20, 1995 and June 20, 2021 … As an individual, you can submit a Claim Form even if your First Nation does not submit a Band Council Acceptance Resolution. Individuals can also apply for additional compensation for Specified Injuries.”
All payments from this class action settlement are fully exempt as income and as assets under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW), for all members of the benefit unit.
The ODSP Policy Directive that applies to the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement can be found here, based on O. Reg. 222/98, ss. 28(1)31.7 and 43(1)18.7. The OW Policy Directive that applies to this settlement can be found here, based on O. Reg. 134/98, ss. 39(1)25.7 and 54(1)13.7.
Despite ongoing work to end boil water advisories across Canada, there are still several boil water advisories in effect on reserves across Ontario. They are an ongoing example of the systemic inequalities Indigenous people and First Nations communities are forced to experience. Providing access to clean water is not only a human right, but a treaty obligation, and is included as a specific Call for Justice in Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
For social assistance recipients in Ontario, treating these settlement payments as exempted income and assets is the bare minimum. The Ontario government must continue to support recipients experiencing the short- and long-term physical and mental health impacts of being denied of one of our most basic human rights: access to clean water. Living in enforced poverty due to low social assistance rates and punitive rules compounds the stress and hardship that comes from living without clean water.
You can send a letter to the Prime Minister and other elected officials about the urgent need to ensure clean water and to end drinking water advisories through the Council of Canadians’ letter-writing campaign here. Let them know that ensuring clean drinking water for First Nations communities is a human rights issue and an anti-poverty issue, and must remain a top priority.