law to boost water safety
But Safe Drinking Water Act unlikely to provide legal
recourse against government
Colin Perkel The Canadian Press
residents are soon expected to get a Safe Drinking Water
Act, but it's unlikely to give them any new right to sue
the government if drinking tap water makes them sick.
is intended to enhance safety, not clog up the courts,
says the man who oversaw the inquiry into the Walkerton
"I do not
think that creating new routes of access to the courts
is the most effective way to advance these goals," Associate
Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor writes in his report released
10 days ago.
I would be concerned that a significant increase in legal
actions would divert money and time away from those activities
that are better able to address the safety of drinking
currently no comprehensive legal framework for regulating
drinking water in Ontario and no clear line of responsibility.
A bill now
before the legislature aims to address that problem and
make Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to have
such a law.
by New Democrat Marilyn Churley, it would also give people
a new legal right to clean tap water, much like its 28-year-old
federal counterpart in the United States.
Environment Ministry won't say what the final bill will
look like, Churley says she hopes the provision in her
bill does survive.
about it: In Canada there are reservations about creating
those kinds of rights," says Churley. "I still feel quite
strongly that right should be created as it is in the
sees it, almost all water-related laws and regulations
would be consolidated under four pieces of legislation,
one being the Safe Drinking Water Act.
would cover all provisions dealing with the treatment
and distribution of drinking water. The report recommends
that the Ministry of the Environment oversee the enforcement
of the law.
recommends new legislation recognize the public is only
"entitled to expect" safe water. The carefully chosen
words are designed to avoid a substantive right that would
lead to a rash of lawsuits.
an Ottawa-based lawyer with the Canadian Environmental
Law Association, notes that the U.S. law has not opened
a floodgate of frivolous litigation, but says he could
still live without a such a right in Ontario's Safe Drinking
"If we have
everything else that (O'Connor) recommends, we're probably
not going to miss anything," said Lindgren.
to be getting the legal and political accountability through
people can still do as they've always done and and sue
government or others for resulting damages if their tap
water is poisoned.
recommendations flow from his exhaustive inquiry into
the public-health catastrophe in Walkerton in May 2000,
when farm manure washed into a well, poisoning the rural
town's water system.
the Ministry of the Environment as the lead ministry when
it comes to drinking water.
¥ Set out
requirements of a licence for water system-owners and
their permits to take water.
a "standard of care" municipalities have in overseeing
¥ Set out
accreditation standards for distribution systems and operator
certification and training.
¥ Set out
rules for water monitoring, testing and reporting results,
including rules for laboratories.
an office of the chief inspector of drinking water systems,
with rules for inspections.
¥ Set out
clear rules and protocols for investigations and enforcement.