Intervenor: Vol 25. No 3 & 4 July-December 2000

Drinking Water Update

Walkerton Inquiry

With respect to the Walkerton tragedy, the Ontario government has established a judicial inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act. Mr. Justice O'Connor of the Ontario Court of Appeal has been appointed to head up the Inquiry. CELA made submissions on the Inquiry's terms of reference, and CELA has been retained by the Concerned Walkerton Citizens, which has been granted full standing for all phases of the Inquiry. The Inquiry began in mid-October.

New Ontario Drinking Water Regulation

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has passed a drinking water regulation, which came into effect in late August. This regulation will require:

  • accreditation of labs which test drinking water;
  • notice to the MOE if municipalities change labs;
  • MOE review of all water treatment plant approvals;
  • notice to the MOE, medical officers of health; and
  • municipal water treatment plant operators if lab tests indicate unsafe drinking water quality.

In CELA's view, these narrowly focused requirements are well intentioned, but they must be viewed as interim measures which do not displace the need for safe drinking water legislation. Merely tinkering with lab accreditation or notification procedure does not address the larger legal, policy and administrative reforms that are necessary to safeguard drinking water quality in Ontario. CELA's detailed critique of the proposed drinking water regulation is available in the water index of the CELA website.

EBR Review of Need for Safe Drinking Water Legislation

CELA, Toronto Environmental Alliance, and Dr. Adam Winterton filed an Application for Review under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) requesting a formal MOE review of the need for safe drinking water legislation. CELA has also requested that the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario prepare and file a special report on drinking water quality, and that he use his special investigatory powers under the EBR to compel the production of governmental records necessary for the special report. In late August, the MOE granted the EBR Request for Review, and conducted, without public input a formal review. In late October, the internal MOE review concluded that safe drinking water legislation was unnecessary due to the new drinking water regulation (see above).

Private Members Bill (96)

On June 15, MPP Marilyn Churley introduced a private member's bill (Bill 96) to establish the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2000. Among other things, this Act would:

  • entrench a public right to safe drinking water;
  • establish a water quality registry;
  • impose legal duties upon municipalities to test, monitor and report upon drinking water quality; establish various offences which prohibit contamination of public water systems;
  • create legal mechanisms (ie, judicial review, civil actions, etc.) to ensure compliance with the Act;
  • create a Water Advisory Council;
  • require the Environment Minister to conduct drinking water research;
  • enable the Environment Minister to establish a Safe Drinking Water Fund to provide financial and technical assistance to municipalities; and
  • adopt the current Ontario Drinking Water Objectives as an interim regulation, to be followed by a comprehensive set of enforceable drinking water standards within one year.

Bill 96 received First Reading, and Second Reading on September 28th, but the Ontario government refused to refer the Bill to a legislative committee. In effect, this means that Bill 96 is dead.

The Intervenor will continue to provide updates on significant drinking water developments as they occur in the near future.

Rick Lindgren is a lawyer at CELA