Intervenor: vol. 26, no. 1, January - March 2001

Walkerton Update - Does Ontario Need a Safe Drinking Water Act?

Since the early 1980s, CELA and other non-governmental organizations have advocated passage of a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to protect drinking water and its sources. Similarly, since 1989 there have been at least six private members' bills introduced in the Ontario Legislature to enact a SDWA in the province. However, none of these private members' bills were passed into law.

Therefore, at the present time, Ontario does not have any specialized drinking water legislation. Ontario's legislative inertia stands in contrast to the experience in the United States, which enacted strong drinking water legislation in 1974.

In the wake of the Walkerton tragedy, there has been renewed interest in strengthening the protection of drinking water in Ontario. For example, the Ontario government recently passed the Drinking Water Protection Regulation (O.Reg. 459/00), which imposes minimum testing, treatment and reporting requirements upon drinking water suppliers.

In light of this new regulation and related provincial initiatives, it is both timely and desirable to determine whether Ontario still needs a SDWA. Accordingly, CELA has obtained funding via the Walkerton Inquiry to research and write a comprehensive paper to address this specific question.

In particular, the CELA paper will:

  • provide a detailed review of Ontario's current legal regime for protecting drinking water and its sources;
  • undertake a comparative analysis of safe drinking water laws, regulations and practices in other key jurisdictions (e.g., United States, England, Australia, etc.); and
  • contain recommendations for further legislative reform in Ontario to address shortcomings in the current legal regime.

The CELA paper is being prepared under the auspices of Part II of the Walkerton Inquiry. Among other things, this means that the CELA paper will be posted on the Walkerton Inquiry website for public review/comment, and will be considered by Mr. Justice O'Connor as he drafts Part II recommendations aimed at preventing a recurrence of the Walkerton tragedy. This paper was completed in mid-spring, see related information, below.

Rick Lindgren is a lawyer at CELA