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  • The Council of Canadians is a leading citizen based social justice organization with Chapters all over Canada.
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The Council of Canadians

  • Jul 11, 2014 1:23:33 PM

    GitxsanThe Canadian Press reports, "The hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan First Nations served notice Thursday to CN Rail, logging companies and sport fishermen to leave their territory along the Skeena River in a dispute with the federal and provincial governments over treaty talks. ...Gitxsan have given companies operating on their land until Aug. 4 to leave the 33,000 square kilometres of their territory along the Skeena River. Because the band was not consulted by government, the companies the governments licensed are trespassing, said Gwaans Bev Clifton Percival, chief negotiator for the Gitxsan."

    "It was Gitxsan hereditary chief Delgamuukw whose 1997 legal victory recognized aboriginal title to unceded land in B.C. The band has tried since then to negotiate with the Crown but hasn't made any progress, Clifton Percival said. A short-term forestry agreement with the province expired in 2011 and there's been none since, she said. Then in 2012, lands awarded to the Gitxsan in an earlier court ruling were included in a treaty agreement-in-principle with the neighbouring Kitsumkalum and Kitselas nations, she said."

    "In January 2012, a deal between the Gitxsan and Enbridge over its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline collapsed." Earlier this week, the Terrace Standard reported, "The Gitxsan now say they want no further work done on planned natural gas pipelines that would pass through their territory toward planned liquefied natural gas plants around Prince Rupert and at Kitimat. This would have an affect on the ability of three proposed pipelines to proceed in their area including the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project by TransCanada, Westcoast Connector project by Spectra Energy and the Pacific Northern Gas looping project."

    Clifton Percival says, "B.C. has been silent yet they want to have all this activity on Gitxsan land, so we need to get their attention and this is the only way the chiefs saw forward."

    Further reading
    Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs congratulate the Tsilhqot'in Nation
    WIN! Supreme Court rules in favour of Tsilhqot'in title!

  • Jul 11, 2014 8:59:16 AM

    The Toronto Star reports, "The Canadian National freight train that skipped the rails in Brockville, Ont. early Thursday morning shut down the major rail artery east from Toronto... The 26-car derailment occurred beside a golf course on the western edge of the community of 40,000. ...The train was eastbound when it jumped the tracks shortly before it would have entered the town, where the rails rub up against a hospital, schools and residential neighbourhoods. Of the derailed cars, 13 were tankers that had carried highly flammable aviation fuel, but were currently empty [at the time of the derailment]."

    The article highlights, "'It is only a matter of time before we see another Lac-Megantic', said Michael Butler, a campaigner with the Council of Canadians who regularly blogs about rail safety issues. 'I don’t feel this is hyperbole or alarmist … The nature of our railway industry — and its cargo — has changed, but the regulations which are supposed to be in place to protect our communities and environment seem to be stuck in the last century.'"

    Among the reasons for this concern:

    •  "A Star investigation found that, over two 12-hour periods alone, hundreds of tankers carrying crude oil, radioactive material and toxic chemicals trundled through Toronto."
    • "Shipments of volatile crude oil have risen dramatically. Figures provided by Transport Canada, which regulates federal railroads, showed that nearly 128,000 carloads of crude moved in Canada in 2013, compared with about 53,000 the year before. In 2009, only 144 carloads of crude were shipped."
    • [In 2013], seven accidents resulted in a dangerous-goods release, more than double the five-year average of three. Five of the seven were crude oil."

    Mike Butler's blogs on oil by rail:
    Derailment too close for comfort: Brockville narrowly dodges disaster
    Just another Friday: Chlorine tankers in Oakville and Bomb-trains in Hamilton
    Pt. 2: Dr.ed- strangelaws or: hob I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb-train
    Pt. 1: DR.-ed strangelaws or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb-train
    It's our right to know, Rail Safety Matters
    Getting railroaded with DOT-111 Tanker Trains in Toronto
    Lisa Raitt and Stephen Harper Still Playing Dangerous Petro Politicking With Our Communities
    DOT-111 Detecting Disaster Spotters Guide
    Could Toronto be the next Lac-Mégantic disaster

     

     

  • Jul 10, 2014 7:53:47 PM

    Margo SheppardFredericton, a large urban area in the west-central part of New Brunswick, is the province’s capital city. The Saint John River runs through the city’s centre, giving the community a strong water focus. The city has an active arts and culture scene and a bustling student population. Margo Sheppard is a member of the Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians.

    How did you get involved with the Council of Canadians?

    There was an attempt to start a Fredericton chapter a couple of years ago but it never got off the ground. I was just too busy at that time, and there was no issue that galvanized us. More recently we came together in response to the shale gas (fracking) issue in New Brunswick. Along with wanting to work on this issue, it seemed like a good fit since I’ve long admired Maude Barlow and her work on water and justice for the less fortunate among us.

    The Fredericton chapter seems to be involved in many campaigns. Can you tell me a little about them, and how you sustain your energies and stay focused?

    There are a lot of pressing social and environmental issues in New Brunswick. Working with other like-minded people is a good outlet for frustration and anger at misguided government actions and poli-cies. And there’s a sense of momentum – like we’re making headway.

    The chapter is awesome. Our chairperson, J.L. Deveau, is really great at asking all the right questions and taking the decisions we make at the chapter to the next level.

    The chapter’s main focus since its inception has been shale gas (fracking). We started a campaign to encourage people to send complaints to the Ombudsman. We’ve been submitting articles and organizing successful rallies. We’ve also done some work on an environmental bill of rights for New Brunswick, and more broadly on the need to move to a clean economy, which is eclipsing the work on the Environmental Bill of Rights. And now we are working on the [Energy East] pipeline.

    What campaigns do you feel particularly passionate about?

    Much of my professional and volunteer career involved protecting natural areas. Climate change is also a direct threat that will negatively impact diversity and coastal communities. Shale gas is part of a campaign to address climate change. It’s the thin edge of a wedge, so to speak. I’m hoping we’ll defeat the Energy East pipeline.

    The chapter works with several allies; tell me about this.

    Some allies for shale gas marches to the legislature have included CUPE–New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Nurses’ Union and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. Although [organizing with allies] can be challenging, it’s worth it as you have a stronger event and much more unanimity as a result. The chapter has also worked closely with St. Mary’s First Nation on shale gas and Elsipogtog this past summer. We’re also planning town hall meetings in collaboration with unions and the broader anti–shale gas movement in the lead-up to the provincial election this fall.

    Give me a couple of examples of the actions you’ve been involved in organizing and why you enjoyed them, or how they were effective.

    Two weeks ago I hosted a “right to information” and sign-making meeting in my house, which was very casual and social, but we also got nine right to information requests done to get information on wire-tapping and other things related to the day the RCMP raided the Rexton solidarity camp. We also made about 14 beautiful signs for our next rally. So now we’re all set for the next action, be it at the Energy Minister’s office or at a public appearance of the Premier.

  • Jul 10, 2014 6:23:00 PM

    This morning reports came out that overnight a CN freight train had derailed just outside of Brockville around 4:45 a.m..  CN spokesperson stated that, "26 derailed train cars, two were fully-loaded automobile carriers, five contained carbon powder — used in a “variety of water filtration systems” — and 13 were unloaded fuel tanks. Six others were platform cars with nothing on them...The derailed fuel tanks are empty, but do contain fuel residue."

    Elizabethtown-Kitley Township fire chief Jim Donovan said firefighters arrived shortly before 5 a.m. and met up with the train's conductor to assess the damage. There was no fire, but Donovan said there is a potential for a spill later on. “There are tank cars there that have aviation fuel residue in it... There's quite a bit of potential there, that's for sure.” Donovan said there's no confirmation that there is no leakage. The train was traveling at about 100 kilometres an hour when it derailed“It could have been a lot worse than it was,” Donovan said. The CBC reports the derailment occurred on the tracks barely outside of residential Brockville near Lyn Road and Highway 401.  

     

     

    The people of Brockville dodged a bullet last night, but it makes you wonder how long until the next Lac-Megantic.  I have written previously how the new rail safety regulations Lisa Raitt announced after this tragedy are nothing but smoke and mirrors, avoiding the structural safety issues at hand. I have also talked about how municipalities and first responders do not have access to real time data about rail shipments through their communities (they are in the dark as we are); not only that, but what we do have for information is strategically obscured by our government and rail companies.  Further, our regulations and emergency preparedness capacity is in an absolute shambles, as I have discussed here and here. If the situation stays as it currently is, it is only a matter of time before another one of our communities is destroyed.  I want to emphasize this is not hyperbole, if you use the 'DOT-111 Detecting Disaster Spotters Guide' and go out to your nearest tracks, you will spot tankers that should have no place being routed through our communities. For example, in just 12 hours in Toronto there was explosive bakkan crude tankers along with methyl bromide, methanol, sulphuric acid, resin solution, radioactive material, and ethyl tricholorsilane tankers spotted. Material like this are traveling through all our communities daily, on the way to Hamilton in May I spotted a chlorine tanker sitting in Oakville. What I am getting at is Brockville got lucky in this derailment, but no community should have to rely on getting lucky to dodge disaster. 

    Using the calculations I outlined in this previous blog, we can make an educated guess in regards to the damage and death a single 90-ton chlorine tanker or a unit train carrying oil-by-rail like the one in Lac-Megantic would have caused in Brockville. 

    The map shows an estimate of the distance 3ppm and 20ppm chlorine could travel depending on wind direction. 3ppm could - depending on wind directions and conditions - reach as far as the outskirts of Ottawa, Kingston or Cornwall. There would be a massive loss of life in Brockville which is well in the 20ppm range and would likely be much higher concentration than that. 

    When this occurs the Chlorine oxidizes and begines to react with water and cells in our body changing into hydrochloric acid (HCl) and hypochlorous acid (HclO). About 1000 ppm it can be fatal after a few deep breaths of the gas.

    I used the worst case scenario not to be needlessly alarmist, but because worst case scenarios do happen as Lac-Mégantic showed us. Using the pamphlets worst case scenario inputs (wind speed is at 1.5 meters/sec, humidity is 50%, ambient temperature is 25°C, 10 minute release, with a total mass release = 180,000 pounds) the results are:

    Maximum downwind distance to 3ppm = 66.8km
    Maximum crosswind distance to 3ppm = 3.7km
    Maximum downwind distance to 20ppm =  23.4km
    Maximum crosswind distance to 20ppm =  3.1km

     

    If the derailment had occurred in directly in Brockville with a unit train carrying oil-by-rail like the one in Lac-Megantic there would also have been a catastrophic loss of life.  This is not to mention the oil (be it bakkan or conventional crude, or railbit from the tarsands) that would have got into the St. Lawrence seaway and the surrounding environment. 

    In the case of oil tankers spilling there would also have to be a large evacuation and even larger if it caught fire as is show in the map below.

    If we look at what could happen if a unit train had a mixed cargo with both chlorine and oil-by-rail, things get even worse. If the derailment were to occur at the point in the map below, the Red Cross, Brockville General Hospital, a school and a college would all be in the bast zone.  If not destroyed by the blast and fire, the chlorine would not be far behind.  In fact, using the worst case scenario projection for a Chlorine tanker I calculated the time a lethal leak would take (at 3m/s) to reach the Brockville General Hospital is 28 seconds

     

    As I have noted before, this is not a rail vs. pipelines debate, that is a false choice. What is at issue here is a government's unwillingness to change routes and regulations in order to appease industry. It is outrageous that our communities are continually at risk and that it is only a matter of time before the next disaster strikes.  While Brockville was lucky with this derailment and things could have been much worse (as I illustrated above), it is only a matter of time before another community has its luck run out.  

     

    For more information see:

    Just another Friday: Chlorine tankers in Oakville and Bomb-trains in Hamilton

    One year anniversary of Lac Megantic

    Pt. 2: Dr.ed- strangelaws or: hob I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb-train

    Pt. 1: DR.-ed strangelaws or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb-train

    It's our right to know, Rail Safety Matters

    Getting railroaded with DOT-111 Tanker Trains in Toronto

    Oil-By-Rail exports to US up 900 Per Cent

    Lisa Raitt and Stephen Harper Still Playing Dangerous Petro Politicking With Our Communities

    DOT-111 Detecting Disaster Spotters Guide

    Could Toronto be the next Lac-Magnetic disaster

    Oil cars on fire after train collision in North Dakota

    Moving oil by rail to expand despite public concerns

    Harper told no regulatory approval needed for moving tar sands oil by rail

  • Jul 10, 2014 3:52:04 PM
    Photo from The Daily Rupert.
    Photo from The Daily Rupert.

    The Council of Canadians condemns the unwarranted arrests this morning of Detroit residents who blocked the entrance to Homrich Wrecking Inc., the company contracted to shut-off residential water service. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow says, "We are outraged to hear that residents acting to make sure their neighbours have drinking water were arrested this morning. We stand in solidarity with the Detroit residents asserting one of their most basic human rights."

    The Detroit Free Press reports, "Detroit police arrested an estimated 10 people, including several clergy members, during a protest of city water shutoffs this morning. Protesters carried signs and blocked, at least temporarily, the entrance to a dispatch center for the company that facilitates Detroit's controversial program to shut off water service for nonpayment."

    InterOccupy.net notes, "Among them were a retired religious sister, two pastors, a member of Detroit School Board, a veteran journalist, a building manager, and a local seminary professor. Several were grandparents of children in Detroit."

    "With a banner that read, 'Stop the Water Shut-offs' they blocked the 2660 East Grand Boulevard entrance to Homrich Wrecking Inc., the private corporation contracted to shut-off residential water service. Homrich is under at $5.6 million two-year contract. The group appealed to Homrich workers to honor the international human right of access to water. They delivered copies of the June 1, 2014 complaint filed with the United Nations on behalf of Detroiters, along with the response of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Water and Sanitation..."

    The Detroit Free Press article adds, "The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, pastor of St. Peter Episcopal Church in Detroit, was among those arrested. He said the group of a few dozen protesters arrived about 6:30 a.m. and began blocking the gates to the facility on East Grand Boulevard about 7 a.m. today. He said that police tried to 'move us forcibly, and we sat down'. Then officers began arresting protesters. 'We're here to appeal to the workers to stop shutting off the water', he said, speaking from the rear window of a police car."

    You can follow this story on Twitter at the Detroit Water Brigade and by searching the hashtags #WageLove, #DetroitWater and #watershutoffs.

    For raw video of the arrests this morning, click here.

    Tags: 
  • Jul 10, 2014 3:50:32 PM
    Media Release
    July 10, 2014

    Ottawa – The Council of Canadians condemns the unwarranted arrests of Detroit residents who protested water cut-offs on the morning of July 10th. The residents blocked the entrance to Homrich Wrecking Inc., the company contracted to shut-off residential water service.

    “We are shocked to hear that residents acting to make sure their neighbours have drinking water were arrested this morning. We stand in solidarity with the Detroit residents asserting one of their most basic human rights,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson for the Council of Canadians. “In a region that holds 20% of the world’s freshwater, the water cut-offs are a source of growing international outrage. We’re urging President Obama to step in and stop the cut-offs.”

    Last month, Caterina de Albuquerque, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, confirmed that people should not be cut off from their water and sanitation services because they cannot afford to pay their bill.

    In March 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced it would begin shutting off water ser­vice for 1,500 to 3,000 customers every week if their water bills were not paid.

    The Windsor-Essex chapter of the Council of Canadians is organizing a solidarity action on July 24 by bringing 1000 litres of water to Detroit residents to draw attention to the blatant violation of the human right to water and sanitation.

    -30-

    Detroit water cut-offs

  • Jul 10, 2014 1:49:35 PM

    Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, British Columbia premier Christy Clark and Alberta premier Dave Hancock signed a letter yesterday urging other provincial premiers to commit to a renegotiation of the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) when they all meet this August in Charlottetown. Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil and Prince Edward Island premier Robert Ghiz have already expressed their support for this initiative. And the Harper government has recently been pushing for the same thing.

    Wall is leading the charge for this new 'free trade' agreement among Canadian provinces.

    The Globe and Mail reports, "Under Mr. Wall’s initiative, provinces would have to negotiate what should not be included in the agreement." The AIT is currently framed on the premise of sectors needing to be negotiated in. "He also wants stronger enforcement powers so that a business bidding for a contract that feels it was treated unfairly by a government has some recourse."

    The newspaper notes, "Ontario, however, is not as enthusiastic – but happy to discuss it."

    "The push by the western premiers comes as federal Industry Minister James Moore is calling for trade barriers between provinces to be dismantled. Last month, he began his tour of six major Canadian cities during which he has been trying to engage his provincial colleagues, businesses and consumers in supporting a massive change to the AIT."

    An earlier article in the Globe and Mail reported, "One of the drawbacks of existing rules on interprovincial trade barriers is what critics have called a toothless dispute settlement mechanism. Mr. Moore said he’d like to see a revised deal include a binding means of settling disagreements between provinces."

    Dozens of groups, including the Council of Canadians, have consistently argued there should be no fines in any dispute under the Agreement on Internal Trade, least of all in disputes brought by investors.

    The provincial premiers will discuss a new Agreement on Internal Trade at the Council of the Federation meeting this August 26-30. Just prior to that meeting, federal Industry minister James Moore will meet with his provincial counterparts in Manitoba to advance this agenda.

    Further reading
    Harper seeks internal 'trade' deal with binding dispute settlement provision
    British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan pursue an expanded TILMA
    EU questions 'interprovincial trade barriers'
    Local garbage contract goes to multinational firm because of trade deal
    TILMA legislation flouts rule of law, democracy: Shrybman

     

  • Jul 10, 2014 1:32:44 PM

    The Windsor Star reports, "About 1,000 litres of Windsor tap water will be shipped to Detroit later this month in a bid to raise awareness for what one Canadian group calls a blatant contravention of international human rights. Members of the Council of Canadians are rounding up a posse and heading across the border on July 24 to protest the Motor City’s bold cost-saving measure that has disconnected water services to thousands of impoverished residents in the past few months."

    "Canadian protestors will take a convoy of about 12 cars to Detroit, carrying 50 five-gallon containers of water, which is the equivalent of about 2,800 personal water bottles. Bringing potable water on July 24 is not a solution to the problem, but by joining the scheduled rally that day, activists hope to send a strong message, said Doug Hayes, chairman of the Windsor-Essex chapter of the Council of Canadians. 'We’re hoping it will sort of embarrass the City of Detroit into realizing this is not the right thing to do', he said."

    "Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, has been leading the charge against Detroit’s disconnection strategy, which is an issue she raised with the UN earlier this year. Since then, three UN experts produced a report that found the city’s plan violates people’s right to water and sewer services."

    "The fight to restore water to impoverished Detroit residents has made its way to the White House. Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN expert on the human right to water and sanitation, is expected in the coming weeks to release a second water shut-off report, which is expected to include a response from the federal government. 'We hope this public shaming will put pressure on the federal government', Barlow said. 'No country wants to be known as the country that is in violation of these basic human rights.'"

    In a June 27 interview on CBC Radio's As It Happens, Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization says, "Our sisters and brothers from Ottawa, Canada are bringing barrels of water across the bridge so that we can give it to homes where there's no water."

    The interviewer asks, "So Canadians are bringing water for the people of Detroit? And you're going to go home to home and deliver this water from Canada?" Taylor answers, "We're going to find a way to deliver this water if we have to reach people and say come to the corner of this and this and there's three barrels of water waiting for you. We'll do it that way."

    Then the interviewer asks more critically, "I can understand how handing out water from barrels would get you a lot of attention and you probably need that, but it won't really solve the problem will it?" Taylor says, "If we can bring this issue to bear, our focus is that perhaps people of goodwill will wake up and say whatever that is that's going on in Detroit I'm an American citizen as well and I want it to stop. Tyranny exists where good people stand and say nothing."

    As It Happens also noted the water convoy in a July 7 interview (in part 2 at the 12:48 mark) with U.S. Representative John Conyers who opposes the water cutoffs.

    Further reading
    Council of Canadians to organize water convoy to Detroit
    FAQs: The fight to protect the human right to water in Detroit
    Violations of right to water in Detroit highlighted, UN responds

  • Jul 9, 2014 9:03:15 PM

    Health Canada recently released the names of First Nation communities under drinking water advisories (DWAs). As of May 31st, 2014 there were 130 DWAs in 91 First Nation communities across Canada (not including British Columbia*). The information and lists can be found in English and French.

    The DWAs are a black eye for the Canadian government, pointing to the long standing and systemic failure to provide clean, safe drinking water to indigenous communities. 29 communities have been under water advisories for over five years, 14 communities have been under water advisories for over ten years and three communities have been under water advisories for over 15 years. This means that half of the communities have been under a water advisory for at least over five years.

    To break down the number of DWAs regionally, there are 4 communities under DWA in the Atlantic region, 2 currently in Quebec, 45 in Ontario, 6 in Manitoba, 25 in Saskatchewan and 16 in Alberta.

    The National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater completed in 2011 found that 73 percent of water systems in First Nation reserves are at high or medium risk and that $1.2 billion was required to meet the federal government’s own protocols for safe water and wastewater.

    While the lists on Health Canada’s website do not reveal the trigger for the DWA , a 2011 access to information request revealed the reasons for some of the DWAs. Some of the advisories included 'Do Not Consume' orders where boiling the water still does not make the water safe and drinkable. For example, In Kitigan Zibi First nation has been under a ‘Do Not Consume’ order since 2004 because of an ‘unacceptable level of uranium.”

    The lack of clean and safe drinking water in indigenous communities is one of the gravest violations of the human right to water and sanitation. 

    Last month, four First Nations - Tsuu T'ina, Ermineskin, Sucker Creek and Blood First Nations – filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to provide safe drinking water. They cited violations of s. 7 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To read the Council of Canadians statement of solidarity, click here.

    As outlined in the Alternative Federal Budget, the Council of Canadians is calling for a national water policy that includes a 10-year plan investing $4.7 billion for water and wastewater facilities on First Nation reserves. To send a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and prime minister hopefuls Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair demanding a national water policy, click here

    We cannot stand idly by while our indigenous friends are denied the most basic of human rights. Leading up to the 2015 federal election, how will you ensure your local candidates commit to the $4.7 billion needed so that water and wastewater systems are able to grow with First Nation communities over a 10-year period?

    *NOTE: Health Canada notes, "As part of the British Columbia Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance, on October 1st 2013, Health Canada transferred its role in the design, management, and delivery of First Nations health programming in British Columbia to the new First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). Therefore, Health Canada no longer reports drinking water advisories in British Columbia First Nations.
    It should be noted that drinking water advisories are also issued by provincial or territorial governments in many non-First Nation communities across Canada, especially those communities that are small, remote and/or isolated."

  • Jul 9, 2014 1:48:14 PM

    The Blue Planet Project works in collaboration with communities and groups around the world to protect the water commons and promote water as a human right. In May, activists in Detroit approached Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow about families who were having their water shut off because they could not pay their water bills. After visiting Detroit and hearing firsthand from people struggling to keep water running in their homes, Maude Barlow and the Blue Planet Project joined with the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, and Food & Water Watch to make a formal complaint to the United Nations regarding these human rights violations.

    When the story broke, the media interest  was overwhelming. Reports ran in Al Jazeera, the New York Times, the CBC, Vice media, Democracy Now, and many other media outlets. We are also touched by the flood of emails, tweets and Facebook messages we are receiving from people around the world who are concerned about what is happening in Detroit.

    Here are some of the questions we’ve been receiving:

    Why are water shut-offs in Detroit human rights violations?

    As noted by Caterina de Albuquerque, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, people cannot be cut off from their water and sanitation services because they can’t afford to pay their bill.  The median household income in Detroit is $25,193. According to the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, a family of four pays between $150-200 per month for water and sewerage services, which can represent up to 20 per cent of their monthly income. This is an exorbitant rate for lower income households in Detroit.

    Governments have a duty to make basic services such as water and sanitation accessible to all without discrimination. What is happening in Detroit is a case of the federal and state governments failing to ensure sustainable public funding for the water and sewerage services.

    How should Detroit’s water and sewerage services be funded if people refuse to pay?

    Public financing through progressive taxation is the only sustainable way to ensure equitable water and sanitation services for all. The failure to do so results in negative public health, social and economic impacts for everyone. To transfer the growing gaps in public funding to users at an increasingly unaffordable rate means poor people pay a much greater share of their earnings to keep these services going for everyone.

    The utility’s claims that the cut-offs have been successful in getting people to pay their bills doesn’t take into account the tremendous sacrifices people are making to pay for water and sanitation.

    Why did we approach the United Nations?

    Despite some alarmist blogs out there, the UN cannot force the U.S. government to take action. Several UN experts have confirmed these water shut-offs violate people’s right to water and sanitation. The United States, like all other countries is reviewed every three years for its human rights record and has a responsibility to answer to international concerns about human rights violations. Establishing what is happening in Detroit as a human rights violation would be useful in supporting a legal challenge should impacted individuals choose to take that route.

    There have been water shut-offs in my community, what should I do?

    A submission can be made to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation by sending an email to the following address: srwatsan@ohchr.org

    The guidelines for letters of allegation and urgent appeals can be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/SP/Manual_Operations2008.pdf

    In order to assist in this process, the Blue Planet Project will be hosting a webinar on human rights violations and strategies to address them. Please stay tuned for further details and keep us informed of your efforts.

    What are the next steps?

    1. Demanding a sustainable solution.
      The Detroit People’s Water Board and its allies are appealing to local authorities to start the affordability program that was adopted by the city in 2006, but never implemented.Local groups are also concerned about closed door talks where mediators are determining the future of Detroit’s water and sewerage utility. We have worked together to prepare a statement that calls on mediators to respect the human right to water and public trust doctrine, and to make the talks more transparent and accountable to the people of Detroit.
       
    2. Getting the State and federal authorities involved.
      The Blue Planet Project supports Food & Water Watch and other U.S. groups that are calling for immediate intervention by the U.S. and Michigan State governments.Both the U.S. government and the State of Michigan have a duty to towards the people of Detroit. Congressman John Conyers has issued a statement demanding that the U.S. government make funds available to address the water crisis immediately.

    What can you do?

    1. Sign the petition
      Send a message to U.S. President Barack Obama and Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder asking them to take action on behalf of the people of Detroit.
       
    2. Support a Detroit organization on the frontlines of the struggle
      We have been receiving many e-mails from people who want to donate money. The Blue Planet Project has made a donation to the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), which represents and supports Michigan’s most vulnerable populations. They have been on the frontlines of the struggle and have been engaged in advocacy and direct support for families dealing with the water crisis. Please consider a donation to the MWRO to support their tireless efforts towards a long-term solution for the people of Detroit.
       

    Stay up to date and share the news
    Visit blueplanetproject.net for the latest news and updates, or find us on Facebook and twitter. Use the hashtag #DetroitWater to tweet your outrage. Messages can be sent to the following authorities:
     
    The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department @DetroitWaterdep
    Greg Eno, Public Affairs representative at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department @GregEno
    Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager @MotownEM
    Governor of the State of Michigan, Rick Snyder @onetoughnerd

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