The water justice movement’s fight against commodification and extractivism

Photo: Peg Hunter/Flickr

An overview of the water justice movement in Canada and the ways in which power is manufactured and deployed in water governance.

Water is a cross-cutting issue among many social movements in Canada and in Indigenous nations. The water justicement movement here is diverse and includes grassroots groups, individual activists, Indigenous nations and groups, environmental and labour organizations, scientists, workers and many others.

They work on broad range of issues including calling for justice in the face of drinking water advisories in First Nations communities, Nestlé and other bottled water takings, oil and gas drilling, pipelines, mining, fracking and liquefied natural gas (LNG), public-private partnerships, nuclear waste and other threats. There are also localized movements fighting mega quarries, logging and so much more.

The various struggles within the water justice movement overlap at times. The underlying messages and principles throughout all of these fights are often “water is life,” “water is sacred,” “water is not for sale” and “water is a human right.”

Power is manufactured and deployed through:

  • The creation of laws or policies: For example, Bill C-69 which includes the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, has significant impacts on water, yet fails to obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous nations, cutting many out from decision-making processes.
  • Policing and criminalization of dissent: There are a lot of examples where governments and police criminalize Indigenous peoples and settler activists for defending lands and waters such as the Line 9 pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline, fracking in Elsipogtog First Nation and the raid on Wet’suwet’en territory earlier this year, and protect corporate interests instead.
  • Land or property: Whether land is designated Crown land, private property or recognized as Indigenous territory gives some people power and leaves others out of decision making.
  • Messaging, language and framing particularly in the media: Messaging can be based on false assumptions. For example, messages like “the fossil fuel industry is the only way to create jobs” or “pipelines, fracking and bottling water are good for the economy” are based on the false assumption that the current capitalist economy is good for everyone.
  • Knowledge and access to information: Public-private partnerships are often kept secret — like in the case of Winnipeg — and that inhibits a community’s ability to engage in genuine democratic debate.

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