Media Release: Walkerton Citizens Hoping for Answers from Walkerton Inquiry Report

Media Release

Toronto. Concerned Walkerton Citizens (CWC), a group of Walkerton area residents established shortly after seven people died and thousands became ill from the water contamination, are hoping that the questions that they have been asking from the time of the tragedy will be answered when Justice O’Connor releases his report on January 22, 2001.

CWC and its counsel, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, strenuously argued for the establishment of the Inquiry immediately following the tragedy in June of 2000. The Inquiry commenced in the fall of 2000 and was completed in the summer of 2001. CWC was granted full party status throughout the Inquiry.

“After the tragedy, people were left to ask what exactly went wrong and why. The tragedy also caused people in Walkerton to question the adequacy of the provincial laws, policies, practices and institutions that were supposed to protect drinking water.” noted Bruce Davidson of CWC. “From May of 2000, this community has been asking many questions and we are hoping that the Inquiry report will address those questions.”

CWC hopes the report will answer the Inquiry’s core question: What were the causes of the tragedy?

Some of CWC’s specific questions include:

Regarding the Vulnerability and Contamination of Walkerton’s Water Supply

  • Why did local authorities fail to recognize the vulnerability of Walkerton’s drinking water to bacterial contamination?
  • What were the sources of the contamination and from how far afield?
  • Why were there no source protection and well head protection measures taken to protect the water supply?
  • Why did local and provincial agencies fail to appreciate the presence and implications of E.coli O157:H7?

Regarding Oversight of the Walkerton Drinking Water Treatment System

  • Why was the Walkerton water treatment system not operating properly?
  • What was the chlorine residual during this operative time and was it sufficient?
  • Was there due care exercised by the Walkerton PUC in protecting drinking water and did the PUC Commissioners provide adequate oversight?
  • Did the Municipality of Brockton exercise adequate oversight over the Walkerton PUC?
  • Why did the local health unit not receive written adverse drinking water sample reports from the Walkerton PUC and why did the local health unit not attempt to address this issue?
  • Was the Ministry of the Environment paying adequate attention to drinking water issues through the 1990s?
  • Why did the MOE ignore the long history of adverse sampling results from the Walkerton PUC?
  • Why did the MoE not undertake mandatory abatement or enforcement action to address the persistent failure of the Walkerton PUC to comply with sampling and monitoring requirement?
  • Why was there no follow up after the inspection reports of the Walkerton to verify and ensure compliance?
  • Was it appropriate that most operating certificates for waterworks did not include terms and conditions?
  • What was the impact of the MOE shift from a culture of enforcement to voluntary compliance?
  • What measures, if any, did the Deputy Minister, Ministers and Premier make to respond to concerns raised by MoE staff that the budgetary reductions would increase risk to human health and the environment?
  • Did Ministers and their Deputy Ministers appreciate the concerns raised about the impacts of staff and budget reductions on the environment and human health?
  • Who is responsible if there is a link between provincial resource reductions and the events in Walkerton?
  • Why did the Municipality of Brockton fail to declare an emergency or follow its own emergency procedures?

Regarding Laboratory Testing and Notification

  • What was the impact of closing provincial water testing laboratories and were appropriate measures in place to ensure an orderly transition?
  • Should the government have amended the Ontario Water Resources Act to ensure that the reporting requirements for adverse water samples were made enforceable?
  • Did the Red Tape Commission create a “chill” with respect to such reform?
  • Should the local health unit have recognized water as a possible cause of the tragedy earlier?
  • Was the timing and process of issuing the boil water advisory appropriate?

Additional questions

  • Was the training of MOE, PUC and municipal staff sufficient?
  • Were adequate contingency plans in place?

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For More Information, contact:

Bruce Davidson, Ron Leavoy CWC, (519) 881-0884
Paul Muldoon, CELA, co-counsel to CWC, 416-960-2284 ext. 219
Rick Lindgren, CELA, co-counsel to CWC, 416-960-2284 ext. 214
Ramani Nadarajah, CELA, co-counsel to CWC, 416-2284 ext. 217
Theresa McClenaghan, CELA, co-counsel to CWC, 416-960-2284 ext. 218
Additional information: Final argument to the Walkerton Inquiry part 1A and 1B on behalf of CWC – summary of findings (10 p.); full text (228 p. PDF)