rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

How the water justice movement is challenging extractivism in Canada

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Photo: Pixabay/modified by Emma Lui

I recently gave a keynote presentation about the water justice movement's fight against commodification and extractivism at the Perspectives of Power conference organized by the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University.

This blog is part two of a three-part blog series based on my presentation (read part one here). It gives an overview of some water justice issues and how grassroots groups, Indigenous nations, communities and organizations are working to protect water. 

In Wellington County, Nestlé has been pumping up to 4.7 million litres on two expired permits. When Nestlé purchased a third well in Elora, Ontario, there was public outcry because the local township of Centre Wellington needs the well for its drinking water.

Nestlé's water takings also raise questions about water justice because Six Nations of the Grand River is downstream from Nestlé and 90 per cent of the population does not have access to clean water. Last fall, Makasa Lookinghorse and other Six Nations youth organized a day of action to put a stop to Nestle and to draw attention to water rights of Six Nations of the Grand River. 

Wellington Water Watchers, Save Our Water and the Guelph Chapter of the Council of Canadians continue to work to contest Nestlé's corporate takeover of water in the region by organizing rallies and events and mobilizing people in the region and beyond. Council of Canadians supporters have challenged Nestlé and the Ontario government's messaging by sending 20,000 submissions that called for a phase-out of bottled water takings.

Along with the lack of clean drinking water in Six Nations, there are more than 100 drinking water advisories (DWAs) in First Nations at any given time, some of which have been in place for more than five, 10, even 20 years. 

In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to ending the advisories within five years. With the federal election in October, all eyes are on the Trudeau government to see if his government has been effective in addressing this longstanding black mark on Canada's human rights record. 

Since Trudeau's promise, the Liberal government has split the DWAs into two categories: "long-term" DWAs which have been in place for more than a year and "short-term" advisories which are supposedly "temporary" water issues. But this categorization hides water issues in some First Nations. Read more here

Another one of Trudeau's 2015 election promises was to restore protections that the Harper government gutted from water and environmental legislation like the Navigable Waters Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in 2012.

Bill C-69, a 400-page bill that is supposed to restore water and environmental protections, does not go far enough to challenge "business as usual." Bill C-69 reinforces a neoliberal capitalist economy and its power structures that allow the fossil fuel industry to grow at the expense of Indigenous rights, clean water, public health and a stable climate. 

Challenging these power structures has long happened on the ground and this remains true with the sustained resistance to the TransMountain pipeline, fracking, LNG and other extractivist projects.

Power dynamics are kept in place through the use of language, messaging and framing to not only gain support but to also shut down or hide solutions or other possibilities. 

Corporations often play a role in crafting language in trade agreements that, as Maude Barlow has noted, "pave the way for companies' easy entrance to markets around the world." 

Governments and the fossil fuel industry talk about how pipelines and fracking are good for the economy. They often pit climate change, environmental or water concerns against the economy, which shuts down debate and creative solutions for a different type of economy that not only creates jobs but also protects water, the climate, Indigenous rights and public health.

In the fight against shale gas in New Brunswick, a coalition of 29 community organized the Voice of the People tour which included 30 town halls. The tour organizers transformed and embodied power -- power that normally rested with the government -- by creating truly democratic spaces to discuss shale gas, clean jobs, and clean energy. 

There are many other examples of how power is constructed, reinforced and contested in relation to water justice such as the Wetsu'wet'en people occupying and using their traditional territory in the face of LNG Canada and pipeline projects and how governments' assertion of Crown ownership over water denies Indigenous nations rights to water and watersheds. 

Watch my keynote presentation here and stay tuned for the last part of this three-part blog series where I will write about how we move forward towards water, social and economic justice. 

Emma Lui is an activist, a writer and a contributor to the book, Corporatizing Canada: Making Business out of Public Service.

Photo: Pixabay and text added by Emma Lui

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.