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Stéphane Dion, MP


Thank you for visiting my website. I hope you can take a moment to look around, learn more about me and the work I am doing for the people of St-Laurent-Cartierville. I look forward to listening to your concerns and suggestions on how to build a better Canada — a Canada that leads the world by example.

An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights)

Posted on April 23, 2015 | No Comments

Dear Readers,

On April 23, 2015, I tabled in the House of Commons a Bill entitled An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights). The Bill is meant to amend the Carriage by Air Act in order to specify that the Act does not have the effect of infringing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Bill is meant to ensure that Canadian citizens can be granted damages when their fundamental rights have been violated, whether on domestic flights or international flights under Canadian jurisdiction.

Please find the Bill and a document that explains its context and objective below. As always, I will be very pleased to read any comments you might have.

Enjoy your read!

Stéphane Dion


A Bill to Protect Our Fundamental Rights

Explanatory text for the Honourable Stephane Dion’s private Member’s bill entitled An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights), tabled in the House of Commons, Parliament of Canada, on April 23, 2015.

April 23, 2015 

The Honourable Stéphane Dion,

Privy Council of Canada and Member of Parliament for St-Laurent  Cartierville

House of Commons of Canada



“The Montreal Convention remains applicable but it will be interpreted differently in the future because the Court will have a guideline to determine the Legislator’s intention. Canada did not adhere to a convention intending to reduce the protection of fundamental rights.”

  • The Honourable Michel Bastarache, former Justice of the Supreme Court – Quote from an address delivered at a press conference held on April 23, 2015, following the tabling, in the House of Commons, of the Honourable Stéphane Dion’s Bill entitled An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights).


The bill I wish to have passed by Parliament is entitled An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights). It amends the Carriage by Air Act to specify that the Act does not have the effect of infringing the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

This bill addresses a problem we need to fix, one that undermines the fundamental rights of Canadians. It closes a breach in the shield that protects our rights.


  1. The problem

As Canadians, we are especially committed to our rights and freedoms. In order to protect them, we have developed institutions, legislation and even a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Two pieces of legislation are particularly important for their role in protecting our rights: the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act. The first establishes, within federal jurisdiction, the most essential legal framework for protecting the language rights recognized by the Constitution. The second gives operative effect, in areas under federal jurisdiction, to the equality rights of individuals under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These two acts are so fundamental to the defence of our freedoms that the Supreme Court of Canada has deemed them as having quasi-constitutional status.

These two acts clarify the scope of our rights and provide remedies for cases where our rights are infringed. They allow for damages to be awarded. This is a very important remedy, which is intended to provide financial compensation in cases of harm and to serve as a deterrent against repeated harms.

Subsection 77(4) of the Official Languages Act states that a judge may grant remedies, including damages:

“Where, in proceedings under subsection (1), the Court concludes that a federal institution has failed to comply with this Act, the Court may grant such remedy as it considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”

As for the Canadian Human Rights Act, it authorizes a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal member or panel to order redress measures set out in subsections 53(2) and (3), such as ordering an individual who engaged in discriminatory practices to pay compensation to the victim for moral damages.

The ability to claim for damages reflects the will of Parliament to give full effect to the laws that protect our rights, and to discourage non-compliance. Not having such remedies available would weaken these protections. Therefore it would be unthinkable for Parliament to pass a law that partly or fully deprives us of these remedies. Ultimately, if such a thing were to occur, we take for granted that there would obviously have to be extensive debate beforehand.

Well, we are all mistaken. It appears that in 2001, Canada’s Parliament unwittingly and without any debate passed legislation that has the effect of preventing the payment of damages under the Official Languages Act in cases where such a violation occurred on an international flight. This is according to the October 28, 2014 majority five-to-two Supreme Court ruling in Thibodeau.[1]

The Court ruled that even though Michel and Lynda Thibodeau’s rights to obtain service in French were indeed infringed by Air Canada, the airline was not liable for damages since the flights were international. In cases where Air Canada breaches its obligations under the Official Languages Act, it may be liable for damages involving a flight between Montreal and Ottawa, but not one between Montreal and Chicago. In support of its decision, the Supreme Court cited an international agreement that Canada signed in 1999 and implemented through legislation in 2001.

In practice, this ruling affects only one airline: Air Canada (and its subsidiaries). It is the only airline with obligations under the Official Languages Act given that it is a former federal institution. These obligations are set out in the 1988 legislation outlining the conditions for its privatization.[2] However, the Supreme Court’s majority decision is in large part based on decisions of foreign courts that rule out the possibility of damages involving incidents occurring on international flights where an individual believes he or she was racially discriminated against or where the individual’s disability rights were violated. Although our Supreme Court ruled only on language rights, it cited with approval a line of reasoning that might logically be applied to other fundamental rights.

This makes it possible, if not probable, that if no action is taken to clarify matters, one day a court could rule that with regard to international flights, not only is the scope of the Official Languages Act limited, but also that of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Specifically, an individual whose rights were violated may no longer be able to bring an action for damages as provided by subsections 53(2) and (3) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. A Canadian citizen whose rights were violated could be entitled to damages if the incident involved a Montreal-Toronto flight, but not a Toronto-Boston flight!

As a simple yet striking example, a passenger denied a business class seat based on the colour of his or her skin would be entitled to damages if this involved a Vancouver-Calgary flight, but not a Vancouver-Beijing flight. This is what could happen because of legislation passed by Canada’s Parliament in 2001.

Let’s review the sequence of events. On December 18, 2001, Bill S-33, An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act, received Royal Assent. According to the bill’s summary, it implements in Canada “the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air signed at Montreal in 1999” (the Montreal Convention). The fact that parliamentary debate on the bill began in the Senate shows that the bill was considered fairly innocuous. As per constitutional convention, bills that could likely be controversial are first considered in the elected chamber, the House of Commons. There was such consent that S-33 simply passed both the Senate and the House without a standing vote.

The Summary for Bill S-33 states that the Montreal Convention provides for “unlimited liability for damages in the case of death or injury to passengers” during international air carriage. It also states that the Montreal Convention “simplifies ticketing requirements, provides for electronic documentation and establishes a new jurisdiction that will allow most passengers to bring actions in the place of their domicile.”

So here we have the summary referring to ticketing but not once mentioning any link between the bill and the scope of two of our country’s most fundamental pieces of legislation!

The body of Bill S-33 contains six clauses enacting into law the Montreal Convention, which is made a schedule of the Carriage by Air Act.

I have gone through all the debates in the Senate and the House of Commons surrounding Bill S-33. Nobody made a single direct or indirect reference to the Official Languages Act or the Canadian Human Rights Act: neither government nor opposition members, officials, experts, jurists or airline industry representatives. Clearly, when Parliament passed Bill S-33, it never intended to do away with remedies for the violation of fundamental rights.

In 2001, I myself was the minister responsible for official languages. Nobody told me about this bill. No minister, deputy minister or anybody else warned me about the consequences this bill could have on the Official Languages Act.

After the Thibodeau ruling, I contacted many of the most senior political and administrative officials who played leading roles at the time the Montreal Convention was negotiated in 1999 or when Bill S-33 was passed in 2001. Whether these officials were with the Department of Transport, the Department of Justice or the Privy Council, none of them recalled anything about the slightest provision of the Official Languages Act or the Canadian Human Rights Act being raised at any stage of the process.

Here we have one of these two quasi-constitutional laws weakened and the other one put at risk, the rights of Canadians on international flights curtailed, potential victims of discrimination prevented from receiving damages, and all of this without realizing it, without debating it, simply by passing an apparently innocuous bill. From a rights perspective, this is quite alarming, to say the least.

The good news is that this problem can be corrected.


  1. The solution

The solution is simple. Parliament needs to affirm, through legislation, that in no way do the Carriage by Air Act or its schedules reduce the authority of a court to order the payment of damages under the Official Languages Act or the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is the rationale for the bill I wish to bring forward: An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights). However, before considering my bill, let’s take a look at the 1999 Montreal Convention, which came into force in Canada with the passage of Bill S-33 in 2001.

The Montreal Convention, which replaced the Warsaw Convention, unifies “certain rules for international carriage by air.” Some of these rules pertain to the liability for damages by international air carriers involving matters outlined in Articles 17 to 19 of the Convention, namely the death and injury of passengers, damage to baggage or cargo, or delays caused by the air carrier. Article 3(4) requires that passengers be made aware of these liabilities:

“The passenger shall be given written notice to the effect that where this Convention is applicable it governs and may limit the liability of carriers in respect of death or injury and for destruction or loss of, or damage to, baggage, and for delay.” [emphasis mine]

Article 29 enacts the following rule:

In the carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo, any action for damages, however founded, whether under this Convention or in contract or in tort or otherwise, can only be brought subject to the conditions and such limits of liability as are set out in this Convention without prejudice to the question as to who are the persons who have the right to bring suit and what are their respective rights. In any such action, punitive, exemplary or any other non-compensatory damages shall not be recoverable.” [emphasis mine]

It is quite conceivable that such international uniformity is appropriate, as are the benefits for all parties with regard to predictability and fairness. But this has provided the basis for the development of two legal interpretations.

Under the first interpretation, the uniformity in question pertains to the matters set out in the Montreal Convention, that is, baggage, delays or injuries, but in no way does this preclude damages for matters not mentioned in the Convention, therefore those falling outside its ambit. This is the case for moral damages and the violation of fundamental human rights.

This interpretation may be supported by the fact that Article 3(4) states that “this Convention” governs the carrier’s liability “in respect of” death, injury, etc., without any mention however that this liability is limited to only these cases. In other words, the makers of the Montreal Convention must be taken at their word; in Article 3(4) they chose to use the expression “governs and may limit the liability in respect of…” rather than “limits liability to only cases of…”. Similarly, “this Convention” standardizes some of a carrier’s liabilities in respect of “passengers” (Articles 3, 29), but nowhere does it state that these passengers cease to be citizens with fundamental rights. The fact that these rights are not mentioned does not mean that they cease to exist. In other words, a citizen departing on an international flight has certain rights as a passenger, rights that are set out and standardized by the Convention, but in no way is this citizen deprived of the fundamental rights conferred by his or her citizenship.

This focused or specific interpretation of the Montreal Convention has been adopted by a number of North American, South American and European courts.[3] The European Court of Justice held that the European Commission has the regulatory authority to require airlines to provide passengers whose flight has been delayed with free refreshments, hotel accommodations and meals, even if such a requirement is not provided by the Montreal Convention.[4] In Canada, in Thibodeau, the dissenting Supreme Court justices held this interpretation of focused but non-exhaustive uniformity.

However, the Supreme Court (in Thibodeau) and the courts of several countries have adopted the other interpretation: exhaustive uniformity, a full and closed liability regime. Under this interpretation, Article 29 of the Montreal Convention precludes any damages not provided for in the text of the Convention, even those involving the most fundamental matters, such as discrimination on the basis of race or physical disability. For instance, in King v. American Airlines, Inc.,[5] the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a damages remedy for racial discrimination was precluded, since such action falls within the substantive scope of Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, although this is not explicitly provided. This reasoning was endorsed by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in Stott v. Thomas Cook Tour Operators Ltd[6] and was cited with approval by Justice Cromwell in Thibodeau.[7]

The purpose of my bill is to establish that for Canada, the focused and specific interpretation (which limits the scope of the Montreal Convention to those matters explicitly mentioned) is the one that expresses the will of Parliament. My bill is in the form of an amendment to the Carriage by Air Act confirming that a Federal Court judge or a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal member or panel has the necessary discretion to order an airline to pay damages resulting from a violation of a right guaranteed by the Official Languages Act or the Canadian Human Rights Act, even if the right to such damages is not expressly provided by the Montreal Convention.

This simple bill contains two clauses. The first acknowledges the full scope of the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act with respect to the possibility of awarding damages. The second recognizes the full scope of the Montreal Convention for the awarding of damages involving the specific matters it covers. The second clause demonstrates that Parliament is not seeking to govern the matters set out in the Montreal Convention and that the rights guaranteed by the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act are not included in the matters governed by the Convention.

Therefore, the proposed clause is not intended as a reservation towards the Montreal Convention. Rather, the amendment is intended to govern situations not provided for by the Convention, such as discriminatory practices by an airline in violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or the failure by Air Canada or one of its subsidiaries to provide services in an official language on an international flight, in violation of Part IV of the Official Languages Act.

In passing this bill, Parliament would specify that the court’s discretion is in no way limited with respect to a matter not provided for by the Montreal Convention. As such, the will of Parliament would be known, and the courts could take that into account when asked to rule on moral damages involving international flights. The courts should consider the fact that the purpose of the amendment is specifically to allow damages in cases of discrimination or a violation of the Official Languages Act.

According to the great jurist Peter Hogg, the relationship between the Court and Parliament around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a dialogue.[8] This virtual dialogue leads the Court to reflect on Parliament’s intent, while Parliament may, based on the resulting judgments, clarify its intent by making the necessary corrections.

My bill would provide essential information for this dialogue, information that is currently missing in the case with which we are concerned: the express will of Parliament. My bill establishes that the will of Parliament is very clearly expressed by Justice Abella, who wrote in the dissenting judgment that “the Montreal Convention ought to be interpreted in a way that respects Canada’s express commitment to these fundamental rights, rather than as reflecting an intention to subvert them”.[9]

In Thibodeau, when the majority found that Article 29 of the Convention limits judicial discretion regarding language rights (a matter not addressed by the Convention), they did so in the absence of an expression of the will of Parliament since the matter was never debated during the consideration of Bill S-33. In passing S-33, Parliament certainly wished to incorporate, into the Carriage by Air Act, international uniformity of the conditions for awarding damages regarding matters covered by the Convention; however, in no way did it wish to preclude damages provided for the violation of fundamental rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Official Languages Act. If that were the intent, Parliament would have said so, and a vigorous debate would certainly have ensued!

The bill will ensure that any domestic or foreign airline operating within Canada would be liable for damages in the event of a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Of course, it would have to be proven that such a violation did in fact occur. All the safeguards and remedies in place in Canada to screen out frivolous or unjustified claims would be fully engaged.[10]

This bill applies only to federal legislation. It does not govern interpretation of the Montreal Convention by the provincial legal system and therefore does not encroach upon provincial jurisdiction. Nevertheless, it could be used to guide their interpretation of the Convention. Since the identity of object of provincial and federal legislation is to eliminate discrimination, nothing would prevent a superior court from finding that the interpretation of the Canadian Human Rights Act promoted by this amendment is applicable mutatis mutandis to analogous provincial legislation.

The bill’s intent is not to compensate victims twice for the same cause of action, but rather to ensure that financial compensation could be awarded in cases of discrimination or a breach of linguistic obligations.

Let’s look at different scenarios that illustrate the scope of the bill, starting with the breach of a linguistic obligation. As such obligations are not covered by the Montreal Convention, damages for a violation of the Official Languages Act will be able to be awarded, regardless of whether the incident occurred on a domestic or an international flight. It is unlikely, although not impossible, that the loss of baggage, the death of a passenger or a delay (matters governed by the Montreal Convention) would be caused by the failure to provide services in French or another breach of the Official Languages Act. In such cases, it would be open to a litigant to invoke the Montreal Convention in order to receive compensation for lost baggage, and to invoke the Official Languages Act for language violations. However, the court would then have to be satisfied that the violation of the Official Languages Act warranted damages separate from the compensation provided by the Convention. A basic principle established in case law prohibits double compensation for the same cause.[11]

Now, let’s look at moral damages stemming from discrimination prohibited by the Canadian Human Rights Act. Taking my earlier example, a passenger denied a business class seat because of the colour of his or her skin could claim damages in the case of either a flight from Vancouver to Beijing or one from Vancouver to Calgary.

If a passenger’s baggage was damaged by willful discrimination and not simply through negligence, this passenger could potentially, if he or she is able to satisfy the Court, claim damages under the Canadian Human Rights Act for moral damages, and under the Montreal Convention for damaged baggage. In other words, if it could be demonstrated that because an individual belonged to a visible minority, an airline employee intentionally lost the passenger’s baggage, then the Canadian Human Rights Act could apply.

The bill I am proposing would clearly establish that in Canada, neither Parliament nor the courts can ignore the fact that an instance of moral damages was caused by discrimination rather than by mere negligence. This principle of natural justice, which we take for granted, will be provided through An Act to amend the Carriage by Air Act (fundamental rights). I encourage all my colleagues in Parliament to support its passage following an open and thorough debate.



[1] Thibodeau v. Air Canada, 2014 SCC 67.

[2] Subsection 10(2) of the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

[3] Naval-Torres v. Northwest Airlines Inc., 1998 CanLll 14916 (On SC), para. 11; Giannopolous v. Iberia Kineas Aéreas de Espana, S.A., 2012 WL 5383271 (N.D.I1l. 2012); Cosgrove-Goodman v. UAL Corp., 34 Avi. 15,199 (N.D.III., 20100; Nankin v. Continental Airlines, Inc, 33 Avi. 18, 597 C.D.Calif., 2010; Sompo Japan Insurance, Inc v. Nipon Cargo Airlines Co. Ltd., 522 F.3d 776 (7th Cir., 2008); Walker v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 785 F.Supp. 1168 (S.D.N.Y. 1992; Beaudet v. British Airways, PLC, 853 F.Supp. 1062 (N.D. Ill. 1994); Jorn J. Wegter, “The EJC Decision of 10 January 2006 on the Validity of Regulation 261/2004: Ignoring the Exclusivity of the Montreal Convention,” Air and Space Law, vol. XXXI/2 (April 2006), pp. 135-136; Elmar Maria Giemulla, Montreal Convention, Kluwer Law International, 2006, p. 18; Condon & Forsyth, The Liability Report, International Air Transport Association, 13th Edition, vol. 13, February 2010, pp. 1-4; Kandiah v. Emirates, 2007 CanLll 23911 (ON S.C.) para. 23; Laurent Chassot, L’article 29 de la Convention de Montréal, Clef de voûte de la responsabilité du transporteur aérien international, Master’s essay for LL.M. degree, McGill University, 2009, pp. 8, 37, 53-57.

[4] Nelson et al c Deutsche Lufthansa AG; S. Radosevic, “CJEU’s Decision in Nelson and Others in light of the Exclusivity of the Montreal Convention” (2013), 38 Air & Space L. 95, pp. 95-96.

[5] King v. American Airlines, Inc, 284 F 3d 352 (2d Cir 2002).

[6] Stott v. Thomas Cook Tour Operators Ltd, [2014] UKSC 15, [2014] 2 WLR 521.

[7] Thibodeau v Air Canada, 2014 SCC 67, para. 67-73.

[8] Peter Hogg and Allison Bushell, “The Charter Dialogue Between Courts and Legislatures,” Osgoode Hall Law Journal, 35 (1997): 75-124

[9] Thibodeau v. Air Canada, 2014 SCC 67, para. 168.

[10] Although the Thibodeaus had lodged 16 complaints against Air Canada, the trial court upheld only 4 for which Air Canada was found to be at fault.

[11] Béliveau St-Jacques v. Fédération des employées et employés de services publics Inc., [1996] 2 SCR 345

Earth Day: Speeches delivered at the 7th World Water Forum

Posted on April 22, 2015 | No Comments

Dear readers,

On this Earth Day, I am sending you two speeches I delivered at the invitation of the 7th World Water Forum, held in April 2015 in Daegu & Gyeongbuk, South Korea.

In the first speech, I reported on the state of North American waters, as participant in the Inter-Regional Day Panel on Climate Change Adaptation.

The second is a synthesis of my introductory remarks to the Plenary Session on the Right to Water, which I chaired and moderated in the context of the Conference of Parliamentarians for Water.

You will find them below. As always, I will be very pleased to read any comments you might have.

Enjoy your read!

Stéphane Dion


Is Climate Change Already Affecting North American Waters?

At the invitation of the 7th World Water Forum, held in April 2015 at Daegu & Gyeongbuk in South Korea, Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Environment of Canada Stéphane Dion reported on the North American waters situation as a participant in the Inter-Regional Day Panel on climate change adaptation. The following is a synthesis of his remarks.

 April 15, 2015

Gyeongju, South Korea

The world’s waters are in trouble. Ocean acidification, depleting aquifers, dried up rivers and lakes, and toxic pollution are threatening the life-giving resource. Fish stocks are being depleted and agricultural land lost to expanding desertification. Some areas are plagued by droughts, others by floods. Poor water quality remains the largest cause of human health problems. Some 768 million people have no access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion have no access to basic sanitation, 1.3 billion have no access to electricity.

What about North America? Mexico’s water scarcity crisis is on a scale like that of few other countries. But what to say about water-rich United States and Canada, which together have the highest freshwater footprint in the world? Ask Californians!

The evidence is in: the global water difficulties have reached North America. And climate change is exacerbating the problem.

North American waters are warming up. About 70 percent of glaciers in Western Canada could disappear by the end of the 21st century. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has found that Canada’s ocean temperatures, from coast to coast to coast, are almost 4 degrees Celsius above normal. The Arctic Ocean is rapidly acidifying because sea ice loss is increasing the uptake of atmospheric CO2. Ocean acidification is also affecting shellfish-rich areas in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

According to NOAA’s Third National Climate Change Assessment Report for the United States, released in May 2014, heavy precipitation events have been on the rise in that country since 1960. Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, has found that North America is experiencing a nearly fivefold increase in extreme weather disasters over the past three decades, and that the climate change-driven sea level rise is making storm surges more destructive. Climate-driven disasters include more severe thunderstorms, heavy precipitation, flash flooding, hurricane activity, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.

A growing number of scientific bodies, including the National Science Foundation, confirm that the ongoing drought in California is likely to be the worst in a thousand years and worsened by human-caused climate change. According to NASA, climate change is likely to make droughts and extreme drying the normal conditions for the US Southwest and Central Plains.

Water scarcity on one hand, and high-intensity storms, cyclones and floods on the other: all this has and will continue to have severe economic consequences. The drought is impacting hydropower generation and has cost California thousands of jobs. The insurance cost of property covered by the US National Flood Insurance Program is already ballooning, a trillion dollar bubble! According to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 40 percent of small businesses never reopen their doors following a flooding disaster.

As Oxfam said: “Extreme weather, extreme prices.” The Central Plains produce about 40 percent of the world’s corn and 10 percent of its wheat. California is a huge fruit and vegetable producer. As water withdrawals far outstrip replenishment, a major water supply disruption would send price shockwaves throughout global agricultural markets.

Some North American jurisdictions have begun improving their water-related policies and practices. There has been some progress on sewage and water treatment, acid rain, lead overflow, industrial pollution, mercury emissions, smog and other pollutants. Per capita water consumption is down, although still much too high. But these improvements cannot be taken for granted. We thought that Lake Erie had been saved but blue-green algae blooms are escalating again – as they are in countless other water bodies.

When Governor Jerry Brown imposed the first mandatory water restrictions ever on California residents, businesses and farms, he said: “We’re in a new era”. He was right. North America must now adopt more appropriate policies and practices for every stage of the water supply chain. The fifteen new desalination plants proposed along the West Coast, from Los Angeles to San Francisco Bay, are only a stopgap measure: desalination technology is energy-intensive, very expensive and environmentally problematic.

North America must move away from water-intensive agricultural practices, increase resource-use efficiency, reduce waste and pollution, adopt appropriate technologies, implement equitable water tariff policies and establish design and other incentives to get consumers to conserve and preserve water as much as possible.

We need updated building codes, coastal protection planning and green infrastructures to reduce the impacts of flooding. We need recycle-ready plumbing in new residential construction. Municipalities need to invest in smart water meters and upgrade their water efficiency and quality programs.

In most parts of the United States and Canada, fresh water is still taken for granted. That has to change: we have entered a new era.




Conference of Parliamentarians for Water

Plenary Session III: Right to Water

Introductory remarks as Facilitator

Stéphane Dion

Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Environment of Canada

Gyeongju, Republic of Korea

April 15, 2015


What exactly is the right to water? The right of every human being to a sufficient supply of clean and safe drinking water and to adequate sanitation.

According to UNESCO, access to water and sanitation is a prerequisite for the realisation of the right to life, dignity, health, and education. UNESCO asserts that the greatest ecological and human rights threats of our time are freshwater shortages and inequitable access to water.

In approving the 2010 UN Millennium Development Goals, every member state committed to ensure that all its citizens get access to clean drinking water by the end of 2015. But with some 768 million people with no access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion with no access to basic sanitation and 1.5 million children below five years dying every year of water-related illnesses, we know we will miss the 2015 target.

Despite this setback, the goal remains the same: to provide water for all. So we need to increase our efforts, and in order to do so, to find adequate answers to three questions, which I will ask our distinguished panelists to answer:


  1. How do we address current and future water needs?

Since providing safe drinking water and sanitation for all today must not preclude the right of the next generations to the same, upholding the universal and intemporal right to water includes an obligation to sustain the water needs of the natural environment. Upholding the ability of nature to fulfill the quantitative and qualitative water needs of plants and animals, to preserve biodiversity, is essential to the survival of human civilization. If nature lacks water, humans will not be able to meet their basic water requirements for domestic, agricultural and industrial applications, sanitation and waste management.

Groundwater and surface water degradation and misuse affects ecosystem and human health; they are also a major obstacle to fostering education and eradicating poverty.

Therefore the question is : how can we, at the same time, meet immediate water needs and act as bona fide trustees of water resources that must be protected and conserved for future generations?


  1. How do we address public and private water needs?

To provide water for all, how should we regulate private water property rights?

I think that we all agree that the right to water does not equate to an absolute right of economic operators, such as power stations and farmers, to extract water from rivers, lakes and aquifers.

But if we opt for full collective property, for state ownership of water resources exercised on behalf of citizens, there is the risk of discouraging private initiatives.

A lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation is not always due to an insufficient resource;  it is often caused by inadequate infrastructure and defective facility operation and maintenance. To correct these deficiencies, we need to develop and implement coherent policies and practices, and to pool individual and collective resources and initiatives. How can this be done?

Most countries try to strike a balance between collective and private rights. They aim to modulate water property rights through a mix of sound environmental policies, practices and laws that impose a legal duty on economic operators and consumers to use water efficiently and ethically. One example is to require agricultural producers to use accurate irrigation scheduling, green spray irrigation, effective use of soil moisture and best water application technology practices.


  1. How do we address local and global water needs?

While the right to water must be addressed locally, it is closely linked to global energy, climate, economic, social and political issues. This raises many thorny questions:

How do we protect water rights among States that share transboundary water bodies? How do we cut across separate political jurisdictions and different socio-economic conditions? How do we achieve sufficient conditions of transparency, sound management and regional cooperation?

How do we improve the capacity of States to pool their financial and technical resources so as to scale up efforts in the provision of safe, clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation to all nationals?

If we do not radically improve international management and monitoring of shared oceans, surface freshwater bodies and aquifers, we will not be able to meet the goal of providing safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for all.

The right to water is a key 21st century issue. I had the easy part in this plenary session: framing the issue, asking the questions. Now, let’s hear what answers our honourable panelists have for us.

Question Period: Royal Canadian Mounted Police (March 30th, 2015, House of Commons, Parliament of Canada, Ottawa)

Posted on March 31, 2015 | No Comments

Dear all,

On March 30, 2015, I asked Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney why he refused to acknowledge the Conservative government-imposed 195.2 million dollar budget cuts to the RCMP, which forced the Mounties to make an impossible choice between fighting terrorism or organized crime.

Please find this exchange below.

I look forward to reading your comments!

Stéphane Dion


Hon. Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, Commissioner Paulson said that 300 RCMP officers assigned to criminal investigations had to be transferred to counter-terrorism operations.

The RCMP is being forced to choose which of its main responsibilities it will carry out because of the Conservative government’s $195.2 million in cuts to its budget.

Why is the minister denying that the budget was cut by $195.2 million when it is right there, in black and white, in budget 2012 , Table A1.19, “Planned Savings—Public Safety Portfolio”?


Hon. Steven Blaney (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for referring to a specific table, and I would like to give him an overall picture of the situation.

Since coming to power, the Conservative government has increased the budget of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by over one-third.

Unfortunately, my colleague and the Liberal Party did not support these increases. However, I can assure the House that we will continue to ensure that our police forces have the resources they need to protect Canadians and carry out their mandate.


Posted on March 27, 2015 | No Comments

Dear Readers, On March 26, 2015, as CBC/Radio-Canada announced the loss of 244 jobs, affecting many local stations, I asked the government to acknowledge the link […]

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Speech – Journey to Freedom Day Act

Posted on March 24, 2015 | No Comments

Dear all, On March 23, 2015 in the House of Commons, as Liberal Critic for Canadian Heritage, I voiced my support for a proposed inclusive National […]

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The Conservative Plan for Linguistic Duality: Roadmap or Smokescreen?

Posted on March 18, 2015 | No Comments

Dear all, The daily Le Droit of March 17, 2015 published an article in which I prove, based on the numbers, that the Conservative government has […]

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Question Period: CBC (March 9th, 2015, House of Commons, Parliament of Canada, Ottawa)

Posted on March 10, 2015 | No Comments

Dear Readers, On March 9, 2015, I once again asked the Harper governement why it had broken its promise not to cut the CBC – Radio-Canada […]

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Why I voted against Michael Chong’s Democratic Reform Bill

Posted on March 5, 2015 | No Comments

Dear Readers, On February 25, 2015, the House of Commons voted at third reading for Bill C-586, Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Democratic Reform Bill. I was […]

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Question Period: Aboriginal Affairs and Bellechasse (February 27th, 2015, House of Commons, Parliament of Canada)

Posted on March 3, 2015 | No Comments

Dear all, On February 17, 2015 at Question period, I questioned the governement on two totally different issues. I first asked the governement why it still […]

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Response to Yvon Godin

Posted on March 2, 2015 | No Comments

Dear Readers, On February 28, 2015, the daily L’Acadie Nouvelle published my short response to NDP MP Yvon Godin’s critique of my text on Official Languages, […]

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