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Ontario and U.S. Safe Drinking Water Acts in Comparison and Contrast: How Ontario Should Regulate for Public Confidence

November 2003

Citation: 33 ELR 10865

Issue: 11

Author: Tania Monteiro

In May 2000, in a town of 4,800 people in southern Ontario, 7 people died and more than 2,300 became seriously ill from drinking tap water contaminated with Escherichia coli (e-coli). The loss of life and the staggering degree of illness devastated the small town community. Even today many Walkerton residents continue to suffer adverse health effects while feelings of frustration and insecurity persist. The Walkerton tragedy ultimately unfolded a national debate in Canada on drinking water safety and hastened the Ontario provincial government to establish a public inquiry to investigate the issues.

Appointed as commissioner to the inquiry, Justice Dennis R. O'Connor of the Ontario Court of Appeals was charged with the twin mandates of investigating the causes that led up to the tragic events in Walkerton and of making recommendations to ensure the future safety of drinking water in Ontario. Part One of the inquiry was held in Walkerton to make findings of fact about the specific physical and systemic causes of the tragedy. Over a nine-month period, the commission heard evidence from many witnesses including residents of Walkerton, various special interest groups that were given standing for ongoing participation and, quite dramatically, even from the Premier of Ontario. Justice O'Connor's findings of fact and his 28 recommendations were released on January 18, 2002, in Part One Report of the Walkerton Inquiry, The Events of May 2000 and Related Issues.1 Sadly, provincial government budget reductions and discontinuation of laboratory testing services were held largely to blame for the severity of the Walkerton tragedy.

Tania Monteiro obtained her LL.B. from Queen's Law School in Kingston, Ontario, and was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002. She completed her articles at Gowling, Lafleur Henderson in Toronto where the focus of the practice was corporate and commercial litigation. Following this year of work. Ms. Monteiro attended Pace University School of Law where she completed an LL.M. with a specialization in environmental law, graduating cum laude. Ms. Monteiro also has worked for several other Toronto law firms in the areas of union-side labor and human rights law. She has done volunteer work for various social justice groups in and around Toronto including the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

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