Independent investigation into Iqaluit water crisis has not yet begun – Canada

Nunavut’s health department says it has not yet begun its third party review into last year’s water crisis in Iqaluit. 

In October 2021, the city went nearly two months without clean tap water after hydrocarbons were detected in the city’s water supply and ultimately traced to the water treatment plant. A “do not consume” order from territorial health officials was lifted in December, after a bypass had been set up at the plant.

Since then, there have been calls for a public inquiry into the matter, which would be a first for Nunavut. However, then-Justice Minister David Akeeagok said it wasn’t something he would consider until the health department’s own review was completed.

In an email, a health department spokesperson said the review cannot be completed “until the situation is resolved,” referring to the fact that Iqaluit’s water treatment plant is still using the bypass system.

Nunavut’s new chief public health officer, Dr. Sean Wachtel, was unavailable for an interview on the matter until the new year. Through a spokesperson, Health Minister John Main declined an interview request until the new year.

Treatment plant fix is coming

In an interview with CBC News, Iqaluit deputy mayor Kyle Sheppard said a final contract was awarded in October to finish up the remediation of the water treatment plant. He said the city could possibly be off the bypass system as early as January.

As for an investigation, he said the city has no plans to conduct its own and any sort of review should come at the territorial level. 

“I’m of the opinion that there’s no blame to be laid here. Having been intimately involved with the process and there in the moment as things were happening and knowing all that I know and experienced through that, the real benefit that could come from a review is to rebuild public confidence and trust,” Sheppard said.

A red-bearded man in a beige corduroy sweater sits upright, expressionless and hands together, in a black leather chair while being interviewed.
Iqaluit deputy mayor Kyle Sheppard says a permanent repair to the city’s water treatment plant should be completed by January. (David Gunn/CBC News)

But Sheppard said there “not a whole lot to be learned” from a review. 

“It was an experience … essentially nobody was prepared for. There could be some value in a review done to prepare for the highly unlikely situation of [something like] that ever occurring again, even elsewhere in the territory,” he said.

“But it’s such a unique situation and such an unheard-of situation that other than the public trust issue, which is an important one, I don’t see a whole lot of value in having a review done.”

‘It’s been a year since the water crisis’

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone, who while campaigning ahead of the territorial election called for a special standing committee to review the water crisis, agreed the true value of a review is rebuilding the public’s trust in government — a point also previously shared by Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes.

Still, Arreak Lightstone said he was disappointed no kind of review had begun yet, adding there were “so many unknowns” from the water crisis.

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone says any review into the water crisis should be made public. (Beth Brown/CBC)

“It’s still unclear what exactly the government of Nunavut had done, and whether or not their actions were timely or adequate enough,” Arreak Lightstone said, noting the first 10 days are the most crucial in understanding what the territorial government did when concerns of fuel odour in the water first arose.

“I think it’s very important we have a third-party investigation that is thorough, and more importantly made public to ensure that the public confidence can be restored in our government’s response to the water crisis, or water issues in general.”

Arreak Lightstone said he understood the necessity of holding off the investigation until the water crisis was “completely” resolved, but added having a review done is time-sensitive.

“It’s been a year since the water crisis and memories fade, people leave, every day that goes by there’s less likelihood of uncovering all of the facts and information,” Arreak Lightstone said.

“I don’t think it’s an adequate response as to why the investigation hasn’t begun.”

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