What is the People’s Water Tribunal?

The People’s Water Tribunal is a forum convened by the Wellington Water Watchers to facilitate public and democratic examination of threats to water security in Ontario.   

The 2020 session[1] of the Peoples’ Water Tribunal will convene a panel of experts to hear public testimony and deliver a public decision on the question: Should Ontario issue permits to take water for bottling to Nestlé and other private corporations?

The Peoples’ Water Tribunal will accept submissions from experts and the public on arguments for and against Ontario’s policy of issuing permits to take water for bottling.

The Tribunal will examine how Ontario’s policy to allow permits to take water for bottling impacts:

  • Indigenous land, water and treaty rights
  • Sacred nature of water
  • Water security of present and future generations facing climate change
  • Plastic pollution
  • Water as a public trust and common good
  • Exposure to microplastics in drinking water
  • ‘Just transition’ for workers employed in water bottling in Ontario
  • The democratic right for public participation in decisions regarding permits to take water

The Tribunal will also examine the responsibility of federal and municipal levels of government in mitigating impacts of Ontario’s policy to allow permits to take water for bottling.


Why is the Wellington Water Watchers convening this session of the People’s Water Tribunal on permits to bottle water?

The Ontario government has extended until October 1, 2020 the moratorium on new permits to take water in Ontario. However, the government is not organizing a meaningful public consultation on the issue of permits to take water for bottling.

The Ontario government’s current format for consultation on the moratorium is similar to the process for reviewing applications to renew permits. The permit to take water process is conducted through the Environmental Registry of Ontario which limits public participation to a 90-day online consultation. Face to face discussion among the public and with political representatives on this important issue of public concern is excluded by this consultation format.

The permit to take water process is too narrow in scope. It focusses on issues of water quantity, but not on how water bottling impacts water quality, human rights and the commodification of water.

The deepening climate crisis will make the security of drinking water less secure. Climate change is radically altering the certainty in forecasting future water security. The unpredictable and accelerating impacts of climate change therefore challenge conventional methods of risk assessment.

A comprehensive, transparent and public debate of Ontario’s policy to allow permits to bottle water is urgently required. The People’s Water Tribunal will be a public, democratic forum for this critical examination.


How will the People’s Water Tribunal work?

The People’s Water Tribunal will have five phases of activity:

  • Organization and public launch of Tribunal
  • Preliminary hearings to gather information on impacts of water bottling
  • Preparation of findings for review by Tribunal members
  • Public Tribunal Session to hear testimony and deliver a public decision
  • Publicity of Tribunal’s decision

A brief description of each phase follows:

Organization of Tribunal: Wellington Water Watchers will recruit members for the Tribunal, identify partners to conduct community hearings, create resource materials, and recruit volunteers and staff to coordinate all activities of the People’s Water Tribunal.

Preliminary hearings: Wellington Water Watchers will invite public testimony on the impacts of water bottling in Ontario including:

  • Organize public hearings in several communities around Ontario
  • Solicit opinions from experts, and from Minister of Environment Conservation and Parks, Nestlé Waters Canada, Canadian Bottled Water Association
  • Provide self-directed guideline for discussion groups
  • Seek meetings with MPPs of all political parties represented in the Ontario legislature
  • Online survey

Information gathered through the hearings will be made available online.  

Preparation of Findings: A summary of findings will be prepared for review by the Tribunal.

Public Tribunal Session: Members of the Tribunal will listen to summary of testimony, interview witnesses for and against the issue of water bottling and deliver a decision in the presence of a public audience.

Publicity of Tribunal’s decision: The decision of the Tribunal will be disseminated widely through social media and continuing engagement with partners and participants in the People’s Water Tribunal process.

When will the Peoples Water Tribunal happen?

The organization phase of activity is currently underway. Preliminary hearings will commence in late April and continue to July. Findings will be prepared in August and published in September. The Public Tribunal Session will be held in September 2020.

Where will the Peoples Water Tribunal meet?

The Public Tribunal Session will be held in Guelph, Ontario in September 2020. Event location will be announced in April. 

Preliminary Hearings will be held in a number of communities across Ontario.

How can I be involved in the Peoples Water Tribunal?

There are several ways to be involved in the People’s Water Tribunal including:

  • Attend a preliminary hearing in your community
  • Organize a preliminary hearing in your community
  • Organize a discussion group with your co-workers, friends, family
  • Endorse the People’s Water Tribunal
  • Share the People’s Water Tribunal Survey in your network
  • Donate money to the People’s Water Tribunal
  • Organize a fund-raising event to support the People’s Water Tribunal
  • Volunteer to help organize the Public Tribunal Session in Guelph


[1] Wellington Water Watchers will convene the People’s Water Tribunal on different issues of water protection as the need arises and in response to public interest.