Eight Manitoba First Nations file lawsuit over Red River sewage spill

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Red River spill
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Gordon Bluesky, pictured far right, at a May 1 news conference. Photo Credit: Brokenhead Ojibway Nation

Eight Manitoba First Nations have filed a $4.8-billion lawsuit against the City of Winnipeg, as well as the federal and provincial governments, over a February sewage spill into the Red River that was the second largest in the city’s history.

The eight First Nations — Brokenhead, Black River, Poplar River, Kinonjeoshtegon, Berens River, Hollow Water, Misipawistik and Sagkeeng — filed a statement of claim in Manitoba Court of King’s Bench on May 7.

Each of the First Nations is downstream of the sewage spill and seeking $500 million for breaches of Charter rights, as well as $100 million each in punitive damages, according to a statement of claim. 

The lawsuit suggests that all three levels of government failed to maintain Winnipeg’s wastewater management system, and failed to “implement or enforce adequate regulatory mechanisms” regarding the spill, which the First Nations say caused harmful pollution to the Red River.

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“We’ve been watching the steady decline and the health of Lake Winnipeg,” said Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Gordon Bluesky at a May 1 news conference. “We need to hold these governments to account and say we need to start having action towards protecting her [… ] for our future.”

Signs of a problem began for City of Winnipeg staff in November 2023, when inspection crews found a leak in one of two pipes crossing the Red River, which were installed in 1970. They direct sewage from the southwest part of Winnipeg to the South End Sewage Treatment Plant. One pipe was taken out of service, however, the second pipe burst following temporary repairs.  

Sewage flowed into the Red River over the course of three weeks. 

By February 17, one of the pumps for the bypass system at the Fort Garry Bridge was operational. Until the second pump was ready on February 21, city officials asked residents to conserve water. 

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