Dozens protested outside the Timms Centre at the University of Alberta on Thursday over the award of an honorary degree to Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.
The university bestowed the honour on Brabeck-Letmathe for his work as a responsible steward for water around the world.
But protesters say that as the world's largest bottled water company, Nestlé is causing water scarcity, not solving it and is trying to privatize a public resource.
"I'm afraid that the university is positioning themselves on the side of the commodifiers, the people who want to say that water is not a human right that everyone has the right to, but is just a product that can be bought and sold," said Scott Harris from the Council of Canadians.
Nestlé claims on its website that it only uses 0.0009% of all freshwater drawn on the globe for its bottled water business, a position Brabeck-Letmathe repeated on Thursday.
"This is not going to have any impact," he said. "Where the impact is coming from, where the water is being used, is basically in agriculture."
But some professors were angry enough at the university to join Thursday's protest.
"I'm ashamed at this point, about what the university is doing and I'm also very concerned about the way the president of the university has been demonizing people who oppose this," said English professor Janice Williamson.
"What Nestlé does is take what clean water there is in which poor people are relying on, bottle it and then sell it to wealthier people at an exorbitant profit," said Martin Tweedale, a professor of philosophy.
The University of Alberta stands by its decision to give Brabeck-Letmathe the honorary degree.