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Monsieur, Englais, Francais? English or French? I will speak English. Do you understand that you have crossed the border illegally. You guys are under arrest for having crossed the border illegally.
LAURA LYNCH: It's become a near constant stream. Day and night, taxis and vans pull up on the Canadian side of the border near Lacolle, Quebec. [Unintelligible] Women children and men, many from Haiti. They're part of a spike in the numbers of those seeking refuge in Canada, in the last few weeks. A spike so significant, Montreal has outfitted its Olympic Stadium to house them. We'll look at what's happening and why. And then:
9/11, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Virginia Tech University shootings.
LL: He has a few aliases. The Master of Disaster. The Pay Czar and, according to a documentary released earlier this year, he's playing God. He's Kenneth Feinberg. And over the years he's been charged with deciding just how much a life is worth as he divides and doles out payments to those who have suffered from some of the biggest disasters the United States has ever experienced. We'll revisit my conversation with Kenneth Feinberg about what has become his life's work. I'm Laura Lynch and this is the summer edition of The Current.
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Quebec's resources stretched thin as hundreds arrive at border
Guests: Marjorie Villefranche, David Crochrane
LL: It's hosted the 1976 Summer Games, big league baseball, the Pope and Pink Floyd. But this summer Montreal's Olympic stadium is being used for something new. It's become a temporary home for asylum seekers. The city's usual resources to housing care for migrants has been stretched thin recently by a spike in arrivals. More than 6500 people have been processed in the past six months, alone. Many are from Haiti fleeing the United States where their immigration status has been thrown into question by the Trump administration. They're drawn to Montreal's well-established Haitian community and they're arriving from the States in carload after carload at Quebec’s Saint Bernard de Lacolle border crossing. On Twitter yesterday, the mayor of Montreal reported that five hundred more people had arrived at that crossing. The CBC's David Cochrane was there yesterday to see how authorities are handling it all. He's a senior reporter with the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. Hi David.
DAVID CROCHRANE: Hi Laura. Good morning.
LL: How many people are arriving at this unofficial border crossing?
DAVID CROCHRANE: Well, it seems like it's absolutely constant. I mean, we won't get an official tally until either later this month, or maybe even into September. But I'll just walk you through what we saw when we got there. We got there just before supper time, on Tuesday and you know, within 10 minutes of getting there we see the first taxi pull up, a lone man gets out, ten minutes later another taxi a family of four or five gets out. And over the next hour three more taxis, a van, a shuttle bus, a shuttle bus that we saw come three times over the period of the six hours that we were there, the six continuous hours that we were there and we saw 16, 17, 18, various drop offs, 70 or 80 people just in that short period of time. And just before we got there we were told by the police that: “Look. A shuttle bus just went off with 16 people taking them to detention”, because the numbers have gotten so big at this place. And to set the scene, for you Laura, this is a lonely dirt road with some nicely manicured houses on it that ends in a ditch. Then, that ditch marks where Quebec and Canada ends and where New York and the U.S. begins. That's what it looked like when people first started coming over, earlier this year. Now some of the ditches have been filled in by the local municipalities to create a foot bridge, if you would, so that people can come over. There are steal crowd control barriers when you get there to create a queue, like you would see at an airport. There's two tents, there's generators, there's fans, there's lights, there's portable toilets. I mean the numbers have just exploded to the point that this lonely dirt road has become a 24-hour-a-day processing center for asylum seekers jumping across the border.
LL: And, as you said, they've got a shuttle bus now that they're using.
DAVID CROCHRANE: Yes. So what happens is, it's an RCMP bus. When we first went there, earlier this year, they had two suburban SUVs there at all times, because you know, one or two taxis a day would come across. That slowly escalated to about 30 people a day. So, the RCMP had to go get a bus. They arrest people on the spot. They processed them. They take their luggage and throw it into the back of a big box truck they've got there, to store the bags and everything people are bringing. And then it operates like a load and go shuttle. They put people on this bus. It fills up. They drive into the RCMP detachment center, a few kilometers away, put them in detention there. And then turn around, go right back, fill up again and just complete this circuit 24 hours a day on this load and go basis.
LL: Now you just use that word ‘arrested’. This is what these people want.
DAVID CROCHRANE: Yes. They could go, legally, to a legal border crossing, just a few kilometers east of where they're coming across, but they don't want to do that, right. All of the complications with the third safe country agreement, if they try to cross from the U.S. into Canada at an official legal port of entry, they will be turned back because Canada considers the United States a safe country, and that is where this agreement says these people should go to make their asylum claim. But by crossing over here, at the end of rock some road, they're doing it illegally. And so, they get arrested and taken into custody and that then allows them to make an asylum claim, in Canada immigration system. So, we consider, our government considers, the United States to be safe. These people coming across, they certainly don't, at least not for their immigration status, they consider themselves vulnerable and they're worried about being deported.
LL: Right. And I want to get into that, but I know you said we don't have any kind of final numbers yet, but do you have a sense of how the number of people coming across compares to previous months and years?
DAVID CROCHRANE: Yes. We've got numbers from you know the cops and the border officials that we were able to speak with, casually and privately off to the side. So, about six weeks ago 30 people a day was a busy day, is what they told us at this border crossing. In a 24 hour period, that we were there Tuesday and Wednesday, we're told about 300 people came across, in a single day. And it's been escalating like that for weeks. So, I think from January to June, 31000 people were processed, there. Now, are you getting two or three hundred a day. So, very quickly, you're getting just a matter of days what they used to get in a month. One cop we spoke with said that, he has been there a while, seven years ago you might get 300 people a year, coming across this. Now they're getting that in some weekends. So, it just gives you a sense of the escalation that from six weeks ago when it was 30 a day, to the 300 when we were there. That's a 1000 percent increase and that's why all of this infrastructure of shuttle buses and expanded makeshift detention centers, have all sprung up in this area because the facilities they have they're just kind of being overwhelmed.
LL: Let’s talk about who it is. Who is arriving at the border? What do we know about them?
DAVID CROCHRANE: Yes. We saw people from Yemen, people from Nigeria, Eritrea. But this surge is really being driven by the Haitians. You know, the people of Haiti, a lot of whom have been in the United States for years. And after the earthquake in that country, in 2010, were given out protection from being deported. And that's been extended periodically over this period of time.
LL: So, they felt safe in the United States.
DAVID CROCHRANE: Yes. They felt reasonably safe in the United States. They had been told: “Look it's often extended in 18 month chunks. You've got another year and a half where you're not going to be deported back to your country. It's still rebuilding. It's still recovering. You can stay here”. Then, in May John Kelly, who at the time was the homeland security secretary, he's now the chief of staff to the president. He said: We're going to extend it one more time, from July until 2018.” So, only a six month extension. But it is the view of the United States government that conditions in Haiti are improving to the point that an extension in 2018 is unlikely. And so that Haitians in the United States should prepare to return home. So, that sent off a fire alarm in the Haitian community. They see this as Trump is going to get ready to deport them. And they started surging towards Canada and that's what we saw. Now there's 58000 people, from Haiti, in the United States, who are going to be affected by this order. There's another 20 to 30000, we're told, in Mexico, who are also trying to make their way to Canada. So, this surge that we've seen, from talking to people working at the border, there in Quebec. They're really worried that it's just going to increase even beyond what we've already seen.
LL: It's going to be interesting to see how officials handle this, because these are not typical refugee claims of people who are claiming persecution but…
DAVID CROCHRANE: Yes. They are more economic migrants, in the case of the Haitians, right. Because this is not like their government is persecuting them. They're not Yazidis, for example, who would be targeted for genocide by ISIS if they were sent home. It really is a whole different classification and is different than what we saw with the Syrian refugees, for example. So, the legal status will be interesting to see how that unfolds.
LL: How prepared do authorities seem to be then to handle the influx?
DAVID CROCHRANE: Well, I have to say that the long hours, in the heat, outdoors, dealing with a lot of people coming through, the RCMP officers - we saw it when we were there – are very kind and very patient. There's some language struggles happening, as you can imagine but they're finding ways to translate back and forth using sort of, the migrants themselves, to act as unofficial translators to talk to them and that's going well. All these people are placed under arrest but nobody's running because that's exactly what they want and they're sitting down. They're happy they're cooperating with the officials. So, that interaction is going well. The problem is the facilities. So, they have sort of this makeshift RCMP detachment that, one police officer told me, was really… It has like one toilet and it was built to hold 30 to 35 people. So, they've had to bring in portable toilets, portable trailers. And the numbers are so big at this, we're there keeping them, that there's not enough room inside for the migrants that they've arrested. So, they're outside in a courtyard with the RCMP cruisers and the portable toilets, spending the night outdoors. Now they have a tent canopy for cover and luckily it's warm this time of year, and it was dry when we are there, but that's overflowing. And across the road, there was a mothballed government building that has had to be turned into a detention center for Canada Border Services. It's an immigration detention center and we're told that's bursting at the seams. We've been told there's not enough room. There's not enough beds. The people who are there, they're sleeping on the floor, they're sleeping on cardboard. Now we did talk to some asylum seekers who had been through that process and they did say the conditions aren't luxurious, there is a problem. There isn't enough space, at times there isn't enough food. But they say they are being treated very well by the people they're interacting with and quite frankly, in their circumstances, they'd rather be sleeping on a floor in a Canadian detention center than in America.
LL: Then, given the very real prospect, that we may see even more coming. Are there any other plans in the works to deal with more people coming?
DAVID CROCHRANE: We're trying to get that answer from the federal government. We have been trying to get a statement from them for the last few hours, really since yesterday when we gave them a sense of this story was coming, but so far we haven't heard anything. I mean, the physical space is going to be a challenge. You know, when you were talking off the top about how they have had to open up Olympic Stadium, in Montreal, sort of this gigantic dormant containment center for people to go to. I don't know where you do it in this particular community. It's not a big town. There's not a tremendous amount of options. And already when we were in Montreal, also on Tuesday, the YMCA is full, maybe over capacity. The hostels that they've been using are full and over capacity. So the Quebec government I know is going to have something to say about this a little bit later. But it's probably going to be a call for other parts of the country to step in and help, because if this keeps going at this pace, the capacity of the local communities to absorb it. It's going to be really tested.
LL: David, thanks very much for telling us about it.
DAVID CROCHRANE: You're welcome. Thanks.
LL: David Cochrane is a senior reporter with CBC's parliamentary bureau. He's in Ottawa and we did request interviews with the public safety minister Ralph Goodale and the Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen. Neither was available. The Canadian Border Services Agency declined our request for an interview. Now of course for Haitian asylum seekers, who do reach Quebec, a new set of challenges will soon have to be faced; finding accommodation, living, supplies and the right documentation. One organization is stepping in to help and it's called Maison D’Haiti. It has been the central hub of support for Montreal's Haitian community, for more than four decades. And Maison D’Haiti’s on director General is Marjorie Villefranche. She joins us now from Montreal. Hello.
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Hello.
LL: How would you describe the situation with asylum seekers coming to Canada?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Well, we saw it coming because the last six weeks we saw increasing. So, we knew it was going to happen. Yes. We knew. We saw it happening.
LL: Why did you know it was going to start picking up pace?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Because when they arrive at the border, and then, you know, they put them in the shelter and then they come to see us. So, six weeks ago, we used to receive, I would say, 20 asylum seekers a week. Now we are now receiving almost 30 a day. So, we saw the difference, ourselves. So, we knew it was going to happen. And we saw, you know, on Internet and on Facebook. All those ads explaining how to cross the border and things like this. And so, we knew it would happen.
LL: So, there's social media that is in the United States that is telling people how to cross the border into Canada, illegally.
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: [Unintelligible] So, the explanation is very clear and people, here too, explaining to their family how to cross the border. So, I knew it was going to happen.
LL: Have you been talking to the people who are coming across:
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Yes, of course. Yes. Yes.
LL: And what are they telling you about why they're doing it?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Well, because you are afraid. The fact is that they're afraid that when the TPS over, they're going to send them back in their country, in Haiti. So, as they don't want to be sent back, so they are trying to survive here. They try to cross the border and to have a better living here.
LL: Just to make it clear for our listeners the TPS is what David referred to, which is this a temporary protective system to keep them in the U.S. because of the earthquake.
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Yes.
LL: So what is Maison D’Haiti doing differently to manage the increase?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: What we do; we receive them. We have them fill their papers because they have a lot of paper to fill. We have them fill the papers. And then after help them find a place to live because they are sheltered now by the [unintelligible] in one, for about a month. And in a month, they have to find by themselves a place to live. So, this is where we are where we are working with them to have them find that place to live and probably find some furniture and things like this to have a living. If they have children, explaining to them how to put the children at school and what is ordinary living in a new country. Even if it is temporary, they have to live.
LL: You are right. What do you think of the opening of the Olympic Stadium as a measure to handle these larger numbers?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Well, I think, probably, they thought about the Olympic Stadium because it's easier to manage. It's probably the fear that a lot more of people are going to come. So, this is why they did it. If it continues like this, that means they need the Olympic Stadium. I think, now, they really don't need it because 400 person is not worth it to open the Olympic Stadium. Probably, they fear that more and more are going to come.
LL: But do you think that's an appropriate place to house them?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: I don't think it's an appropriate place, this is for sure. It's not an appropriate place but I think they managed to find a lot of other places. And this is where I think the Ministry of immigration and the City of Montreal should do something better.
LL: What would you suggest?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: I would suggest, maybe, I don't know, they have some hotels. I see for example the [unintelligible] that they use and close hospital and they just manage to put people there. So, you have to find some other places.
LL: And are you talking to government about taking extra measures?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Well, I talked with the Minister of Immigration, two days ago, and the situation was not that… The situation is coming worse and worse. So, two days ago there was just talking about finding houses, finding homes, finding apartments for them. But now, you know, I don't know, it's increasing now.
LL: Montreal has a well-established Haitian community.
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Yes.
LL: How much is that community stepping up to help; opening up their homes, offering assistance in any other way?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: They do. They do because some of them have family here. Some of the people who are crossing the border, they know people who are here. So, they get in touch with them and yes. Yes. They are giving a lot of help.
LL: All right.
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: So, the community will cooperate. That's for sure.
LL: Marjorie, what do you expect to happen in the in the coming days?
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Well, probably it will decrease a little bit because now we are facing a peak. But I think it will decrease a little bit. This is my feeling.
LL: All right. Marjorie Villefranche, thank you very much for your time.
MARJORIE VILLEFRANCHE: Thank you very much.
LL: Marjorie Villefranche is the director general of Maison D’Haiti. We spoke to her in Montreal.
LL: All right. We are now going to take a moment to go through some listener feedback. Yesterday, we asked if Venezuela was becoming a dictatorship under President Nicolas Maduro, after a contentious vote in which elected members, which elected members of a new body to rewrite the Constitution and the detention of two opposition members on Tuesday. We spoke to George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University, who cautioned against calling Maduro a dictator.
GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER: There's really no sign of any kind of dictatorial tendencies and we're talking about a process, an electoral process that occurred on Sunday, in which the party the opposition could have participated. And there's no reason to think that the scheduled 2018 presidential elections will not occur. There's no reason to think that, of course, whatever constitutional reform comes out of this constituent assembly, won't be put to a popular vote and approved by the majority or rejected by the majority.
LL: That was yesterday on the program. Many of you disagreed with him. Yvonnes Aroney of Qualicum Beach, B.C., wrote to us: “Maduro is betraying the popular movement represented by Chavez that poorly tried to use the rich resources of Venezuela for the benefit of the poor not just the top 1 percent.” And Jesus Centeno tweeted: “Really? Political prisoners, threats, intimidation, total control of the media, no right to protest, etc.. Am I missing something here?” But Reddy Lampton, from La Peche, Quebec, disagrees. He wrote: “The media seemed set on a blanket, absolutely negative, view of the role of the present government there. While at the same time remaining completely blinkered about the extremely violent and brutal role of the opposition.” And on Facebook, Pat Gallagher wrote: “The CIA and American oil interests are trying to install a much more American friendly regime. Some of these right-wing opposition members are convicted murderers and suspected murderers. Same old, same old American interests over the lives of the poor.” And finally, Earl Pietch wrote to us about what he believes is a double standard, in the reaction to the Venezuelan crisis: “The utter hypocrisy of huge international outcry, over the behavior of the Maduro government, while continuing to deal uncritically with governments like that of Saudi Arabia, stinks to high heaven”. Well, thank you to all of you who wrote in. You can always reach us on Facebook or Twitter @TheCurrentCBC or me @lauralynchcbc or go to our website. The news is next. Then, the moment that changed everything. We'll revisit one of our favorite moments of disruption stories. I'm Laura Lynch and you are listening to the summer edition of The Current.
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ENCORE | What's life worth? Ken Feinberg on victim compensation
Guest: Kenneth Feinberg
LL: Hello I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to The Current.
LL: Still to come, one of your own personal moments of disruption, but first, putting a price on the incalculable.
During the day, I'd see the worst of civilization—death, anger, frustration, tragedy. At night, a concert, the opera—the height of civilization. Wagner, Verdi, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler. The contrast is remarkable. Remarkable.
LL: That is Kenneth Feinberg. He is an American attorney. But not just any attorney as you heard there. He's taken on some notorious cases throughout his career. In fact, any one of the cases he's handled could be career-defining for any other attorney. Think the BP oil spill, the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, 9/11. He's dealt with so many of these cases he's even earned nicknames including the Master of Disaster. And his role in all these cases is an almost unimaginable one. Ken Feinberg and his work are the subject of a documentary called Playing God, which got its Canadian premiere at the Hot Docs Film this spring. In April I reached Ken Feinberg in Washington, DC, to talk about the film, and his work.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Hello.
LL: You've been called as I said before the Pay Czar, the Master of Disaster, God. How do you see yourself?
KENNETH FEINBERG: I'm an average citizen. What I do is not rocket science, I must say.
LL: And I want to get into that. But first for our audience, we should probably get you to explain what your actual job is. What do you do?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Policy makers, a president, a governor, a mayor, the Congress, they come to me and they say: “We have decided we want to provide money, compensation to innocent victims of tragedy—9/11, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Virginia Tech University shootings. We have decided we want to compensate the victims and we're asking you to design and administer the program.”
LL: You in that sense get to decide who gets how much money.
KENNETH FEINBERG: That's correct.
LL: You just named some of these disasters, tragedies. You've been in charge of some of the largest payouts in US history. But take us back because in the documentary you talk about wanting to be an actor growing up. What happened?
KENNETH FEINBERG: My father gave me some very sound college advice. He said: “Ken, there are thousands of would-be actors waiting on tables, in restaurants around the country, who can't get a big break. Why don't you instead go to law school and become a trial lawyer and act out your dreams before juries and judges?”
LL: And do you use those actorly skills in your work day to day?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Oh, I think you have to. Yes. I think that the degree to which I can demonstrate empathy, sensitivity, concern that I can help innocent victims feel that somebody is listening and acting on their pathos, I think is an important—maybe the most important part of what I do.
LL: But if you talk about that as being something that you do as an actor, that suggests that it's not sincere.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Well, it may start out as an act, but I can assure you that after a very short period of time it is about as sincere as it can be.
LL: Let's go through some of these cases that you dealt with. After the attacks of September the 11th, 2001, a compensation fund was created by Congress for the victims. How did you get involved in that?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Senator Kennedy, my old boss.
LL: Ted Kennedy.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Yes. Called John Ashcroft, the attorney general of the United States and he said: “John, there's only one person that I know of that could bring this 9/11 fun to fruition and that would be my former chief of staff, Ken Feinberg. Let President Bush know this is exactly the type of guy that should do this.”
LL: Did you hesitate at all?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Not at all. I think probably millions of Americans at the time wanted to do something in response to this national tragedy and this is what I did by experience and thought I could help. So I volunteered my services.
LL: Yes, you did this pro-bono. You didn't take any pay for this.
KENNETH FEINBERG: You couldn't. This was a patriotic duty I felt. I didn't think it was appropriate.
LL: You met with hundreds and hundreds of these victims. How did that affect you?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Debilitating. Debilitating. You meet people face-to-face in confidence and you invite them—who have suffered such terrible loss—to articulate anything they want to say. I guarantee you that unless you have a heart of stone; you will be impacted by what you hear.
LL: It wasn't just about listening to them. It was your job, to place a monetary value on the lives that were lost in the towers. How difficult was that?
KENNETH FEINBERG: That's not that difficult. Judges and juries every day judges and juries are asked to calculate a dollar value to a life or an injury. What would that person have earned in a work life, but for the tragedy? Economic loss, lost wages, lost income—add to that some amount for pain and suffering, emotional distress. There is your reward. You need an adding machine. That part of the job is not that difficult.
LL: But in this case, the situation was obviously so fraught with emotion and national attention. There were family members whose loved ones were firefighters who died that day but they were compensated with less money than those who worked on Wall Street. Were there problems? Do you see problems with the way the compensation was given out?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Of course, but that was the statute that was enacted by Congress. What I learned about compensating people: people are concerned not so much about what they are going to receive in the way of compensation. That's a very manageable challenge. But everybody counts other people's money. That is emotional. “Mr. Feinberg, you're giving me three million dollars but you’re giving my next door neighbour four million dollars. What do you have against my wife? You never even met my dead wife. You are tarnishing the memory of my dead wife. Why are you doing this?” That's a real problem.
LL: So far better to give out equal amounts even if it means less than some might deserve?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Would be far better. The trouble is that as the federal statute pointed out, if you want people in return for receiving the compensation to sign a release that they will not sue the airlines or the World Trade Center or the security guard companies. Once you tie compensation to the voluntary willingness not to litigate, everybody has to get a different amount of money because everybody has different jobs and different commitments. And what is sufficient compensation for one person might not be sufficient compensation for another.
LL: Now in the documentary we hear from a woman named Anna whom you met after 9/11. Let's listen.
When he touched my hand, he make me comfortable. He make me feel that I was in a safe place, that I was touching by an angel. He would say, “I’m here for you, so don’t be afraid.”
LL: Anna. She calls you something akin to an angel. Can you tell us about her?
KENNETH FEINBERG: I can tell you that there were many, many people who became quite comfortable with the program. Not because of the amount of money but because we met with them voluntarily if they wanted to and empathized and commiserated with their loss.
LL: And Anna was part of a group of undocumented workers who were trying to seek compensation after the 9/11 attacks.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Yes. The undocumented workers even though they were eligible to be compensated by the law and even though they had no realistic fear that they would be deported or punished because they were undocumented, nevertheless they were horrified and frightened that if they participated in this program, it was a trap. And at the beginning, they were extremely reluctant. There were about a dozen of them extremely reluctant to participate in the program, fearing the consequences. Eventually we overcame those challenges.
LL: You talk in the film about how being Jewish—
KENNETH FEINBERG: Yes.
LL: And your faith helps you deal with other people's grief. How so?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Well, I learned in my own religion Judaism, how the community rallies behind and supports the victim, the innocent victim. No victim is isolated. To the contrary, victims of death and tragedy benefit from the community of which they are a part rallying around them. At the funeral service, at the grave, each member of the community is invited to throw dirt onto the grave as evidence of community support for both the victim and the dead. I learned growing up that a sense of community goes a long way in helping an individual who feels so alone and so isolated to know that others in the community, friends and acquaintances are solidly behind them in their grief.
LL: In 2010, the BP oil spill paralyzed the Gulf of Mexico and again you were called in to manage a $20-billion compensation fund. You faced some criticism for not being clear with victims of the spill that you were being paid by BP. And I just want to play you another bit of tape from the documentary. This is George Barisich, a fisherman that you met with.
VOICE 1: When you impress upon a people that you're not getting paid from BP and you are, you should have just said that. We would have understood that because nobody works for nothing.
VOICE 2: I think I told everybody that.
VOICE 1: No, you told you were not getting paid by BP. I guarantee you.
VOICE 2: No. What I said is I'm getting paid by BP but BP doesn't control my decisions in any event.
LL: What do you make of that criticism now?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Oh, very common. I'm not surprised. If you're not working pro-bono, for free as I was in 9/11, but you're getting paid by the company that caused the spill, all the rest of the words that you give about being independent and not being beholden to BP, you're acting independently—that doesn't get you very far with people who are emotionally victimized by the spill. So I wasn't surprised by that criticism. The only way you rebut that criticism—the only way—is not by words but by getting money out as quickly as you can to victims of the spill, which we did. And that helps assuage and alleviate any charge that is some hidden agenda here to deny people compensation.
LL: Did it erase those charges entirely?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Pretty much. In 16 months in the BP oil spill, 16 months, we distributed six and a half billion dollars and to about 250,000 individuals and businesses. Once that money started flowing on a very regular generous basis, that went a very long way to the initial criticism that the program was rigged.
LL: But there were some people who still felt they received very little for their destroyed livelihoods. How do you see it?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Oh, to this day. To this day. The number of people who filed a claim without any proof whatsoever that their damages could be documented.
LL: Well, they said they did deals on a handshake.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Yeah. Well, I mean I can't pay people on a handshake. Well, what evidence do you have that you lost $100,000? Do you have a tax return? No. How do I know that that's how much you lost? Well, take my word for it, Mr. Feinberg. This is the way we do business down here. Well, that may be, but the integrity of the program that I'm administering requires something more than a handshake.
LL: You often have to be in the middle of making some unpopular decisions. You served as the government's special master for executive compensation after the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent government bailout and a lot of people wanted to see the executives of those banks go without any pay. What did you have to do?
KENNETH FEINBERG: The law passed by Congress made it very, very clear that one thing I can't do was to act punitively, to punish. My job under that very unique federal law was to compensate executives in seven companies that received the most taxpayer assistance a fair amount of compensation tied to best business practices for that company, but not to act as judge and jury in punishing it.
LL: If you had your own way with it, would you like to have done a little more? I mean as I recall from the film, they got $500,000 a year.
KENNETH FEINBERG: No. I don't think that if I had my way I would have reduced the pay any further than I did. I think I followed the law exactly as enacted by Congress.
LL: Do you feel that the top CEOs were held to account, for their role in the 2008 crisis?
KENNETH FEINBERG: No, I don’t. Well, there could have been further punishment enacted or requested by Congress. As I understand it from reading the newspapers like everybody else, none of these corporate officials or corporate executives were criminally prosecuted. There was no effort to seek reimbursement back to the taxpayer for the salaries that were paid. I think that Wall Street wasn't sufficiently deterred.
LL: As we have clearly established through our conversation, governments and companies do continually turn to you. I'm wondering what you think that says about the US justice system? The fact is that people should be able to go to court, have a judge, have a jury—an impartial judge and a jury hear their case—have their own advocate fighting for them and then get a ruling. And yet more and more of these cases seem to be coming your way. What does that say about the justice system in America?
KENNETH FEINBERG: I think your assumption is incorrect. I think that the number of times that government comes to me and asks me to do what I do, you can put on two hands. Every day in America—and I might add every day in Canada—thousands of people take advantage of the courts and what I do is a real aberration. What I do is rarely newsworthy.
LL: But the thing is that you state yourself in the film that the idea of the funds that you're administering is that they will not have to wait years and years and years to get a judgment.
KENNETH FEINBERG: That's right.
LL: So you're suggesting that the system itself is going to take too long to help these people out. So they should come to you instead.
KENNETH FEINBERG: No. I'm suggesting that the system takes too long. You're absolutely right. It's very inefficient and it's very costly. I am not saying in the film that I think we ought to use what I do, these private independent compensation funds. I certainly do not suggest that they are the wave of the future to promote justice. The idea that one person should have all of this authority to decide who's eligible and how much money they should get and they can't go to court to challenge what I do, it's not sound public policy and I doubt that what I do will be more than just aberrational every once in a while.
LL: Do you see yourself doing more of this in the future though? Have you got cases on the go right now?
KENNETH FEINBERG: Unfortunately you pick up the newspaper and you see some tragedy and I'm asked to get involved, yes. Right now for example, I'm trying to determine appropriate compensation for childhood victims of clergy abuse in the New York Archdiocese system where priests preyed on innocent kids. A major challenge for me right now.
LL: Major and more very difficult stories to listen to, I'm sure.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Yes. Very.
LL: Kenneth Feinberg, I thank you very much for your time. Thank you.
KENNETH FEINBERG: Thank you.
LL: That was my interview with Kenneth Feinberg. He is an attorney featured in the documentary Playing God which premiered this April at the Hot Docs Film Festival.
[Music: Sting]Back To Top »
ENCORE | How a concussion led Carla Ciccone to value life's fragility
LL: All this past season, as part of The Current Disruptors project, we've been sharing some of your personal moments of disruption. There are the unexpected events that forever changed your life, whether good or ill. Here's a rebroadcast of the story of one woman whose life changed dramatically while she was out at dinner one night.
CARLA CICCONE: My name is Carla Ciccone and I'm a writer. And before I got a concussion in September of 2012, I was a television writer in Toronto working on a show for Country Music Television and just kind of going about my life and enjoying things. And then everything sort of changed for me. I was celebrating a friend's birthday at a very popular Toronto restaurant. We had finished dinner and we were all sort of chatting, waiting for dessert, and it was really really busy and all of a sudden.
[Sound: hard thump]
CARLA CICCONE: Something hit my head and it felt like a brick. It felt like someone threw a brick through the restaurant and that it hit the back of my head. My head kind of went forward and back and there was a guy across the table from me and his eyes just went like super wide because I guess the sound had been so loud and I was in and out of, like, seeing stars actually, like a cartoon character sort of. And by the time I was, like, steady enough to turn around, then I realized that it had been a stack of plates and there was a bus boy standing there and he was apologizing profusely and I could barely see him because my vision was blurry and my head was throbbing but I felt really bad for him because I mean, it was an accident. The very next day I was in so much pain and so disoriented and wobbly and all that stuff and blurred vision and couldn't look at a computer, so couldn't write or do my work. So right away, that takes you out of your normal life. And I was, like, in a totally different state of mind. But it took a while for me to even seek treatment for it because I’d never been hit on the head before, never really experienced anything quite like it. So in the days that followed, I had a terrible headache, couldn't really see straight or walk straight or do anything really. And after seeing a doctor, I was diagnosed with a concussion and my symptoms kind of got worse and worse and developed from concussion symptoms into a clinical depression. So it was quite a difficult time and a number of things in my life changed dramatically. Mostly my brain, [chuckles] my brain being reliable was the number one thing that sort of changed for me.
CARLA CICCONE: What you're supposed to do when you get a concussion is just sort of rest and do nothing. Nothing means you don't read, you don't watch TV, you can't really go outside because the sun hurts your eyes. So it's basically like sitting in a dark room doing nothing and you're not supposed to sleep that much because that could be bad for you too. So I mean, I don't know, but I think for a lot of people that might be a recipe for disaster and for me it definitely was. And I woke up one morning with suicidal thoughts that really, really frightened me and I ended up going to see my doctor and just kind of breaking down and telling her what was going on.
CARLA CICCONE: I'm better now. Mental health is something I actively work on every day. And so, ultimately the whole experience for me turned out to be a bit of a blessing to experience the post-concussion syndrome because it opened me up to learn a lot more about mental health and to keep on top of my own mental health.
[Sound: clicking sound]
CARLA CICCONE: I think looking back at that moment, the experience has really made me aware of how fragile our heads are, our brains are and how fragile our lives are and how important it is to appreciate what you have and to work on and making the best of what you have.
CARLA CICCONE: Concussions affect so many people, like, most people have, you know, more sport related incidents happen to them than, you know, getting hit in the head with a plate at a restaurant. But I think that it's wonderful that we're talking about it more and there seems to be more awareness around how tricky it can be to navigate a concussion because they’re different for everybody, they manifest in different ways. And if you are experiencing one, just be very patient with yourself, don't be hard on yourself, it's, you know, it's frustrating and it can take a really long time to heal fully, but it's worth it. And try to seek the help you need, if you're not getting the right answers from your doctors, get second opinions and third opinions and just don’t give up.
LL: And if you do want to hear more moments of disruption we have them all for you on our website at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. That is our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio 1 for a new episode of Short Cuts from the BBC. And remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC radio app. It is free from the App Store or Google Play. Please let us know about anything you've heard today or on any edition of The Current. You can tweet us a@TheCurrentCBC or me @LauraLynchcbc or go to our website and click on the Contact link. I am Laura Lynch. Thank you for listening to the summer edition of The Current.
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.