Manitoba

$90M in flood compensation delayed after majority of claims 'deficient'

Payouts to members of four Manitoba First Nations affected by the 2011 flood were supposed to begin to flow last month but the lawyers for the group are heading back to court later this month to ask for more time after thousands of claims received were deficient.

Lawyers representing First Nations affected by 2011 flood to ask court for more time before payouts can flow

Members of four Manitoba First Nations impacted by flood waters in 2011 were awarded a $90-million settlement last year. Payments began trickling in this month. (CBC)

Payouts to members of four Manitoba First Nations affected by flooding in 2011 were supposed to begin to flow last month but lawyers for the group are heading back to court to ask for more time after thousands of claims received were missing pieces. 

"Because such a high percentage of these claims were deficient, we thought it would be a travesty of justice if they just applied the settlement [money] as it was and only 20 percent of eligible people got paid," said Sabrina Lombardi, at McKenzie Lake Lawyers in Toronto, one of the firms representing the class action plaintiffs.

Last year a $90 million settlement was awarded in a class-action lawsuit against the provincial and federal governments by members of four Manitoba First Nations impacted by flooding in their communities in the spring of 2011.

An estimated 7,000 people from Lake St. Martin, Pinaymootang, Little Saskatchewan, and Dauphin River First Nations could be eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in compensation

About 4,000 people from those communities were forced out of their homes when the Manitoba government diverted water from the Assiniboine River to reduce the risk of flooding in Winnipeg.

Many evacuees were out of their homes for several years and many from Lake St. Martin were never able to return to their homes.

'A pretty simple process'

Lombardi said in order to be eligible to make a claim, people had to provide proof of membership of one of the four First Nations, as well as proof they resided in Manitoba at the time.

"They had to contact someone to get a historical document from back in the spring of 2011 showing their address," said Lombardi. 

Sabrina Lombardi said lawyers for the First Nations' members will ask a Court of Queen's Bench judge to allow claimants more time after thousands of claims did not have sufficient documentation. (Submitted by Sabrina Lombardi)

Claimants had until July 17, 2018 to complete their applications, but Lombardi said of about 5,000 claims received, 70 percent were deficient.

Lombardi said she couldn't speculate as to why so many claims didn't meet the eligibility criteria and said four workshops were held in the province to help people understand what was needed.

"It was a pretty simple process, in fact some individuals hired lawyers, and other people like lawyers, to help them file claims and it seems even those claims didn't come in with the right documentation, so I'm not sure what happened," she said.

'I hope it happens soon'

Clifford Anderson was forced from Pinaymootang First Nation during the flood and is one of the original class action plaintiffs.

He said a point system is being used to determine how much should go to those who were physically forced from the community compared to those who were members of the First Nation, but didn't live there and weren't displaced in 2011. 

Clifford Anderson, 59, and his brother were the original plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the federal and Manitoba governments. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"If you never lived there at the time of the flood and somebody … and suffered through the evacuation and the after effects of the flood, I don't think anybody should be getting anything if they never lived on the reserve," said Anderson.

"I hope the ones that truly deserve compensation get it and I hope it happens soon."

Anderson said one of the reasons the plaintiffs accepted the $90-million offer was to expedite the process so that older community members who were evacuated could be compensated in their lifetimes.

"I knew people that passed on that actually lived on the reserve that will never see anything."

More time needed: lawyer

Lawyers representing the group will head back to court Jan. 22 to ask a Court of Queen's Bench judge to allow for an amendment to the settlement so that claimants can have more time to provide the needed documentation.

"So hopefully a bigger percentage of eligible claimants out there will be able to share in the settlement money," said Lombardi.

Lombardi said the claims administrator may also look for alternative ways to verify the claims and the hope is to start distributing payments by spring.

Lombardi said compensation amounts for each person will be determined based on whether members were living on or off reserve at the time, and how long they were evacuated for.

There's also money set aside for special circumstances, such as people who suffered health problems or loss of work due to the flooding.

About the Author

Holly Caruk

Video Journalist

Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: holly.caruk@cbc.ca

With files from Bryce Hoye

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