$90M in flood compensation delayed after majority of claims 'deficient'
Lawyers representing First Nations affected by 2011 flood to ask court for more time before payouts can flow
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"They had to contact someone to get a historical document from back in the spring of 2011 showing their address," said Lombardi.
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.
"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.
With files from Bryce Hoye