First Nation evacuees begin to receive compensation 8 years after flood disaster
But $90M settlement can't make up for loss of community ties, lawyer says
Thousands of former flood evacuees are beginning to see compensation from the provincial and federal government eight years after being displaced from four Manitoba First Nations.
About 4,000 people were forced to leave Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River and Pinaymootang First Nations during the flood of 2011. They and another 3,000 community members living off-reserve were eligible for compensation after winning a $90-million class-action lawsuit against the federal government two years ago.
On Wednesday, a lawyer representing some evacuees, Sabrina Lombardi, confirmed cheques were mailed beginning late last week.
"It was a difficult lawsuit to pursue — it wasn't a slam dunk by any means — and so I think this settlement is very significant," Lombardi said. "We're very proud."
They've been living and displaced from their communities and each other for so long that I don't think there's any amount of money out there that can make up for that."- Sabrina Lombardi, lawyer for evacuees
Plaintiffs alleged evacuations and damage to the communities was a result of the Manitoba government deliberately diverting water in the Assiniboine River toward the First Nations to lower the risk of flooding in Winnipeg.
The money arrives after delays following the 2017 ruling. In February this year, lawyers requested the courts extend the application period because most claims submitted were missing required information.
About 7,000 people were eligible, and Lombardi estimates roughly 4,900 (70 per cent) successfully applied.
Evacuees receiving compensation right now fall into three categories:
- Those disrupted for more than three years.
- Those disrupted less than three years.
- Those living outside of the communities at the time of the flood but were nonetheless disrupted from accessing the community after the fact.
Another round of "special circumstances" applicants — about 7.5 per cent of claimants who incurred extraordinary health care expenses or job loss — will have to wait a little longer while that process is completed, Lombardi says.
Lombardi declined to state the amount each evacuee stands to receive.
Hundreds of evacuees were never able to return, and those who did waited several years in some cases. Reconstruction continues in the communities.
Lombardi says the settlement money is solely meant to compensate people based on the personal impact the flood had, not on rebuilding damaged community infrastructure.
Almost 100 people died from Lake St. Martin over the past six years due to illnesses community members associate with the stress and lifestyle changes that happened after being forced from the First Nation.
Recipients are feeling mixed emotions now that the money is flowing in, Lombardi says.
"Everyone is happy this is finally starting to come to a close but it's mixed feelings," she said. "I don't think a lawsuit solves all problems.
"They've been living and displaced from their communities and each other for so long that I don't think there's any amount of money out there that can make up for that."