Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Last week Darian Baskatawang, class counsel for the First Nation drinking water class action and an associate with the legal firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend, was in Cat Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario assisting with claim forms.
A joint order issued earlier this month by the Federal Court and the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench has extended the deadline for compensation claims to March 7, 2024.
Both the federal government and the First Nations that brought the two legal actions had requested a further extension.
“We’ve heard from communities and individuals that they would like more time to submit their claim forms. The additional year also allows impacted First Nations and individuals to submit a claim, access information and supports from the claims administrator, class counsel, or even with local on-the-ground supports,” said Baskatawang, whose law firm was one of two involved in negotiating the settlement.
In December 2021, an $8 billion settlement of two national class-action lawsuits was approved by the Federal Court and Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench. That settlement covered First Nations and their residents who were subject to a water advisory for at least one year between Nov. 20, 1995 and June 20, 2021.
First Nations that met the criteria initially had until Dec. 2, 2022 to opt into the settlement in order to receive a no-strings attached amount of $500,000. The band will also get an amount equal to 50 per cent of whatever compensation their residents are awarded.
Late last year, that initial deadline for impacted First Nations was extended to March 7, 2023 to give them more time to submit their band council resolutions accepting the terms of the settlement agreement.
Baskatawang points out that the initial extension was only for First Nations and not for impacted individuals. Now, both First Nations and individuals have until March 7, 2024 to submit their claims.
The deadlines have been aligned, he says, to avoid any confusion.
As of Jan. 23, 2023, all impacted First Nations from Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island had submitted band council resolutions (BCR). The three Atlantic provinces had 11 impacted First Nations.
However, a number of impacted First Nations in the rest of Canada were still working on their BCRs. Ontario, at 72 per cent, and Quebec, at 75 per cent, represented the lowest BCR completion rates. Ontario has 69 impacted First Nations, while Quebec has only four.
The most impacted First Nations are in British Columbia with 94; 86 per cent of those have passed BCRs.
The extension also ensures that bands that are doing band council confirmation lists of their members have additional time to send them in, said Baskatawang.
“We’ve heard loud and clear the concerns of community members who said there needed to be more time to submit claims,” he said.
Claims for individual damages submitted before March 7, 2023 will be assessed by the administrator and eligible payments will be processed. Claims submitted between March 8, 2023 and March 7, 2024 will be assessed with eligible payments processed after March 7, 2024.
The amount for claims for individual damages will be dependent on how many individuals make a claim and then the amounts will be prorated for any partial years after the first full year.
All claims for specified injuries compensation will be processed after March 7, 2024. The specified injuries compensation fund totals $50 million. Individuals making the claim must show they suffered the injury and it was caused by using the water during the drinking water advisory or by restricted access to safe water caused by the advisory. Claims can only be made on drinking water advisories issued after November 2013.
The settlement included an infrastructure commitment of at least $6 billion to support reliable access to safe drinking water on reserves.
The settlement agreement also included the creation of a $400-million First Nation Economic and Cultural Restoration Fund and the creation of a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water. It is from this fund compensation for impacted First Nations and impacted individuals is to be paid.
The settlement does not impact the rights of those who suffered boil water advisories outside the specified time-length and time frame from pursuing their own legal recourse.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.