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Politics Hundreds of hepatitis C victims are still waiting for compensation 11 years after settlement was reached with the federal government

Ivan MacDonald of L’Ardoise, NS, stands outside the gate of his shuttered fish farming operation that he says he was forced to abandon due to his Hepatitis C diagnosis and treatments.

Steve Wadden/The Globe and Mail

Lawyers for hundreds of people who lost income after being infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood, and for many dependents of those who died, have been urging the federal government for two years to contribute the funds needed to fully compensate their clients under a 2007 class-action settlement.

But the efforts have proved fruitless.

So, a court date will be set to determine how to divide roughly $15-million – about a quarter of what is owed – remaining in one of two compensation funds created under the agreement that was struck between the former Conservative government and Canadians who contracted the disease through blood transfusions they received before 1986 or after 1990.

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“We have made no progress with [the federal government] on correcting the problem which, in our view, they created,” said David Klein, one of the class-action lawyers. “Requests from us through the Department of Justice lawyers have gone nowhere. Request by class members, tainted-blood victims, directly to the Department of Health have gone nowhere. We’re very close to the end of the line on this with no result. It looks like this government just doesn’t care.”

After a separate deal was struck for those infected between 1986 and 1990, the government agreed to set aside $1-billion to compensate those who were infected with the chronic and sometimes fatal liver disease through blood transfusions before and after that period.

The basic compensation claims have since been paid. But an estimated 700 people did not receive money they were awarded from a separate Past Economic Loss and Dependents Fund created under the settlement for those who lost earnings as a result of the disease or who were economically dependent on someone who died. And the PELD fund ran dry years ago.

The settlement says that after the $1-billion is gone, the government is not liable for any additional funds. But the lawyers argue it is wrong for sick people, and those who have lost loved ones, to be denied the money they are owed.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the federal Health Minister, did not answer questions this week about her government’s position. It would take between $45-million and $55-million to pay all of the plaintiffs the amounts they were awarded.

Two years ago, Justice Paul Perell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the $15-million remaining unused in the main compensation fund could be transferred to the PELD fund. Judge Perell said in his ruling that the personal and family stories he heard from those who had not been compensated “were heart-wrenching” and, if the transfer did not occur, “those who were eligible for PELD payments would receive nothing for their claims.”

Once the money was transferred, Judge Perell said, another hearing would be held with judges from the four provinces where claims were launched – British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec – to determine how it would be dispersed among claimants.

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But, two years later, that hearing has not been scheduled. And people such as Ivan MacDonald, who lives near Port Hawkesbury, N.S., are still waiting for their money. Mr. MacDonald was told in 2010 he would get $103,000 from the PELD fund.

He said he expected that he would quickly receive his share of the remaining $15-million after Judge Perell made his 2016 ruling. And, he said, he is frustrated that he has not been able to get a satisfactory explanation from the class-action lawyers for why it is taking so long to arrange a hearing to determine how that money will be divided.

“If you read the settlement, it says, ‘Once the administrator accepts your claim, you will be paid.’ It doesn’t say, 'You might be paid,’” Mr. MacDonald said this week in a telephone interview.

Peter Roy, another of the lawyers for the class action, said not all of the delay have been due to the lawyers' unsuccessful campaign to obtain more money from the government. It took until October, he said, for all of the claims and appeals related to the general compensation fund to be settled, and only then was it known how much remained to be transferred to the PELD fund.

“I would very much like to see this dealt with expeditiously,” said Mr. Roy, adding that he does not understand the government’s refusal to put money into the empty fund.

“Nobody knew [in 2007] that there were going to be so many claimants in the pre-’86/post-’90 class who would be this sick,” said Mr. Roy. “We didn’t have a crystal ball and everybody did their best and this is what we came up with. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, if they settled it then, why not top it up now?”

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