UPDATED AT 1:19 AM EST
Monday, Nov 22, 2004
set to aid
Ottawa will begin compensation discussions
with the so-called "forgotten victims" of the hepatitis C
tainted-blood scandal, six years after their controversial omission from an
earlier $1.1-billion package.
Government sources said yesterday the
federal cabinet has decided to begin talks with victims groups and with other
officials, with an eye toward compensation. Health Minister
is expected to make the announcement today.
The talks could see the victims get access
to part of what's left in a $1.1-billion fund that had originally been
established only for individuals who caught the disease between 1986 and 1990,
the years for which Ottawa has admitted liability.
Canadians who contracted the disease before
Jan. 1, 1986, and after July 1, 1990, were later promised $300-million, money
which Ottawa distributed to the provinces for use only to cover the cost of
additional medical care, not to provide cash compensation.
Their exclusion from the main fund caused an
emotional debate within Liberal government ranks when the party's caucus,
deeply divided on the issue, was ordered in April of 1998 to vote against an
opposition motion that would have extended compensation to all hepatitis C
victims. In the end, after then prime minister Jean Chrtien declared the vote
a question of confidence in the government, not one Liberal, even those who had
long advocated wider compensation, stood in support of the motion. Many stared
at the ground grim-faced while opposition MPs yelled "shame" across
the floor of the Commons.
There have been 9,424 claimants for the
1986-90 compensation money, but fewer than half of those were actually infected
by tainted blood. (The rest are family members.) It is estimated that there
would be about 5,300 claimants from before and after that period. This number
is based on the number of people who have registered for legal settlements and
various provincial compensation plans. It could double if family members are
But the total would still fall short of
initial estimates of 22,000 claimants in the 1986-90 group alone. Ottawa has
admitted it overestimated the number of sufferers who qualified for the money.
The fund has about $865-million left in it.
With most of the money still locked up in
the fund, victims groups say hundreds of people have died in the meantime
without getting extra help or comfort for their illness.
Discussions to reopen the issue will start
as soon as possible but are expected to take several months.
"The government believes revisiting
the 1998 compensation decision is the right and responsible thing to do,"
a source said.
Sources said government officials must speak
with the lawyers representing those victims left out of the compensation plan,
as well as with lawyers who oversee the fund. Discussions must also begin with
Canada's provinces, who contributed money, before cash can be disbursed. Ottawa's
share of the fund is about $875-million.
comes after a parliamentary committee unanimously called on Ottawa to use the
fund to compensate all victims who contracted the disease.
Earlier this fall, he said his department
was considering releasing cash from the account.
The matter has raised controversy,
particularly in Ontario, where the provincial Liberals have been accused
recently of misspending their portion of the $300-million medical fund. The
issue has also divided the federal Liberal caucus, some of whose members have
asked their cabinet colleagues to reopen the fund.
Individuals suffering from the disease
include hemophiliacs who contracted the condition from blood donated in U.S.
Mike McCarthy, former president of the Canadian
Hemophilia Society, has criticized the federal government, saying the unused
money in the fund sat earning interest while people who became ill because of
mistakes made by the blood system are dying.
With a report from Andr Picard .