Tainted-blood victims press Ottawa to shift compensation funds
Canadians living with hepatitis C they contracted through tainted blood transfusions received before 1986 and after 1990, and survivors of those who have died, are asking the federal government to transfer money into a fund that ran dry before hundreds of victims were properly compensated.
A lawyer for what is known as the Pre-86/Post-90 class action has written to federal lawyers asking them to obtain the government’s permission to request that $40-million of excess cash sitting in a fund created for other victims be directed to the empty fund so that those who were denied their full settlement can get the money they are owed.
“It’s always looked to us like a no-brainer,” David Klein said.
“The solution is right in front of everyone’s faces. It’s just a matter of making the decision.”
Two funds for the pre-1986 and post-1990 victims were created as part of a settlement reached with the Conservative government in 2007.
One paid general compensation to those who were infected. The other, called the Past Economic Loss and Dependents (PELD) fund, was intended to pay extra amounts for lost income and also to compensate families of those who died.
The general compensation fund still contains between $10-million and $15-million. But the PELD fund ran dry six years ago and several hundred people – most of them widows and orphans – will receive just a small fraction of what they are owed. Best estimates suggest it would take between $60-million and $70-million to cover off the deficit.
Meanwhile, a fund that was created to cover an original settlement with those infected with hepatitis C between 1986, when the United States began testing donated blood, and 1990, when Canada began screening, had an unallocated surplus of $200-million after all of those victims were compensated.
In 2016, when justices from Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec were deciding what to do with that excess, the government lawyers asked that it be given back to Ottawa.
Mr. Klein countered in court that that it should be returned to the government on the understanding that required amount would then be used to top up the empty fund. But the government lawyers were unwilling to make such a commitment.
In the end, the judges directed that about $160-million of the surplus be divided among about 11,000 people who were infected between 1986 and 1990, many of whom who had already been fully compensated. That left about $40million unallocated.
Another hearing will take place on Wednesday of next week to deal with issues related to that surplus. Mr. Klein says in his letter that it will be an ideal time for Canada to apply to transfer the money to the empty fund.
“The judges made it clear [in 2016] that using that money to top up the shortfall in the Pre-86/ Post-90 fund would be viewed by them as better” than going straight back into the federal coffers, said Mr. Klein. “And the government’s lawyers said they did not have those instructions. So we are asking them to now get those instructions.”
The Globe and Mail asked the office of Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor whether she would be willing to put the excess from the 1986 to 1990 fund into the PELD fund but the response received several days later from Health Canada did not address the question.
Mike McCarthy, a hemophiliac from Ontario who contracted hepatitis C in 1984 from tainted blood that was collected in a prison in Arkansas, is the lead plaintiff in the Pre-86/Post-90 class action. Mr. McCarthy has received all the money he was owed but continues to speak for those who have not.
When the government determined a decade ago how much would be put into the fund for those infected before 1986 and after 1990, it underestimated the number of people who were affected, he said. But now things should be put right, Mr. McCarthy said.
“It’s a matter of fairness,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter when you got infected through the blood system. People should be treated fairly because they were harmed in such an egregious way.”