By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – About 4,000 members of Manitoba First Nations displaced by flooding six years ago are to share most of a $90-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit they filed against the provincial and federal governments.
Lawyer Sabrina Lombardi says payments could flow to the Lake St. Martin, Dauphin River, Little Saskatchewan and Pinaymootang First Nations as early as next spring if the deal is approved by a judge later this year.
“This settlement is designed to compensate the individuals for the disruption that they went through because of the flooding and give them a fresh start,” Lombardi of the Ontario law firm McKenzie Lake said Friday.
“This is compensating the individuals themselves who were displaced and disrupted — some for many, many years. Some are still displaced today.”
Members of the class-action would share between 80 to 90 per cent of the award, she said. The rest would go to legal fees and administration costs.
Clifford Anderson of the Pinaymootang First Nation and a member of the class-action steering committee said the settlement is in the best interests of residents.
“It has been six years since the flood happened and it’s time for our members, our elders and our young people to move home and move on.”
The lawsuit alleged the Manitoba government “knowingly and recklessly” caused the disaster in the indigenous communities by diverting too much floodwater into Lake Manitoba.
It also alleged the province didn’t give them enough warning about the flooding.
Lombardi said the settlement was reached after difficult and protracted negotiations.
The class action was filed in 2012 but the motion to approve the lawsuit wasn’t heard by the courts until 2014.
“Unfortunately at the end of 2014 the judge who heard it denied certification. It took some time to go through two levels of appeal to get that decision overturned,” she said.
The lawsuit didn’t receive certification from the Manitoba Court of Appeal until January.
Manitoba had record spring flooding in 2011 and the province struggled well into the summer to contain the Assiniboine River.
Officials operated the Portage Diversion — a channel that funnels water from the river into Lake Manitoba — over its design capacity.
Provincial flood forecasters argued the flood was one of the worst on record and they did nothing that artificially raised water levels.
Just over 1,000 residents from Lake St. Martin First Nation are still out of their homes waiting for the reserve to be relocated and rebuilt.
Lombardi said the class-action settlement is separate from a number of other lawsuits underway between First Nations and governments over the cost of repairing reserve infrastructure damaged by the floods.
— By John Cotter and Chinta Puxley in Edmonton