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Hepatitis C victims' $1-billion deal completed

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Canada's tainted-blood tragedy has taken a major step toward closure with completion of a $1-billion federal compensation deal for the so-called forgotten victims.

An agreement, which must still be approved by courts in several provinces, will provide one-time payments for about 5,000 people who were infected with the hepatitis C virus before 1986 or after 1990.

"We are working as quickly as possible to provide compensation," Health Minister Tony Clement said in a news release yesterday.

The victims are called forgotten because they were excluded from a previous $1.1-billion federal-provincial compensation package announced in 1989.

Mike McCarthy, lead plaintiff in an Ontario class-action lawsuit on behalf of the group, praised Mr. Clement and the Conservative government for what he termed a fair and equitable deal.

Former health minister Allan Rock insisted there was nothing the government could have done to protect the blood supply from hepatitis C before 1986, and therefore the government was not liable.

That position became hard to defend when evidence surfaced that tests capable of detecting hepatitis C with reasonable accuracy were available long before 1986.

In 1998 all opposition parties voted to extend compensation to the excluded victims but former prime minister Jean Chrétien declared it a confidence matter and defeated the motion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in July his government would provide compensation to the pre-1986 and post-1990 victims, and lawyers have since been working out details.

Peter Roy, a lawyer involved in the negotiations, said victims or their survivors will receive one-time payments based on factors including age at the time of infection, lost earnings and illness severity.

"It's the most complex settlement I've worked on in 31 years of practice," Mr. Roy said.

Mr. McCarthy said the provinces have not contributed to the new settlement, and litigation against them will continue.