Walkerton is the Ontario Canada town where thousands were made sick and
seven people died of Ecoli 0157 and Campylobacter jejuni from
contaminated drinking water.
Ontario minister acknowledges Walkerton compensation plan not working
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
(CP) - The plan that provides compensation for the Walkerton water
tragedy does not appear to be working properly for victims of the
disaster, Ontario's environment minister acknowledged Tuesday.
Speaking after a visit to the midwestern Ontario community stricken by
E. coli from contaminated drinking water that killed seven people in May
2000, Leona Dombrowsky said the government has a lot of work to do to
address the issue. "The priority for our government is to ensure that
the people who have been affected by the tragedy have their outstanding
issues addressed," Dombrowsky said in an interview.
"I've heard many stories about situations where they do not feel that
the system that is in place is in fact addressing their serious concerns
Many residents say the compensation plan - which ended a class-action
lawsuit against the provincial government and others - is not responsive
to their needs.
Some argue they have been unable to access interim funding even in cases
where they have incurred significant costs getting medical treatment.
Others complain the adjusters overseeing the payouts are demanding
mountains of paperwork that may not always be available, while others
worry about what will happen if they settle now but end up with
long-term health problems.
Some also say they are having trouble finding a lawyer to pursue their
claims because the fees are too low.
Bruce Davidson, vice-chairman of the grassroots group Concerned
Walkerton Citizens, said he was "cautiously optimistic" after a
90-minute meeting with the minister and some of those affected.
Davidson said it's imperative to "change the tone from an adversarial
one to a compassionate one" when it comes to compensation.
That's particularly important for many of the 2,500 people who fell ill
from the contaminated water but toughed it out at home because the
town's hospital was swamped.
Dombrowsky, who said she took "copious notes," plans to pass on the
information to Premier Dalton McGuinty for a decision on what action to
take about the concerns, which she called "legitimate."
The visit fulfils an election commitment made by McGuinty in September.
During the campaign, McGuinty made an emotional stop in Walkerton, where
residents told him how their lives had been irrevocably altered, and of
their frustrations with the compensation plan.
"These people have not been treated fairly," McGuinty said at the time.
"It's one thing for them to have been struck by this tragedy, but it's
quite another for us to have left them hanging out there."
Dombrowsky, who also met councillors over lunch and dropped in at a
local elementary school and a long-term-care facility, said she found
her visit touching.
"It's a day I'll always remember," she said.
"It certainly does put other life issues in perspective."
© Copyright 2004 The Canadian Press