Heavy secrecy surrounds hearing into possible lawyer misconduct

Another serious breach within the residential schools settlement process could be resolved sooner rather than later.

By Kathleen Martens
APTN National News
VANCOUVER —Another serious breach within the residential schools settlement process could be resolved sooner rather than later.

That’s because the judge hearing the case Wednesday told the parties to try and work things out on their own.

Justice Brenda Brown of the Vancouver Supreme Court took this unusual step at the beginning of a three-day hearing into allegations of extortion involving a convicted killer and the Vancouver lawyer who allegedly hired him.

This is an “excellent opportunity for the parties to discuss what can be done,” Brown told Lou Zivot, the lawyer for the court monitor that oversees the compensation process. “I think this is the time to try.”

Court was adjourned till the afternoon when the parties were asked to report back on their progress.

The last time a violation emerged involving a lawyer and the compensation process was November 2011. Brown ordered an extensive investigation that took many months and wound up costing an estimated $3.5 million.

Brown cited the timing and cost of another investigation in sending Zivot and Mark Andrews, who represents the lawyer involved this time, to try and reach a resolution.

The murderer has been identified as Ivan Johnny, 62. But the lawyer’s name and evidence connected to the case are protected by a court order.

“We’ve made some progress,” Zivot told Brown when court reconvened in the afternoon. He then asked for more time to meet with Andrews.

Brown said, “Alright. Sounds good to me. As long as you’re making progress.”

APTN Investigates obtained parole documents, which are not covered by the publication ban, to learn more about the case.

The documents reveal Johnny’s full parole was revoked Jan. 23 after two members of a parole board heard the new allegations against him: that Johnny worked for a lawyer distributing and collecting compensation application forms from former residential school students, that he persuaded some students to drop their existing lawyers in favour of the one he worked for, that he coached them to exaggerate claims to obtain more financial compensation, and that he threatened and intimidated them for “substantial sums of money” when their compensation arrived.

Johnny denies the accusations and has not been charged with a crime in connection with the case. He did confirm, however, that the lawyer bought him a truck to do his work. Parole documents also say Johnny was involved with 275 claims.

The compensation is paid through a program called the Independent Assessment Process. It is money for former students who suffered serious physical and sexual abuse in the notorious schools they were forced to attend when they were children.

Johnny’s alleged victims are described as “vulnerable” and, in some cases, “cognitively deficient” in the parole documents.

The IAP was established as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It ran for five years, expiring in September 2012. Due to the complicated and historic nature of the claims, many of them take up to nine months, and are still working their way through the process.

The lawyer involved spoke to APTN outside court today but declined to say anything on the record at this time.

Other parties at the hearing also declined to comment publicly citing the strict publication ban and the sensitive nature of potential resolution discussions; they are all parties to the original settlement agreement, and include the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat.

The Secretariat has posted a warning about Johnny on its website. It says Johnny has now been kicked out of the IAP (by Justice Brown on Jan. 18) and that anyone who dealt with Johnny doesn’t have to pay him or anyone trying to collect on his behalf.

Johnny was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder from May 1985, after shooting a man he fought with in a Kamloops bar.

Meanwhile, one notable absence before the judge yesterday was the Assembly of First Nations. It is a key party to the settlement agreement, having filed the original class-action lawsuit on behalf of survivors.

Any steps taken to deal with breaches must be approved by all the parties to the agreement.

[email protected]