By Kathleen Martens
APTN National News
VANCOUVER – A British Columbia court has lifted a freeze on dozens of residential school survivor compensation cases handled by a Calgary law firm.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge ended her suspension of cases handled by lawyers with Blott and Company Thursday.
APTN National News reported on the initial 15-day suspension earlier this week.
A publication ban remains in effect on parts of the evidence court heard yesterday in Vancouver.
Justice Brenda Brown’s ruling means work can resume on about 50 compensation cases for sexual and serious physical abuse suffered at Indian Residential Schools.
Survivors had been in the dark as to why their cases were on hold because the law firm was ordered not to communicate with them.
A lawyer for the firm said Blott lawyers were frustrated they had to ignore their clients.
The suspension was imposed on Oct. 31 at the request of a monitor keeping an eye on the Independent Assessment Process or IAP. The monitor, Crawford Class-Action Services Inc., told court it was acting on complaints from four survivors about the way their cases were handled by Blott and Company.
The monitor yesterday asked the court for power to do an investigation into Blott firm-handled cases. At the end of a day-long hearing, Justice Brown ruled that an investigation should be started.
The IAP is part of the Indian Residential Schools Class Action Settlement Agreement. IAP cases deal with compensation for serious physical and sexual abuse that occurred in the residential schools. Lawyers work with IAP clients to obtain compensation for their pain and suffering by helping them disclose oftentimes painful experiences to a legal adjudicator. For some it is the first time talking about the abuse they suffered.
The average compensation payment is $105,000 and the maximum is $440,000, said Chief Adjudicator Daniel Ish. Lawyers are paid up to 15 per cent of the final settlement by Ottawa and can arrange to be paid a further 15 per cent by the client.
Blott and his associates can now continue what court was told is their sole source of income – IAP cases. But, the judge put Ish, the man who oversees the 110 IAP adjudicators who preside over all compensation hearings, in charge of keeping an eye on cases involving Blott and Company. Ish will report to the monitor, who, in turn, will report to the judge on a monthly basis.
The judge did not put a deadline on the investigation.
Blott’s lawyer, Roy Millen, argued his client and 10 lawyers working for him would go out of business if the freeze was not lifted. Ish told court Blott and Company handle one-fifth of the estimated 24,000 IAP cases that have been launched since the IAP process began in September 2007.
Lawyers involved in the case were to hammer out further details of the investigation this weekend so the court can put the details on paper next week. If they can’t agree they will appear before her again next week.
The Blott firm is not the only one to come under the microscope during the IAP.
Ish warned lawyers in the process last summer to clean up their acts when it came to dealing with survivors or they may not get paid all they were expecting.
He issued a notice to the approximately 200 lawyers who represent IAP clients saying he was aware of potentially unethical and unlawful practices. In the memo, a copy of which was obtained by APTN News, Ish said lawyers had appeared before adjudicators with the wrong clients, submitted inaccurate application forms and wrongly certified application forms.