APTN National News
New cases involving alleged wrongdoing by lawyers and law firms handling Indian residential school claims continue to surface, according to an official involved with monitoring the file.
Louis Zivot, counsel to the court monitor of the Indian residential school settlement agreement, said Tuesday the monitor had received “further complaints” for investigation. He said some of the complaints involved loans offered by a lawyer or law firm while others were “general complaints” from claimants upset about the handling of their files by lawyers or compensation payouts.
Zivot said two complaints against lawyers over loans have been referred to law societies for investigation. He would not reveal any additional details on those cases.
“We are examining those complaints and have, where appropriate, referred certain matters to the applicable law societies,” said Zivot, in an emailed statement Tuesday.
Zivot said he could not reveal the exact number of new complaints or identify the lawyers and law firms involved. He said none are currently facing any court action as a result of the complaints.
“We are not in a position to reveal to you who the lawyers and law firms are as we are looking into the validity of the complaints,” he said.
At least seven complaints were referred to the court-appointed Independent Special Adviser for investigation as of September 9, 2014, according to minutes from an Independent Assessment Process (IAP) oversight committee meeting, which included representatives from the federal government, residential school survivors and the churches. The adviser has since passed on an unspecified number of claims to the court monitor.
According to the meeting minutes, at least two cases involved a law firm that allegedly arranged loans for claimants with “criminal interest rates” ranging from 60 per cent to 100 per cent. Another case involved a lawyer who allegedly threatened to sue for a claimant’s settlement money to recover a debt owed by the claimant’s son.
The IAP’s chief adjudicator said in his report to the committee that there were between eight to 10 complaints that had yet to enter the queue for investigation.
Zivot said the court monitor has also received new information on Doug Keshen, a lawyer from Kenora, Ont., who is already under investigation. The court monitor was also examining new details about form-filling firms in Manitoba which charged fees for filling application forms on behalf of residential school survivors. The court put a stop to the practice.
“We are interested in complaints that go to the integrity of the IAP,” said Zivot.
The IAP was set up as part of the multi-billion dollar Indian Residential School settlement agreement. The IAP holds hearings to determine the amount of compensation owed to residential school survivors based on their experiences and time attending the schools.
The process, however, is facing growing complaints that some lawyers are taking advantage of residential school survivors, many who are elderly and suffering health problems.
One Calgary lawyer, David Blott, was kicked out of the IAP process and disbarred for scamming survivors through high interest loans that essentially drained payouts. Keshen and Vancouver lawyer Stephen Bronstein are currently under investigation for their handling of claims and loans offered to residential school claimants. Both those lawyers are under investigation by Crawford Class Action Services, which also probed Blott’s activities.
The oversight committee is also contemplating posting performance reports on all law firms currently handling residential school claims. The recommendation came from a federal government representative on the committee “so that claimants could make informed decisions,” according to minutes from a Dec. 9, 2014, meeting of the oversight committee.
A spokesperson for the Secretariat said no decision had yet been reached on the issue.
During the committee meeting, the Indian Residential School Adjudication Secretariat presented an analysis showing that 16 firms were “in danger” of failing to have all their cases heard by spring 2016. Two of those firms would need an additional year to finish their case load of claims, according to the minutes.
“The Secretariat has been actively engaging law firms with large caseloads of IAP files,” said Michael Tansey, spokesperson for the Secretariat. “We are monitoring law firm capacity on an ongoing basis and following-up with law firms with large caseloads remaining to ensure that all first hearings in the IAP will be completed by spring 2016.”