Ontario lawyers facing law society complaint over handling of St. Anne’s residential school case: court document

A survivor from the notorious St. Anne’s Indian residential schools asked the Law Society of Upper Canada to investigate the handling of his residential school case by lawyers from a firm based in northern Ontario


Boys stand outside of St. Anne's Residential School in 1945. Photo: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

A survivor from the notorious St. Anne’s Indian Residential School has asked the Law Society of Upper Canada to investigate the handling of his residential school case by lawyers from a firm based in northern Ontario, APTN National News has learned.

The survivor, known in court documents only as H-15019, filed the complaint sometime before May 20 against lawyers from Wallbridge, Wallbridge, a law firm with offices in Timmins, Ont., North Bay, Ont., Sudbury, Ont. and Liskeard, Ont. The firm is also looking to expand in Ottawa, according to its website.

The law society complaint against the lawyers was noted in court documents filed this August as part of a $15 million defamation lawsuit launched by James Wallbridge, Almeda Wallbridge and Wallbridge, Wallbridge against Fay Brunning, the Ottawa lawyer currently representing H-15019. The Wallbridge firm’s lawyers allege they were defamed by Brunning when she claimed they sat on pivotal police files that supported H-15019’s residential school compensation claim.

H-15019 is in the midst of a re-hearing of his case before the residential school settlement agreement created adjudication process known as the Independent Assessment Process (IAP). An IAP adjudicator initially rejected his claim. The IAP determines the level of compensation and whether it is deserved for claims of abuse suffered at the schools which existed for over a century.

H-15019 asked the law society to investigate why the Wallbridge lawyers, who were his representative during the original IAP hearings, “failed to file documentation necessary to support his IAP claim,” said an affidavit sworn by Brunning on Aug. 22.

The survivor also wanted the investigation to explore “whether there was some agreement in which Wallbridge lawyers agreed with Canada not to compel production of the documents in the IAP,” said the affidavit.

The affidavit does not indicate the exact date of the law society complaint, only that it was submitted before the Wallbridge lawyers filed their defamation lawsuit on May 20.

A hearing on the defamation lawsuit is scheduled before Ontario’s Superior Court on Friday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Brunning is seeking to have the lawsuit stayed until H-15019’s IAP re-review hearing is completed and two linked legal actions currently before the courts wrap up.

Geoffrey Adair, one of the lawyers representing Wallbridge’s lawyers, said he could not comment because the case was before the courts.

Brunning also said she could provide no comment because the case was before the courts.

A Law Society of Upper Canada spokesperson said in an email the agency could not confirm or deny whether a complaint was filed.

St. Anne’s is one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools. At one point it housed a make-shift electric chair used to torture students who attended the school. St. Anne’s, which sat in its final incarnation by the Albany and Yellow rivers near Ontario’s James Bay coast, primarily received children from communities like Attawapiskat and Kashechewan.

The defamation lawsuit and H-15019’s residential school case revolves around 18 bankers boxes worth of Ontario Provincial Police documents that supported the survivor’s claims of abuse but were never disclosed during IAP hearings by the survivor’s Wallbridge lawyers or by Ottawa.

The roots of the issue stem back over a decade ago when, during a separate civil action in Cochrane, Ont., Wallbridge’s lawyers and Ottawa both obtained thousands of pages of OPP files from criminal investigations into officials who worked at St. Anne’s. The court action was launched in 2000 by survivors of St. Anne’s against Ottawa, Ontario and several Catholic entities over the abuse suffered by children at the school.

James Walbridge was one of the lawyers representing the survivors during the Cochrane civil claim and he was involved in legal maneuvers to have the OPP documents produced, Brunning alleges in her court filing.

On Aug. 1, 2003, Ontario Justice Richard Trainor ordered the release of the OPP documents.

Years later, as the IAP began hearing cases from survivors including those seeking compensation for abuse at St. Anne’s, federal lawyers never disclosed they still held the OPP files.

The record shows that federal government lawyers relied on a false school narrative that omitted the OPP files to defeat H-15019’s claim even after Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell ordered Ottawa in January 2014 to disclose the 12, 300 documents it held in a Toronto office. The disclosed files included “documents prepared by the Wallbridge lawyers in the Cochrane action,” said Brunning’s filing.

It is alleged that Wallbridge’s lawyers did not ask Canada to file a revised school narrative following Justice Perell’s order which has delivered months before H-15019’s final IAP submissions in July 2014, according to Brunning’s filing.

H-15019 lost his IAP claim and was denied a review by the IAP review adjudicator. The survivor then tried to commit suicide.

James Wallbridge, Almeda Wallbridge and Wallbridge, Wallbridge, in their statement of claim, say they were defamed by Brunning in a series of letters and emails.

The statement of claim quotes several of the offending passage including one where Brunning stated, “Your firm had the OPP investigation documents but did not reveal the documents in the IAP claims…of which your firm was claimant counsel.”

Another of the noted offending statements leveled by Brunning includes a claim Wallbridge’s lawyers sat on the documents because they “did not want to have the Cochrane actions transferred into an IAP process. You understandably wanted settlement and payment of your fees for the legal work you had done on these civil claims,” according to the statement of claim.

Brunning also stated the law firm “should never have offered legal services to IAP claimants thereafter agreeing to hide all that documentation from the IAP process,” according to the statement of claim.

Brunning accused Wallbridge’s lawyers of adding to the pain of residential school survivors, according to passages quoted in the statement of claim.

“How many more St. Anne’s students also suffered loss of compensation or under-compensation in the IAP system due to the alleged failure of Wallbridge to tender all the evidence….Why did you agree to hide the documents with the lawyers for Canada and the Catholic Church?,” stated Brunning in a Sept. 8, 2015 letter. “You failed these vulnerable persons again in the IAP process.”

The Wallbridge statement of claim denied all the allegations and claims.

“Brunning’s comments and the natural inferences to be drawn from the same are utterly false. They were made by Brunning without the slightest factual basis for alleging such grievous or indeed any misconduct on the part of the plaintiff,” states the claim. “These entirely groundless statements showed a high-handed and callous disregard for the reputation and rights of the plaintiffs.”

In her affidavit filed with the court, Brunning linked the Wallbridge lawyers to another IAP case “in which deficient documentary disclosure during the IAP was also an issue.”

The case involved a claimant identified as M.F. who was raped by a priest at the Spanish Boys Indian Residential School near Spanish, Ont. M.F. lost the IAP hearing after the adjudicator ruled the rape must have happened after the school closed. Ottawa’s lawyers held documented proof the rape happened before the school closed but never disclosed the document to the adjudicator or M.F.’s lawyer at the time, according to Justice Perell who ruled on the case this summer. A lawyer from Wallbridge, Wallbridge represented M.F. during the IAP hearing, according to Brunning’s affidavit.

M.F.’s lawyer and the adjudicator did possess a person of interest report that referred to the key document, but never asked Ottawa for it, according to a ruling on the case issued this summer by Justice Perell.

Justice Perell ruled the IAP adjudicator, review adjudicator and re-review adjudicator all botched the handling of M.F.’s case.

Ottawa is appealing Perell’s decision on the Spanish case.

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