By Kathleen Martens
WINNIPEG – One former and one current Manitoba politician are part of a law firm that is being accused of mishandling the compensation claims of Indian Residential School survivors.
Rana Bokhari, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, and John Prystanski, a former Winnipeg city councillor, are named as staff lawyers at the Carroll Law Office.
Ken Carroll is the lawyer in charge of the firm. He also owns a 25-per-cent stake in First Nations Residential Schools Solutions Inc., which is partly owned by Bokhari’s brother Syed Bokhari.
It is alleged the companies worked together to charge survivors 30 per cent of the compensation they were awarded for suffering serious abuses as children. APTN Investigates is not publishing any information that could reveal the identity of the survivors involved.
The allegations come from a multi-year investigation by the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat. In short, the secretariat saw a conflict with Carroll’s involvement with the form-filling firm and, among other things, the way the firm dealt with survivors.
Carroll is disputing the allegations.
The secretariat has blown the whistle on other form-filling companies, saying form fillers are third-parties who shouldn’t be paid directly from survivors’ awards and aren’t needed to file a claim.
Most alarming, is the secretariat’s allegation that Syed Bokhari and another man each accompanied a survivor to a bank to deposit their compensation money and demanded payment at that time.
Carroll, who did not respond to APTN’s request for comment, says in an affidavit he has since refunded that money to those two survivors – $8,100 and $6,667.35 respectively.
That second man was the late David Spence, a former band councillor from Nelson House, who also worked for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., before his death in January 2014. He is described as a “partner” in the form-filling firm.
$250 PER HOUR
There are no allegations at this time that Bokhari and Prystanski acted inappropriately. However, their contract with survivors said they would still be paid if survivors terminated their services at the rate of $250 per hour plus disbursements or else they would file a lien against the claim.
Bokhari replied to an email from APTN Investigates seeking comment with this written statement:
“As a junior lawyer at the Carroll Law Office, my responsibility has been to represent survivors of the residential school tragedies in hearings. I trust you will find that I have represented my clients to the best of my ability and with the utmost honesty, integrity and professionalism. Any administrative or financial matters that Mr. Carroll has been involved with in the past would have been outside the scope of my responsibilities and knowledge. If the justice system finds that Mr. Carroll acted improperly, then he will be held to account.”
Bokhari added she is severing ties with the firm. She still has “commitments to represent some survivors of the residential schools tragedy, but those commitments are winding down and she is not taking on any new work with the firm,” the email states.
Prystanski did not respond.
Meanwhile, Carroll says he partly owned the building where both companies were housed before he helped evict the form-filling company. Before that, he says he did pay Spence a “locating client’s fee” for some of the hundreds of clients he brought in plus travel expenses. Carroll also said he made some monthly payments of “$2,000-$3,000” to Spence and Syed Bokhari.
Ultimately, Carroll says he cut ties with the form-filling firm in the fall of 2012, which he explained to survivors in a letter of November 2013:
“…For those who were introduced to our office through First Nations Indian Residential Schools Solutions Inc., we have resolved with them that you have no obligation to pay them any fees for services they may have rendered. If there is ever a fee to them it is to be paid by our office out of our money and not out of your money. This was resolved a year ago but has arisen as a question again, so I want to make this clear to all of our clients.
“I am not aware that there have been any further requests for payments by them since fall 2012, but some clients continue to ask. If you have been approached for payments by them or any other parties then do not make them and please advise our office. I am very confident though that you will never be contacted by FNRSS regarding fees.”
Carroll made the moves after being contacted by the secretariat’s office several times. However, they weren’t enough to satisfy the chief adjudicator.
APTN Investigates has been unable to contact Bokhari; while a relative of Spence is considering speaking on Spence’s behalf.
The complicated case will be heard by Justice Perry Schulman of Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, because the secretariat can’t act on its own. It must take direction from one of the supervising judges of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.